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Jack, a West Highland white terrier, commanded an audience outside an Animal Rescue League van yesterday at City Hall Plaza.
Jack, a West Highland white terrier, commanded an audience outside an Animal Rescue League van yesterday at City Hall Plaza. (David L. Ryan/ Globe Staff)

Animal magnetism

Lunch-hour crowds are drawn to new van filled with pets waiting for their homes

They came seeking dogs, kittens, even a parrot. Pet lovers on lunch break on City Hall Plaza yesterday flocked to the Animal Rescue League's new Mobile Adoption Rescue Vehicle, where more than 40 animals can peer out of cages and woo passersby willing to take them home.

"I already renamed her Maxine," one would-be pet owner, Kimberly Durfee of Revere, said hopefully, eyeing a tabby named Paul.

"It's matchmaking - that's what a good adoption is," said John J. Bowen, president of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, who unveiled the swank new van at yesterday's event with the Boston Animal Control.

The van, which will bring animals to much-frequented locations where they can be put up for adoption, drew an enthusiastic crowd at its lunch hour appearance, with people gathering around the windows and cooing at the pets.

Animal Rescue League officials said they planned to uphold their same stringent adoption policies at the van as in their shelters, completing adoptions only after checking out applicants.

Still, mobile adoption concerns some animal welfare specialists, who say that if applicants are not carefully screened, pets could swiftly end up back in shelters or on the street.

"Some of the things are tough to do when you're on the road with limited communication, things like landlord approval," said Brian Adams, spokesman for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center.

Barbara Farrington, president of the Milford Humane Society, said: "It wouldn't be something that our shelter would do, only because we would want people not making snap decisions. We want them to think about it and adopt that way."

When Nicole Cornell of Boston asked to adopt Donny the cat from the Animal Rescue League van yesterday, she did not have her landlord's number handy. The woman handling her paperwork quickly acquiesced, assured by Cornell that her lease allows pets. "Are you pretty sure?" the woman asked Cornell. "Then we'll keep going," she said breezily, adding to her colleague, "I trust her for some reason."

The process lasted just minutes for Cornell, who had to fill out an application, pay $105, answer questions about her last cat, provide a license, review Donny's medical record, and sign a contract pledging to feed and care for him for the rest of his life and acknowledging that the league could confiscate the cat otherwise.

"It's a bit quicker here and a little bit easier," said Cornell, who said she also got her last cat from an Animal Rescue League shelter.

Christopher Smalley, director of communications for the Animal Rescue League, said that the league's adoption policy is the same on the van as in the shelters and that one of the women who left with a cat yesterday had already been to the shelter with her family. All family members must meet the pet before it goes home. The new owner must provide proof of home ownership or a lease or landlord showing that pets are allowed. Current dog owners must introduce the new dog to the existing one before bringing the new pet home.

That meant that none of the dogs who charmed visitors yesterday actually made it immediately to new homes, though cats did.

"The dogs were there for more of a meet-and-greet," Smalley said.

As shelters go, the van provides swank, if rolling, accommodations, with heat, air conditioning, water, and electricity.

Awnings offer shade or can be closed to give the pets their privacy. In emergencies similar to Hurricane Katrina, the trailer could be used to house abandoned animals.

Would-be pet owners sometimes gripe about the detailed application process at shelters. Ce-Ce and Friends Humane Society in Weymouth requires a lengthy application, checks the owner or landlord's home ownership with the town assessor, and insists on two personal references from those who are new to pet ownership.

"I've had people say, 'My God, it's harder to adopt a cat than it is to adopt a child,' " said Peggy Wright, the Ce-Ce shelter president. "I'm sure it's not!"

But she said she must be wary of impulse buying, which is sometimes followed by a call surrendering the cat because of a new baby, a new boyfriend, a new apartment. "You just wouldn't believe the excuses we get," she said, "so we believe in thorough screening."

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at

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