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Getting in Line for a New Pet

Laura Labelle, Photos: Courtesy of The Labelle Foundation

Focused on animals with severe medical issues, the Labelle Foundation has upped the ante for adoption screening, especially amid the pandemic.

Mother-daughter duo Laura and Sabrina Labelle, co-owners of the Labelle Foundation, a Los Angeles–based animal rescue, weren’t quite ready for the sudden influx of business when COVID-19 hit.

“I think, in one month, we got around 5,000 applications,” Laura said. In a normal month, the rescue gets only 20 applications.

The Labelle Foundation wasn’t alone. As soon as lockdown measures started, animal rescue shelters all over the country were suddenly swamped with applications from newly housebound people looking for a new pet, especially a new dog.

Meeting the demand

Laura and Sabrina needed new strategies to meet the sudden increase in demand. “Everything just went insane,” Laura said. “We needed serious help to meet the demand. We were so blessed to have an incredible team of brilliant, capable young women join us and volunteer. I think there are eight of us now.”

Sabrina Labelle

However, bolstering staff was only one part of the equation. Getting so many applications at once and considering the environment according to the needs of the dogs, Laura and Sabrina started to impose stricter adoption qualifications.

Not everyone can adopt

The Labelle Foundation was already particular about who they allowed to adopt from their shelter. Their shelter houses mostly special-needs animals with particular medical issues who might have been euthanized at another shelter. Caring for an animal with such needs can be more expensive and can take a lot of work. For Laura and Sabrina, it’s important to know that whoever adopts from them is prepared both financially and emotionally.

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“We have been extremely, extremely rigorous with that because there is the chance that once the pandemic is over, people will go back to work.” Sabrina said. “And we do not take that lightly because our main job is to advocate for these puppies for the rest of their lives as they can’t speak.”

“I think that a lot of people are motivated by an emotional connection and don’t really think things through,” Laura added. “So, it’s our job to walk them through what life will be like. It’s not just getting a puppy. It’s going to be a dog in a few months that needs a lot of attention and training, and then you’re going to have it for the next 15 to 20 years. So post-pandemic, what will this dog’s life look like?”

Foster-to-adopt is a maybe

Besides financial and emotional capabilities, all would-be adopters must have some fostering experience under their belt first. Though fosters are encouraged to adopt the adult dogs they’ve fostered, the foundation doesn’t allow foster-to-adopting puppies.

“We made a new rule that first-time fosters cannot adopt. You need to foster a few times before you can adopt,” Sabrina said. Young dogs can get traumatized moving from home to home. The Labelle Foundation wants to discourage the practice of trying an animal before adopting, which can be harmful.

“With our grown dogs, we absolutely allow people to foster-to-adopt because we want to make sure that they get to know the dog and the dog, them,” Laura said.

Their advocacy

If the shelter’s standards for adoption seem especially intense, it’s because making sure rescue animals get the best possible home is at the heart of everything the Labelles do.

Fueling their motivations to start their own, Laura and Sabrina were frustrated with how other shelters, especially the one they were volunteering at, were run. “It was quasi-rescue, more of a humane pet shop,” said Laura. “They didn’t take dogs with expensive medical issues because it cut into their bottom line.”

From their rigorous adoption standards to the animals they rescue, care and advocacy for the neediest animals is baked into the Labelle Foundation’s roots.

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