Finding “Forever Homes” for Research Animals

beagle2People’s pets are a very integrated part of their lives.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received family photos from friends that also included their cat, dog or even horse! Likewise, I have to confess to writing cards from my boyfriend and I which also include my dog, “Tanner”!  As an animal lover, I always find myself asking people where their dog or cat came from; the most common answer I receive is “I rescued him”.

This answer got me thinking. I work in research and we’ve been adopting out retired research animals for over ten years, I wonder if they have never thought to adopt from companies like Kingfisher International?  In our KFI lunchroom we have an “Adoption Board”.  This board is crowded with happy pictures of people and their KFI pets!  We are all very proud of our adoptions and glad that so many of our hard working animals can have a happy retirement. This is not to say that adopting out research animals is easy! Far from it…

Here at KFI our main research dogs are Beagles.  Beagles are medium sized dogs with a loving, friendly personality and can make great pets as they work so hard to please!  Just like any dog; however, the biggest obstacle is house training.  For research dogs, this is even more of a challenge since by the time they are adopted, they are usually adult dogs and are NOT house trained.  They can be trained, but unless an owner is committed to taking additional time and effort, the adoption may not work out.

As important as adoption is, we have to make sure each animal that leaves our facility is in pristine health and has excellent behavior.  When animals are available for adoption the first people we talk to about behavior is our animal care staff.  Our AC staff work closely with these animals daily so they have the best insight on how they interact with other animals and humans.  The second person we talk to is our facility veterinarian.  Our veterinarian performs an exit physical exam and ensures all health requirements, vaccines, and anthelmintics are up to date.  Only after both the behavior assessment and the physical exam are successful do we have an ideal adoption candidate.

We need to be very careful that new owners are committed to their new animal.  KFI, like many research facilities, maintains closed colonies to ensure the health status of our animals.  This means that once an animal has been outside he or she cannot return to the colony.  So how do we “screen” our new owners?  We have had the most success with adopting animals to friends and family by word of mouth from our staff members. They understand what we do, know where they come from and have never returned an animal to us.  While KFI has adopted animals to people who are unrelated to KFI employees, we diligently background check individuals or animal rehoming agencies who we don’t know.  This is not just for the animals’ sake, but we have to be careful that our adopted animals are not going to be used to advance an activist cause.  As a part of our adoption process, we like to follow up with new owners make sure the “retiree” is adjusting well to their new life.  Our follow ups almost always get forwarded amongst the office as all employees of KFI (even the non-veterinary staff) love the responses; especially the pictures!

All of our adopted animals have an adoption agreement.  This agreement is signed by the adopter and management to guarantee confidentiality of our clients and company.  This agreement states that the adopter can provide physical and emotion needs for the animal(s), including medical costs.  KFI also strongly recommends that the adopter has a veterinarian evaluate the animal regularly, provides heartworm and flea preventative, as well as has the animal spayed or neutered if it has not already been done.  The adopter gets a copy of the signed agreement from both parties as well as KFI keeps a copy to go with the adoptee file.

In the past Kingfisher has adopted out Beagles, mongrels, cats, and even guinea pigs!  We pride ourselves on finding the best possible outcomes for our retirees!  This year alone, KFI has adopted over 30 cats to loving homes.  Working in research isn’t always easy, but when you can adopt out an animal that has worked hard and given you so much, it is extremely rewarding. The only downside is that we have to find space for a new, larger, adoption board!!!

Paige Chambers, RVT, RLAT is Supervisor, Animal Care at KFI.  She’d like to give a shout out to the Beagle Rescue League in Yardley, PA!  They run a “Lab to Leash” program that finds forever homes for retired research beagles.  The organization has at least 14 different research facilities that they work with as well as works towards educating the public about research dogs as pets.  Way to go!!