Why isn’t the adoption group calling me back?

Once a month we select a reader question and answer it here. Have a question you'd like us to answer? Email us.

Q: I have been trying to adopt a dog from a specific rescue for a month now. They are yet to even call my vet for a reference or do the home inspection, which they say is required to adopt. When I call, the "person in charge" says it's all up to the foster parent to follow through. Is that "normal" for rescue groups? It's very disappointing. I hoped to pick up the dog the same week. --Barbara F.

A: Petfinder is a community and, like all communities, each individual or organization is a little bit different. Ideally, when you visit an animal shelter someone will greet you when you walk through the door, escort you in to meet the pets and answer your questions. Sometimes though, the person at the desk is on a tough phone call, everyone in the reception office is tied up with two boxes of kittens that just arrived, and the volunteer in the dog kennels just started and has as many questions as you do.

With rescue groups, you can find the same variety. One group operates so efficiently it makes your head spin. They have concise, clear forms, a person who answers or returns your call in short order, and a group of experienced foster homes who work so well together that each step is quick and clear. In short order you know if that dog you fell in love with online is a good match for you. Another group may be made up of a network of loving, but busy, foster families who volunteered to foster a dog because they heard the need was great. Their lives are hectic with jobs and kids. They may even be shy about talking with strangers, even though they know that's the only way to find that forever home for their rescued dog!

There are a wide range of people in rescue who have skills that range from "perfectionist" to "procrastinator." We know the majority of our members want to get back in touch with you as soon as possible!

After the jump: Tips for making sure you hear back and how we're working to improve customer service for adopters.

Here are some tips for making sure you hear back quickly:

  • Be sure to check the organization's home page to see if they mention a delay due to the volume of inquiries they receive, family and jobs, etc.
  • Read the pet's profile carefully to be sure that she or he appears to be a match for your lifestyle.
  • Keep follow-up inquiries short, friendly, and to the point. A short message will be read more quickly than a longer voice or email, especially if the foster parent has only a short time in the evening to check messages. Let the foster parent see you are the type of person she really wants to adopt to.
  • If you have reached someone with the group -- even if it's not your dog's foster home -- ask him when you should expect a call back. In your correspondence, let the group know you will be checking back again on a particular date and time.
  • Ask for the foster parent's name, even if it's only a first name. This will make future communication easier when you call back about "Betsy, who is caring for Ruffian."
  • Ask if the group is holding any upcoming special events like a meet-and-greet at your local Petco. Consider stopping by to meet someone from the organization in person, even if your own special pet isn't scheduled to be there.
  • Inquire about more than one pet and to more than one group. Even if your heart is set on that "one special pet" you saw with a specific group on Petfinder, check the pet lists of other groups, stop in at your local shelter, and check out our Event Calendar to meet with other rescue organizations. Bring a friend who might also be interested in adopting. You'll become a more informed adopter and your adoption experience will be richer. Should you miss out on your "chosen one" because he was adopted to another wonderful home, you are still moving forward toward finding that special canine friend.

Thank you for adopting! Your choice makes a difference not just for one life, but for all homeless pets.

How we're impacting customer service: Customer service is important to pet adoption. Excellent customer service means more people will feel comfortable adopting a pet, and they will report their positive experience to their friends -- who will also adopt! In 2009 and 2010, Maddie's Fund and the Petfinder.com Foundation teamed up with their Customer Service Appreciation Promotion. Petfinder staff and volunteers called or visited Petfinder member organizations to inquire about a pet as if they were an adopter. Shelters and adoption groups who were timely and helpful were told at the end of the interaction that they had won awards ranging from $250 to $2000! Groups who did not win an award received feedback on how they could improve their customer service.

For shelters and rescues who are reading, if you are interested in additional training for your staff and/or volunteers, Animal Friendly - Customer Smart: People Skills for Animal Shelters by Jan Elster is a great resource and can be ordered online for only $10.

Do you have a question you'd like us to answer? Email us.