Adoption Counseling 101 (for any shelter volunteers or staff)

I wrote this for MDAS volunteers nearly one year ago. When I initially wrote and shared a couple of staffers from other shelters asked if they could share, or use portions of it, for their volunteers. I said, of course, and figured I should blog it in case helpful to anyone else:
Adoption Counseling 101:

Many people who come to Animal Services to adopt are coming here for the 1st time.
They don’t know where to begin or how the process works. To make matters trickier Animal Services often has new volunteers who can’t remember how everything works or how to assist adopters (there’s a lot to remember!)
For these reasons I’ve created Adoption Counseling 101. Between now and the next time you come to MDAS to volunteer please read this document thoroughly (you can even bring it with you if you like).

Adopter Enters the Adoption/Kennel Area:

As soon as you see someone new walk through the double doors to adoptions or walking around looking lost or confused, greet them.
Welcome! Is this your 1st time here? What are you mainly interested in seeing today- cats, kittens, dogs, puppies, small, large?” (you can tweak this greeting to your liking but this covers all the beginning bases).

Based on the answer you get say, (small dog example here):
OK great, we have plenty of smaller-breed dogs. You need to take this paper (adoption paper on the left wall in front of kennel computer) and this little pencil, go through and look at all dogs in the small dog area. (Gesture where the small dogs are as you speak, or personally show them!).
Emphasize at this point to LOOK at ALL DOGS, CATS, KITTENS or whatever they may be interested in.
Explain to guests that people often find 3 dogs they like in the 1st run (for example) then just stop looking!  This means dogs at the end of the runs, or pets in the bottom cages or end cages are often not seen because no one makes it down that far. Guests commonly feel overwhelmed to see so many homeless pets and they stop before seeing and considering them all. So try to assure they’re viewing all of their adoption options here… the more pets they see/consider the more likely they are to fall in love with one!

It’s your job to also help guests to not feel overwhelmed. Coach them saying things like,
You’re going to save a life today!”
“Will this be your 1st time adopting? -How exciting!”
“Don’t feel bad you can’t take them all- you’re going to rescue one and that’s all that matters to that one!”
“Please do not feel overwhelmed. I know it’s hard but focus on narrowing it down to your top 3-5 choices and we’ll go from there.”
You also explain to adopters:
“Once you have your ‘potential adoptees’ list take it to the kennel computer to make sure those pets are available for adoption then we can get them out to interact and see which one(s) will be the best fit for your family!”

…And, that’s the 1st step to Adoption Counseling

Meet and Greet:
This is typically a good time to have adopters grab a yellow ticket so they don’t have to wait too long when they’re ready to complete adoption process up front.
-To do a meet and greet for dogs always use the outside patio area or large yard unless it’s raining or it’s a puppy less than 4 months.
Reason being: the dogs show better outside; typically the 1st thing they do is pee or poop outdoors and you can say,
Wow! Looks like someone is already learning to potty outside- that’s a really good sign!”
And remember, our dogs are typically in cages 24 hrs. a day; if you’re getting them out for someone at least take them outside! That’s the least we can do for them.
(Try to spend no more than 10-20 minutes with a potential adopter per pet since there are always others waiting for your valuable time… on busy days J!)
-To do a meet and greet for a cat or kitten you can use the meet and greet room though often people are content simply holding or petting the cats in the cages.

Tricks of the Trade:
These are some little things I personally do or say that help:

-Explain to adopters when out with a dog that: nearly all dogs take the 1st 5 minutes to a ½ hour to explore the outdoor environment. It’s completely normal for them to sniff everything and ‘ignore’ the humans for the first few minutes- tell them to not take it personal or think there’s no connection. Please do not judge the dog’s personality based on that very initial encounter. It may take minutes, days or even weeks for a dog to fully come out of its shell and feel comfortable with new people.
If someone is considering a shy dog tell them it makes the relationship even more special when it takes time for a bond to be formed. -For those of you who’ve loved and gained the trust of a shy or timid dog, you’ll know what I mean here.

-When someone wants to see an adult dog that’s in with another dog I ask, “Do you mind if I get both dogs out so the other can play too?”
I do this because I feel badly leaving one in the kennel L and because adopters may fall in love and find a better fit with the kennel mate instead of the one they’re interested in. This has happened to me a half a dozen times and it’s cool when it happens. And if you’re really lucky you may get someone who’s willing to take both dogs! You never know if you don’t try, but don’t be pushy or forceful, just nice, showing off our pets.

-Have a favorite cat or dog training book? Recommend it! I like to offer handouts we have here on crate training, cat introductions, sterilization, etc. and mention my favorite dog book and… adopters are typically very grateful.

-There are many other tips I could and will give as I work with you in person.

Thank you for reading this thoroughly before your next time volunteering! Feel free to share your own tips and tactics with other volunteers. J Remember… as an MDAS volunteer you are an adoption counselor, counseling people on responsible pet ownership.