Rehoming Your Pet Safely & How to Adopt Wisely with Angela Marcus

I had the chance to interview Angela Marcus former Director of Operations for the Pennsylvania SPCA and co-founder of the website GetYourPet.com on the podcast this week. We’ll be talking about how to find a furry friend who will be the right fit for your family, how to rehome a pet safely, and much more. Enjoy!

To hear the full interview on iTunes CLICK HERE To listen on Spotify CLICK HERE.

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Amanda: I’m speaking today with Angela Marcus, founder of getyourpet.com, which is an online resource that connects potential adopters directly to people who need to surrender their dog or cat. Thanks so much for joining me today, Angela.

Angela: Thanks so much for having me, Amanda, I’m really excited to be here.

Amanda: I think it’s going to be a great episode. I am really passionate about rescue and adoption, so I’m excited to dive into it. Tell me a little bit about yourself. How did you come to create Get Your Pet?

Angela: So, I spent about six years, as the operations director for the Pennsylvania SPCA, in Philadelphia. Before that, I went to school for animal science, and I was convinced I was going to be a veterinarian. My mom will tell you, before I could say “veterinarian,” I was calling myself a vegetarian.

It was just like, that’s what I was going to do with my life. But I often say, it’s the best thing I never did because I got done with school. I was looking up veterinary schools, and just, crazy expensive, and I just … I’d worked at veterinary hospitals. I had worked in a private practice. I’d worked in an emergency setting, which was so exciting, and really doing this amazing lifesaving work, but I just couldn’t see myself doing this for the rest of my life.

I was like, “What do … I mean, I know I want to work with animals, I wanna be a veterinarian, but what am I gonna do?” And so, I was inspired. I started hearing about shelter medicine, and I went and got a job at a shelter, in Philadelphia, and that was it. It was like, “Okay, this is where I am supposed to be. Forget that veterinarian business. I am going to be a person who runs shelters, and I’m gonna save lives.” And that’s what happened.

So, for about six years, I was at the Pennsylvania SPCA, in Philadelphia. At the time, we held the Animal Control contract. We were taking in a little over 40,000 animals every year, within the limits of Philadelphia, if you can believe that, and every day, somebody was walking through the door, saying, “I need to find a home for my pet.”

I was just like, “Man, we don’t want them there.” Not that we don’t want to help your pet, but we have so many pets we’re already trying to find homes for! We don’t have any space, and being in … the setting in Philadelphia was a little weird, because we had a limited admission part of the shelter, and then, we had the open admission part of the shelter.

Amanda: Right.

Angela: So, the difference between those two, as you know, is, one, you can say to somebody, “We can’t take your pet. You’re on your own. We don’t have any space, being a closed admission shelter,” and the other side, being an open admission shelter is, “You’re getting taxpayer dollars,” and they’re saying, “You must take this. The taxpayers are paying you to do this. You have to take my pet. There’s no other option.”

When you have that open admission space, you have to find rescue alternatives for these pets, not always an option, if the rescues are full, or to make euthanasia decisions. So, this is always what was going on in my mind: “Oh, my gosh, these people are coming to us for help. I wanna help them, but what am I gonna do? We don’t have any space. We can’t get these animals adopted quick enough.” And you want to do good adoptions, not just getting them in, and getting them out. You want to do good adoptions.

Amanda: Right.

Angela: So, all of these things floating around. Add to it, that, at the same time, technology was progressing, and I was hearing about these businesses, like Uber. Oh, wow, you need a ride? You can go jump in someone’s car, and get a ride somewhere. So it’s like, “Oh, wow, somebody has something they want, and somebody has something that they need, and let’s connect them, let’s put them together, and find a way to do it.”

I was like, “Wait a second. Why can’t we do this with pet adoption? Why can’t I use my expertise and knowledge that I have, from running the shelter, and find a way for people who need to find a home for their pet, to connect directly with people who are looking to adopt a pet, in a responsible, safe way.”

That’s sort of the lightbulb moment for me. That was when I was like, “Wow. I’m gonna create a website, that this gonna be possible, and I’m going to enable and empower people who want to do right by their pet, who have come to me for help. I have nothing to give them, but I’m gonna create something that I can give them, that will save their pet, and will also help shelters.”

