When Jim and Sandra Ashley wanted to get a kitten for their 7-year-old daughter, Carolyn, they decided to adopt from the SPCA of Wake County.
But after filling out an application, answering questions and playing with a kitten for 45 minutes, the Ashleys left without a pet.
"They denied us, because we were going to let the cat outside," Sandra Ashley said. "It absolutely broke her (Carolyn's) heart, and then, I got upset."
Like most private and nonprofit animal rescues, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Wake County has stronger guidelines and criteria for adopting pets than public animal shelters.
For example, a local golden retriever rescue has a five-page application that requires references.
In the Ashleys' case, part of the reason their adoption application was denied was Sandra Ashley's history. A cat she had 20 years ago with a roommate ran off and returned pregnant.
The Ashleys insist the cat they wanted to adopt would only go out when it was older and supervised.
"They just couldn't offer us an assurance that the cat could be contained," Wake SPCA spokeswoman Mondy Lamb said.
She insists the agency will not turn away prospective cat owners who want their cats to go outside, but in this case, it does require assurance the animal will not run away.
"Every year in Wake County, thousands of stray cats are rounded up by animal control and are subsequently euthanized," Lamb said.
Among all the animals it rescues, the Wake SPCA only denies an average of 14 of 200 adoptions a month, Lamb said.
Garner animal control officer Judi Lowry says the rules are in place so animals will get a good home.
"People just have to understand, these are little creatures that have no advocates other than us," Lowry said. "They cannot call us on the phone and say, 'These people aren't taking care of us.'"
Most public shelters require less in the way of screening.
Kelli Ferris, an animal cruelty investigator and veterinarian at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, says what to require can be a tough call.
"We do have polar opposites, almost, of what people are required to pay or produce, as far as documentation," she said.
The Ashleys say they do have a good home for their new cat, Summer, who was adopted from a local veterinarian.
They say Summer will go outside - supervised. They even purchased a leash – something they learned about from their trip to the SPCA.
The Ashleys also say they wish they had known the Wake SPCA's criteria for adopting before they decided to get a kitten.
But many agencies say that if people know the guidelines, they could try to get around them.
In 2006, nearly 303,000 animals entered public shelters in North Carolina. About 75 percent of them were euthanized.
Although most animal rescues do not euthanize, the Wake SPCA does put to sleep animals that have serious health problems or cannot be adopted for other reasons, such as aggressive behavior.
Sometimes, it has to euthanize animals for space reasons, as well, the agency said.