Exhaustive adoption process: “It’s all about the dogs”
The exhaustive adoption process with its 400-person waitlist make Lu’s Labs one of the more difficult rescue organizations to adopt a dog from, according to its founder. But the requirements all tie back to the organization’s mantra: “It’s all about the dogs.”
“At the end of the day, it’s about the dogs for me,” Lu’s Labs founder Luisa Paucchi told The Canine Review in a telephone interview.
“Of course, we want our adopters to be happy. I know that’s the right thing to say,” she continued. “For me, though, it’s all about my dogs. I want my dogs to be happy, and that benefits the adopter. If the dog’s happy, that means they’re in the right home.”
To make sure they’re finding the right home for their dogs, applicants are required to go through multiple reference checks, interviews, and a home visit. Even if they fulfill the requirements and become approved adopters, most people wait months before they are paired with a dog, Paucchi told TCR.
You either hate it or you love it,” Paucchi said of the process. “Honestly, our adopters that have gone through the process, and they were patient, … they got the right dog, and they will tell you that it is worth it, but it is long.”
Paucchi started the volunteer-run, foster-based rescue organization for Labradors (open to lab mixes and purebred labs) in 2015. Since adopting out 150 dogs in the organization’s first year, the number of dogs the organization has found homes for each year continues to grow, Paucchi said. So far in 2020, Lu’s Labs has adopted out almost 300 dogs, according to Paucchi.
The 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization is based in Alexandria, Virginia and works with adopters throughout the Washington D.C. region. Prior to founding Lu’s Labs, Paucchi took on multiple staff positions for different animal sheltering organizations.
“I’ve always kind of wanted to have a rescue,” Paucchi said. “I just did all the pieces before I decided to start Lu’s to make sure I had a good understanding of what went into it.”
Lu’s Labs rescues most of its dogs from “kill” shelters – shelters that euthanize animals for lack of physical space and/or resources – in the South, specifically from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas.
“There’s just a high need in the South,” Paucchi said. “Almost every shelter in the South is a high-kill shelter because they don’t have the luxury of having empty kennels. They’re packed to the brim.”
Paucchi says she uses her connections in the rescue community to find most of the dogs she takes in. In some cases, people tag Lu’s Labs in social media posts about Labs in need of homes. In other cases, shelters in the South contact Lu’s Labs directly. Paucchi has several intake coordinators who help with the process.
Once Lu’s Labs has decided to rescue a dog, the dog is transported to a foster home in the South, Paucchi said. After about two weeks, the dog is transported to another foster home in the D.C. region. The dual foster home system allows rescue staff to learn as much information about the dogs as possible, according to Paucchi.
“Our model has two foster homes because I like to have two evaluations,” Paucchi explained. “Often, what we think a dog needs for a home changes based on its second foster home evaluation, so it’s really important to have both of those because we want to make the best match for the dog.”
Transportation from the shelter to the southern foster home, then from the southern foster home to the northern foster home, is provided by a network of volunteer and paid transporters.
Paucchi said that when she started the rescue, there was no question whether she wanted Lu’s Labs to be foster-based or brick-and-mortar.
“I think it’s super irresponsible to adopt a dog out from a boarding facility or a kennel without living in a home,” Paucchi said. “If I’m sending a dog home to live with you, you need as much information as possible. … If you just send a dog from a kennel to a person, there’s a good chance that dog could be returned.”
While the dog is living in the foster homes, it is vetted and microchipped. If it’s old enough (six months for females and nine months for males) the dog will be spayed or neutered. In addition, Lu’s Labs will pay to treat any pre-existing health conditions the dog has, such as heartworm or orthopedic issues.
Once the dog has gone through its evaluations and necessary veterinary visits, it is ready to meet potential adopters from Lu’s Labs’ waitlist of approved adopters.
“It’s a fairly rigorous process,” Alice Magby, a Lu’s Lab volunteer and adopter, told TCR. “Some people think it’s too rigorous, but it’s for the dogs. People say, ‘All we want to do is adopt a dog. Why do we have to go through all this?’ Well, we want to find the right home for the dog.”
To start the process, an applicant is required to provide personal and veterinary references. Once the references have been checked, the applicant is assigned one of Lu’s Labs’ 76 adoption coordinators. These volunteers are the matchmakers who help pair adopters with the right dog.
The adoption coordinator will then conduct a home check, according to Paucchi. Home visits used to be in-person, but have temporarily shifted to a virtual format because of COVID-19. The coordinator will also interview the applicant to learn more about their lifestyle and home environment: What activity level are they looking for in a dog? Do they have kids or other pets? What is their experience with dogs?