Amanda: I think that’s great, and that’s perfect because it takes the strain off of full rescues, and full shelters because these animals aren’t leaving their previous home until they find an adopter. So I think that’s amazing, and it’s less stressful for them.

Angela: Yeah, I mean, all around, I always tell people, “It’s a win, win, win, win. Because the person who’s giving up their pet, in our system, gets to know and gets to decide, where their pet is going to end up. The person who’s adopting gets to learn everything about the pet from the person who knows him or her best.

The pet, most of all, most important to me, never sees the inside of a shelter, never is exposed to the stress, or, God forbid, the possibility of being euthanized, because there’s no space. And the shelter’s thrilled because they don’t have to ever take in another pet. They don’t have to potentially make a euthanasia decision, to take in that pet. They spend less time and money and resources on that pet if it just goes from one good home to another, and they can really devote their time and resources to the pet that has no other alternative, the stray animal, or the victim of cruelty or neglect.

Amanda: I’m a huge fan of adoption, like everybody who listens to the podcast knows. All my three dogs, my two cats, they’re all rescues. Can you talk to me a little bit about why it’s important that everyone at least consider adopting when they’re looking for their next animal?

Angela: We hear it all the time, right? “Adopt, don’t shop.” What we’re doing, every time we buy a pet is really just perpetuating the cycle of pet overpopulation, and puppy millers. If you’ve ever, and I’ve been there … I can tell you firsthand, a puppy mill’s the worst place that you could ever experience in your life.

I worked with the Humane Law Enforcement Team at the Pennsylvania SPCA. We went into many puppy mills, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour from where I live, is like, the puppy mill capital of the United States. It is horrifying.

So what you see in the pet store are those cute, fluffy, wonderful puppies. That’s all well and good, but what’s really going on behind the scenes are the dogs that are being bred repetitively, that have never stepped foot on grass, have never been out of the cage. It’s a really horrific thing that you are supporting by buying puppies, so, yes, at the very least, you need to consider adoption. More than 25% of dogs that are in shelters, more than 40% of dogs that are listed on getyourpet.com, are purebred dogs. There’s a very good chance that you’re going to find that breed you’re looking for.

If you’re looking for a really exceptionally strange breed, then maybe you won’t find it in a shelter, or a rescue. You might find a mix, but really, what you need to consider is not really the breed of dog that you’ve convinced yourself that you want. You want to look for the personality of the dog that you want.

At the very least, if you’re thinking about bringing a pet into your home, just take a trip to your local shelter. Go online for five minutes, and search around. All it takes, five, 10 minutes to look online, to see what pets are out there that might need a home, or visit your local shelter, and you might be surprised, at the pet that steals your heart.

Amanda: Can you give us some tips for transitioning a new dog into our home? Say, we meet a dog, it’s perfect, everything goes great, we want to bring the dog home. How do we make the transition as smooth as possible?

Angela: Well, I think one of the first things that you always have to consider when you’re bringing a new pet into your home, dog, cat, whatever it might be, guinea pig, rabbit, a bird, doesn’t matter. To make that transition, you can’t expect that new pet to immediately know his or her environment, to know what your routine is, to know everything.

I’ve seen so many people make this mistake. They bring the new pet home, and within 24 hours, they’re taking him to the pet store, they’re having all their friends over, and they’re doing all this stuff, and it’s like, whoa! This pet just got here. So my biggest piece of advice for making or ensuring a truly smooth transition is, keep as calm an environment for the first 24 to 48 hours as possible.

Try to give them an opportunity to adapt to where they’re at. And well before you bring the pet home, there’s a lot you can do to prepare. Make sure, before that dog comes into the home, you’ve got a designated place for their food and water dish. You’ve got their bed set up. You know where they’re going to sleep. You have their crate set up, if that’s a tool that you’re going to be using.

