Edited to add: Smartdogs Webblog says it better. :)
Nathan Winograd has a(nother) great blog post up about the myth that there "aren't enough homes" for shelter pets. http://www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=1859
One of the huge obstacles to adopting out pets, he argues, is that shelters don't trust people. For many well-intentioned but overly suspicious shelter workers, "acceptable home" means a single-family dwelling owned by the adopter with a large, fenced yard and no children under the age of 12 where at least one person is home 24 hours a day.
Windograd says that everywhere he goes, people tell him stories of trying to adopt from a shelter and being denied for strange or nit-picky reasons. He himself (who fit most of the criteria above) was even denied by one rescue group because he didn't plan to install a doggy door to the back yard.
I've also heard many stories like this. My friend and her husband fell in love with a dog on death row at a local shelter that was also the county pound. But they weren't eligible to adopt because they were college kids. Apparently, the "shelter" would rather kill the dog than let it go home with 22 year olds.
My friend didn't give up. They went to extraordinary lengths to get her. They went back to the shelter the next day during a different shift so they wouldn't be recognized, lied on their adoption application, had a friend pretend to be their landlord, and then hid the dog from their real landlord for over a month while they got ready to move.
And you know what? They saved the dog's life. They loved that dog for another 10 years until she died of cancer. Even though they didn't fit the right demographic for the shelter, they turned out to be a great home. And they aren't the exception to the rule. All I have to do is walk around my neighborhood to see less-than-perfect pet owners that are still providing good homes.
The guy who lets his dog off leash in his unfenced front yard (but isn't causing problems).
The multiple families in cheap housing on fixed incomes (whose dogs always look happy as they're being walked and played with in the streets).
The family with small children who live in an apartment with no yard who got a large lab mix (who gets tons of love and attention and walks).
The mom who lets her young kids "walk" their large, nearly-out-of-control dog in the neighborhood (but the dog is friendly with everyone and the kids always have fun).
The college age guy who keeps his two hyper aussies inside for 9-10 hours a day while he's gone (but then spends 2-3 hours walking and playing fetch with them).
Me, who similarly keeps her hyper border collie in a crate for 8-9 hours a day (but then spends hours walking and playing fetch and doing training plus agility class once a week, plus hiking/camping on the weekends). I think if I hadn't "fudged" the amount of time Zelda would be alone on the adoption application, I would have been denied.
(A picture of Zelda the day we brought her home. We still lived in an apartment at the time)