My dear friend Morgan* lost her very elderly dog not long ago. She raised him from a puppy and it was a hard loss. Last month Morgan made the brave choice to open her heart to another dog. She wanted to rescue an adult dog, because after losing a senior dog, it can be hard to adjust to puppy energy. And Morgan wanted to rescue a dog who needed her too.
Morgan lives in an area with large towns spaced about 45 miles apart, and no big cities nearby. The animal shelters in her region are small, and most are run by private rescue groups not affiliated with an SPCA or Humane Society. Morgan took to the internet, where it’s easy to see all the dogs available for adoption at the various rescue agencies. She had a good feeling about one dog she saw at a small private rescue agency about 200 miles away. She emailed the agency and introduced herself.
The adoption paperwork was a lot—she had to send photos of her home and answer lots of questions about her family’s routines. Morgan’s home is ideal for a dog—she has a huge fenced yard, tolerant neighbors she knows well, and best of all, she works from home so she’d be there with the dog most of the time. Morgan also cares for 2 saltwater tanks full of tropical fish. They’re a lot of work, and that demonstrates her ability to care attentively for critters. She has the perfect dream dog home—I know the agency I volunteer for would beg to place an animal with her.
Morgan made an appointment to meet Shelby at the dog’s foster home, which was the home of the agency’s director. The director, Jan, would observe Morgan, her husband, and the dog together, and they’d all determine whether or not it was a good match.
Morgan then received an email confirming the appointment, and stating that if the match worked out, she could have the dog a week later. That was not what they discussed on the phone, and she balked at the need for a second trip. Like many of us, making two round-trip car journeys of 400 miles, a week apart, would be hard on her. Morgan has myalgia, a muscle pain disorder with the maddening variability of good and bad days that so many of us know. Long car trips are debilitating for her and require a recovery period, and doing two that close together would be a real hardship. She would lose work time and disrupt the routine she depends on to keep functioning at her best.
Morgan explained this clearly and patiently to Jan, and reminded her that on the phone, they had only discussed one trip back and forth. She offered to take a few hours after the initial meeting for the woman to think about the potential match before going home. She and her husband could have dinner and enjoy some sightseeing, as the town is a popular tourist destination. She thought, as anyone would, that her needs would be considered and accommodated.
Jan responded with an email saying that no one else had ever objected to the two-trip policy, and that people traveled to adopt from cities farther away (and proceeded to name several). She said, “You also did not mention to me that you had an illness when we spoke on the phone, this information is important so that we can match the right dog with their new life. Although Shelby is quiet and gentle, he is full of life and enjoys long walks and hikes. He will not amuse himself in the yard alone.” She refused to accommodate Morgan’s request for a single trip to complete the adoption.
Morgan tried to reason it out with Jan, but Jan was spooked and the warm rapport they had built was gone. Jan was not able to see past her ableist assumptions. Never did Morgan say she couldn’t take Shelby on long walks and hikes, and Morgan is not the only person in her home—her husband is physically active and she has two adult sons who live nearby and would visit the dog often, perhaps even borrowing him to bring along on outdoor activities. Morgan needs physical activity to manage her condition (not an illness as Jan stated), and she and Shelby would have been great for each other. Morgan only mentioned one limitation—that of long car travel. Every other potential issue was an assumption that Jan made, that Morgan then had to refute.
This case of blatant ableism did harm to my friend and her family, and to a dog who needed a home. We looked into the possibility of taking action, but there is no agency overseeing small, independent animal rescue organizations. I think things like this need to be exposed and talked about. Maybe hearing this story helped you recognize an incident you experienced as ableism. If it did, please tell us about it in the comments. If we can educate people about ableism and hold them accountable for it, maybe we can help bring about a world with fewer barriers.
*Names and identifying details have been changed; the story happened exactly as told.