So there’s a lot of things you can do, in advance of the pet coming home. Once they come home, establish routines quickly, and make sure everyone’s on the same page. If you are cool with your dog being on the couch, like I am, that’s cool, but maybe your husband’s not. You and your husband have to be on the same page, because you have to have a consistent message. Whatever you’re telling this pet, when they come into the home, they have to have a consistent message from everyone in the home, or everyone is going to start reacting in a negative way.

Amanda: Okay, so let’s talk a little bit about re-homing, because this is a topic that I feel like people don’t talk about as much. But, I mean, having worked in rescue for years myself, I know that it’s a reality for a lot of people, and for a lot of great people, it just happens sometimes. So what advice would you have for people who are looking to re-home their pet? How can they make sure that their pet’s going to go to the right home?

Angela: Well, they’re all great questions, and I’m so happy you brought up re-homing, because obviously, it’s something I’m really passionate about. As I was telling you a little bit, when you asked about my background, this is the whole idea behind Get Your Pet.

Re-homing is something that is not talked about that much, in the field of animal welfare, or … I guess I should say it’s becoming more and more mainstream now, but for a long time, it was very hush hush. The reason for that is, it’s embarrassing, right? You must be a bad person, if you’ve got to find a home for your pet. Like, who get a pet, and then has to re-home it? That’s just terrible! I was there one time, I had that belief at one time. But as time goes on, I saw the reality of the shelter system.

The reality’s not pretty. I mean, that’s just it. I mean, not that re-homing a pet is easy, and not that I have the solution for fixing all the issues with animal shelters, but the fact of the matter is, a pet going into a shelter is not a good situation for that pet.

So, giving good people, people who want to take that extra step, and the opportunity and the option to find their pet a home, makes a lot more sense than it does, than bringing that pet to a shelter.

Let’s talk statistics for a minute. Six and a half million pets are entering shelters across the United States every year. That’s a rough estimate that’s been put out by the ASPCA, the American SPCA. Roughly one-third of them, or 2.1 million, are pets that are being surrendered, because the person can’t keep their pet. It’s a big enough group of people and animals, that we need a better solution, than just bringing them to shelters.

Really, the concept, it’s as easy as this. You can’t keep your pet, for whatever reason. Okay? Let’s put the judgement aside. Let’s find them a safe solution to do it. And let’s support them through the process. So one of your concerns there was, what advice do you have, for people who think re-homing is the best option for them?

I think anyone who needs to find their pet a home should opt for re-homing first, should try to re-home their pet first. Don’t make the shelter the first stop, make it the last stop.

Amanda: Right.

Angela: You should never go to the shelter first, because, one, they’ve already got enough pets. They don’t want your pet! No matter how cute your dog is, and how wonderful he or she is, they do not want them, believe me. They have stray animals that they have no other option but to take in. They have animals that are victims of cruelty and neglect, that cost a significant amount of money to rehabilitate and care for. Not only physically rehabilitate, but mentally rehabilitate, and to care for, and to find homes for them.

You also asked about how can you make sure the animal’s going to the right home. That’s a really important question, and I’d say two things to that. First and foremost, you know this pet better than anyone else. You are the person who can best decide what this pet needs in their future home, because no one at animal shelter is ever going to know the pet as intimately as are you going to.

You can take your pet to a shelter, they’re going to meet a bunch of different people. Maybe they’re lucky enough to get a volunteer who really cares about this pet, and becomes their advocate, but ultimately, they are one of many in the shelter. There’s no way for that adoption counsellor, or even the behaviour person, the person who does the behaviour assessment, to really know how your dog behaves in a home setting. Because by the time they come to the shelter, they are stressed out. They are not behaving the way that they would usually behave.

That behaviour assessment that’s done, really only puts up barriers for that, for the long-term success of that dog. Because what’ll happen is, they bring the dog into a room. They’re open-minded, of course, but if the dog looks at the child-sized doll a little funny, they might say, “Ah, no kids for this dog!” Meanwhile, the dog’s been living with your kids for the last six years. So there’s really no way, and it’s not the shelter’s fault. They just don’t have the time. They can’t possibly know each pet as an individual.

Amanda: Right.

