An East Hollywood woman says she’s heartbroken after her application to adopt a dog she’d fallen in love with was denied because rescue organization deemed her neighborhood unsuitable, a practice the group’s founder says is completely within its rights.
Criss Keeler was searching for a companion for her 10 year old dog, Finnegan, when she came across the website for Saving K9 Lives Plus, a rescue organization based in the San Fernando Valley. She arranged to meet the Yorkshire terrier, Eloise, at the home of her foster mom.
"As soon as we met Eloise … we just absolutely fell in love, she is a total sweetheart," Keeler said.
She filled out the adoption papers online, sent photos of her home and of Finnegan, and was initially approved to adopt. The one remaining step was a home inspection to be conducted the day Saving K9 Lives Plus delivered the dog to her "forever home."
According to Keeler, the trouble started the moment the group’s founder, Jasmin Gabay, stepped out of her car in front of the apartment building.
"She said ‘I’m just not comfortable in this neighborhood.’ That was kind of the first words out of her mouth. Not even ‘hi’ or anything," Keeler recalled. "She then went on to say that if she had known this wasn’t West Hollywood, she wouldn’t have gone this far in the adoption process."
Gabay left, taking the terrier with her. An hour or so later, Keeler says a new post about Eloise appeared on Saving K9 Lives Plus website, saying the dog was still in need of a home. Keeler emailed Gabay immediately.
"[She wrote back, saying] ‘I think you’d be good adopters, but I won’t adopt to the neighborhood.’"
"It was literally just that the area that we live in is not good enough for her," Keeler continued. She said she absolutely feels discriminated against.
Gabay confirmed that she felt Keeler’s neighborhood wasn’t safe for Eloise. The rescue group founder also issued a written statement defending her group's adoption standards.
"Our adoption process follows the standard of most rescues. There is an application requesting information, reference check, a phone interview, followed by a home visit. Home visits are an important part of the process," the statement said.
"If an adopter has never had a five pound dog, they won't know that the space between their fence and front gate is wide enough for that dog to escape. It's our responsibility to look for any possible dangers before an adoption takes place and to work with an adopter to remedy those dangers. Of course we also endeavor to match our dogs to an adopter based on activity levels, long term medical needs, training experience and personalities. We have to consider whether a dog will do well in a home with small children and/or if they are compatible with the other animals in the home or if the dog can handle the new adopter's work schedule."
Unlike city-run shelters, privately funded rescue groups like Saving K9 Lives Plus are free to set their own standards for pet adoptions. The president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles (spcaLA) says the income level of a neighborhood shouldn’t be a factor in choosing where a dog should be placed.
"We try to focus on whether the person is going to be a good parent companion for the pet," said spca-LA President Madeline Bernstein. "If the adopter is willing to provide a loving home and care for a pet, it doesn’t really matter if they live in East Hollywood or East Beverly Hills."
Bernstein also said her office has investigated animal abuse cases in some of the poorest, and some of the most affluent, neighborhoods in greater Los Angeles.
Keeler said it’s the first time she’s ever felt she was being treated differently, not because of who she is, or what she’s done, but because of where she’s chosen to live.
"It’s not a mansion up in the hills, and we don’t have an enormous fenced yard, but I know that we could take good care of a small, apartment-dwelling dog."
Keeler told NBC4 she ended up adopting a different dog that was rescued from the streets of South LA.
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