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Animal adoption may get stricter

Are you married? Do you have children? Do you rent your home, and does your landlord have a no-pets policy? Can you afford steep veterinary bills?

These are just a few questions you must answer before you can adopt an animal through the county Animal Services department.

As dog owner Betty Hay learned through her experience this week adopting a flea-bitten Pomeranian, the animal itself must be considered a good adoption candidate, healthy and sociable.

And those rules could get stricter under a proposed animal-control ordinance.

"We want it to say that Animal Services can refuse an adoption if it is not in the best interest of the animal," director Rebeckah Sanchez said.

Hay, who adopted the Pomeranian on Wednesday, initially was turned down because the dog had a severe flea allergy. Hay, who has taken in many strays over the years, agreed to pay the dog's veterinary bills, Sanchez said.

Screening animals and prospective owners is not always popular. But Animal Services officials say avoiding a bad match is more humane than subjecting animals to the trauma of being adopted and then returned to the shelter.

"Adopting an animal should not be an emotional, impulsive decision," Sanchez said. "It should be well thought-out and well-planned."

The shelter last year took in 26,115 animals, most of them dogs and cats, Sanchez said. Of those, 22,685 were euthanized, 1,691 were reclaimed by their owners, and 799 were adopted.

Despite the huge numbers that are put to death, Animal Services seeks to discourage "impulse" adoptions.

When planning its new shelter, the department canceled early plans to have an adoption display area in the front lobby. No adoptions are allowed during Christmas week.

Animal Services requires pet owners to fill out an application that asks questions such as where the animals will sleep and exercise, how many animals are in the house, and whether there is a fenced yard.

Applicants should not expect to adopt hunting dogs, or watchdogs for their business. They must agree to sterilize their animals.

They are even asked if an Animal Services representative can visit their homes.

Animals with health problems often are not available for adoption, as veterinary care for a sick animal can be expensive.

"Years ago, people would come in here and adopt heartworm-positive dogs," said Dr. Catherine Deptula, the shelter's veterinarian. "They would become attached to it, they would take it to the vet, and then they would scream for the county to pay the bill."