Angela: So what they can do is make good recommendations that keep them safe. So, like I said, the child-sized doll is something that’s used by a lot of behaviour people in the shelter world. Bring in the child-sized doll, the dog might be totally fine, might sniff it, might look at it a little funny, whatever it is. If they get any sort of weird feeling, “Well, this dog can’t go to a home with kids.”

Again, I want to make it very clear, I’m so supportive of animal shelters and rescues. I know they’re not doing this because they don’t want to get dogs into homes. They’re doing it, they’re trying to keep animals safe, of course. And people safe. But by rehoming your dog themselves, by re-homing your dog yourself, you can determine where your dog’s going. You can visit that place firsthand.

Amanda: How much information should be put into the adoption bio?

Angela: For adoption bios, be honest, and be upfront about things, but don’t go onto this lengthy, novel-size story about your dog, because nobody wants to read that. Pick up the phone and talk to somebody, or message back and forth, and have the conversion that way, because you’re going to do a much better job of trying to get your pet adopted, to this potential adopter, than you would through writing something in a lengthy bio.

Amanda: For me, having adopted a dog with separation anxiety, where I wasn’t told she has separation anxiety. So that’s a big one. Be honest about your dogs. If they have issues like that, it’s important for people looking at them know.

Obviously, it works out fine, because I’ve had her for six years, and I love her. But I think it’s one of those things, where it is your duty, if you know that your dog has this issue, you need to tell people about it. Because they’re not going to stay happily in that home, chances are, if you don’t tell them what’s going on. If they’re completely surprised by it? It’s not going to end well.

Angela: Exactly. Being honest and truthful is, and being as transparent as possible is super, super important.

Amanda: So we talked about adoption, and all that sort of stuff. Run me through how, if someone wants to adopt a pet off getyourpet.com, how does it work? What do they do? What’s the process?

Angela: Cool, thanks for asking that. So, getyourpet.com, as I said before, is a online community that enables people who need to find a home for their pet, to connect directly with the people who are looking to adopt. So, if you’re on the adopter’s side of the equation, it’s a pretty cool experience.

You go to the website, getyourpet.com. You start browsing potential adoptees, as they were. Everything’s based on your zip code, so when you log onto getyourpet.com, we know where you’re logging on from, and we’re going to show you pets that are in your general area. You can filter by a bunch of different things, including compatibility with dogs, cats, children, and a whole bunch of other criteria, whatever it is that you’re looking for.

If you find a pet that you want to start talking with, you can simply click the Send a Message button. You’ll be asked to fill out an Adopter Profile. It’ll take you two minutes. You can send a message to the guardian of whatever pet you’re interested in. All of your message will occur within the site. You’ll go back and forth. You can actually use our Schedule a Meetup tool, to schedule a meetup.

The adoption happens. There is a fee for adoption. For the adopter, it’s a $99 adoption fee for dogs, $49 adoption fee for cats. It comes with a pretty cool adoption package. So that’s a legal transfer of ownership documentation for both sides, with the guardian and the adopter. The adopter also receives 30 days of pet insurance from Trupanion, a voucher to be used at any one of our participating Get Your Pet veterinarians, for a wellness exam, as well as $40 in services from rover.com. They also get retail coupons for discounts on dog food, and an engraved tag for your dog, and some other goodies depending on what part of the country you’re in, and what retailer we’re working with there.

Amanda: That’s awesome. That’s a great adoption package! So you also run a podcast now, it’s fairly new, as I understand it. It’s called “Take Me Home”, and it’s on Pet Life Radio. Tell me a little bit about that.

Angela: Yes, so, I just started this podcast. It’s been a very cool experience. In fact, I’m hoping I can convince you to maybe come onto my podcast next. So we talk mostly about issues related to pet adoption, and things happening in the field of animal welfare.

We’re talking to people, from volunteers, to executive directors of animal shelters, to dog trainers, and people who can help us, like we talked about earlier, seamlessly transition a new pet into your home.

We have a whole variety of topics to discuss, but always, the most important thing about our show is, we’re always going to be talking one or more pets that are in need of a new home.

Amanda: Thank you so much for being with me today.  I really enjoyed this interview, so we’ll have to do it again some time.

Angela: Yes, thanks, Amanda. I appreciate it.

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