At this stage, Paucchi explained, coordinators often discover compatibility issues between the type of dog a person says he or she wants and the type of dog that works best with his or her living circumstances.
“Honestly, a lot of nice people have a dog in mind that really is not the right fit for them, so that’s part of the job: making sure it’s the right home for the right dog and the right dog for the right home, not just what somebody wants,” Paucchi told TCR.
The Pandemic Puppy Effect
Like many animal rescue organizations and shelters, Lu’s Labs has experienced a major increase in applications since the coronavirus pandemic brought the country to a standstill in late March, Paucchi said. In May alone, the organization received 795 applications. (In May 2019, the number was 77.)
Because of this, Paucchi says she added an extra step to the application process: a telephone interview with her.
“When COVID hit, everybody and their mother decided to apply for a dog,” Paucchi told TCR. “If you submitted an app starting April 1, and you get to the point where you get to meet a dog, you still don’t get to meet them unless you talk to me, because I just want to make sure they’re not flighty. … I think a lot of shelters, a lot of rescues are going to have a lot of returns, because people are going to go back to work and say, well now what do I do?”
Thus, a Lu’s Labs applicant today is required to pass reference checks, a home check (although this takes place virtually becaus of the pandemic), an interview with the adoption coordinator, and, then, another interview with Paucchi before becoming an approved adopter, she explained.
While the dogs are living in foster care, Lu’s Labs makes several assessments with respect to temperament and needs going forward, working with staff from the shelter the dog was rescued from, as well as the two foster families. Dolores Murray, the certified trainer on the Lu’s Labs team, is not involved in the evaluation of every dog, but she is available to step in for evaluations requiring extra support, Paucchi said.
The dogs have requirements, too.
The organization develops requirements for each dog that an adopter will need to meet. For example, the assessment may determine that some dogs require a fenced yard, others may require another dog, and some require a quiet environment, etc.
Once an applicant is approved to adopt, the applicant’s name is added to an “approved waitlist” and can meet available dogs. If there are multiple approved adopters who meet the requirements, priority is given to those who have been waiting the longest. If a meeting goes well, the applicant can adopt the dog.
Approved adopters typically wait anywhere between two weeks and one year before they are paired with a dog, according to Paucchi. Currently, Lu’s has more people ready to adopt than dogs available, with a waitlist of 400 approved adopters, Paucchi said.
The number of dogs the organization rescues is determined by number of fosters available to house the dogs, Paucchi said. There are about 150 southern fosters and 300 northern fosters, although not all fosters are always housing dogs, she added.
Asked about post-adoption support, Paucchi says that the organization continues to provide resources. Regarding medical expenses, the organization will pay for pre-existing conditions that need to be addressed, such as a dog requiring an ACL surgery. In addition, Murray, Lu’s Labs’ certified trainer, is available to help adopters with training guidance and resources post-adoption.
However, all Lu’s Labs dogs under 3, as well as certain older dogs, require a training addendum, Paucchi said. Adopters must choose a trainer from an approved list on the Lu’s Labs website and submit the name to the organization prior to meeting the dog. A post-adoption team at Lu’s Labs will follow up to ensure the training has been completed.
“We find that some dogs benefit from being challenged with the mental stimulation of training, not to mention how much it strengthens the bond between adopter and pup,” Paucchi said in an email. “We find that our adopters love training classes with their pups, and many times sign their dogs up for additional classes.”
“Always a Lu’s Labs Dog”
Asked about the organization’s policy on returns, Paucchi says she does everything in her power to avoid returns. However, if, at any time for any reason, an adopter needs to return a dog, Lu’s Labs will take back the dog. In fact, Paucchi says she insists that the dog be returned to the organization:
“Once a Lu’s Labs dog, always a Lu’s Labs dog. Always,” Paucchi said. “If they didn’t come back and I found out, there would be a lawsuit. They are our babies. Once we rescue them, they are our responsibility until the day they die.”
The organization funded largely by donations and adoption fees. Dogs cost $425 on average, but the price varies by age. Because the organization is run by volunteers and there are no paid employees, all funding goes toward the dogs and business expenses. In 2018, Lu’s Labs had $378,167 in total revenue and $358,176 in expenditures, according to its 990-tax return.
There are numerous requirements and the application process is exhaustive.
- organization will continue to pay for pre-existing medical conditions such as a dog requiring ACL surgery
- Murray, the organization’s certified trainer, is available to help adopters with training guidance and resources
- All Lu’s Labs dogs under 3, as well as certain older dogs, require a training addendum, according to Paucchi. Adopters must choose a trainer from an approved list on the Lu’s Labs website and submit the name to the organization prior to meeting the dog. A post-adoption team at Lu’s Labs will follow up to ensure the training has been completed.