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Ripples in the Rescue World
The following is a A blog by: Ripples in the Rescue World | Paws Abilities
Ripples in the Rescue World
Posted on February 18, 2013
While I’ve been active in the shelter and rescue community for over 13 years, I rarely write about this topic. This is quite intentional. Dog rescue is an emotional and controversial topic, and it’s appallingly easy to offend or upset people, which is the last thing I want to do.
There’s been a frightening upsurge in the amount of serious behavior consults I’ve done for recently adopted dogs in the past year. More alarming still, the majority of these cases can be traced to a scant handful of rescues and shelters in Minnesota. What’s going wrong?
Well, something’s definitely breaking down in each of these cases. In spite of the public perceptions that dogs from rescues and shelters are somehow “damaged” or inferior, the vast majority of homeless dogs have simply been unlucky. They’re wonderful dogs just waiting for a chance to shine. They may be victims of foreclosure, divorce, financial hardship, or other life changes. Their owners may have been young or not realized how much work a dog was. Most of the dogs in shelters and rescues have been loved by someone at some point. The idea of an “abused” and broken dog may make for a great story, but is rarely the case.
However, there are cases where something has indeed gone wrong. Perhaps the dog has a genetic predisposition to be reserved and quick to bite, or perhaps he learned early on that snapping was an effective way to convince people not to mess with him. Perhaps past trauma has shaped the dog’s worldview, or more likely a simple lack of any sort of socialization has narrowed that worldview so much that anything new is terrifying. Perhaps mismanagement by a previous owner resulted in the dog biting another person or maybe even injuring or killing a dog, cat, or other animal. Whatever has gone wrong, something has broken down.
Whatever has gone wrong, it’s important to remember that it’s not the dog’s fault. But it’s equally important to remember that placing unsafe dogs is unethical. This is one of the main things that separates responsible rescues and shelters from well-intentioned but irresponsible organizations.
So where are these irresponsible organizations going wrong? None of them are evaluating their dogs. A formal behavior evaluation allows organizations to make more responsible placement decisions, resulting in better matches between dogs and adopters and increased pet retention. This is good for dogs and good for adopters, not to mention how good it is for the shelter or rescue’s PR and bottom line. A couple of the irresponsible organizations are pulling dogs from out of state shelters, transporting them to our area, getting them vet care, and adopting them out without ever getting to know them. Yikes!
Adopting out unsafe dogs feels good as a rescuer. Every adoption feels like a success, and when that dog-, child-, cat-, and male-aggressive Lab mix finally finds a home after a year everyone pats themselves on the back for not giving up on him. He made it! Now he has a family who loves him!
Unfortunately, most rescuers’ involvement in the dog’s life ends there. They don’t see the new owners struggling to live with and love their new pet. They don’t see them crying when the dog bites the neighbor boy in the face or kills their cat. They don’t realize the financial and emotional burden they have placed on these well-meaning people who wanted to adopt a needy animal, not a project. Most of the time, my clients are too embarrassed or upset to contact the shelter or rescue that their dog came from after an incident, in spite of my recommendation that they do so.
There’s a ripple effect that happens after an unsafe animal is placed, and its toxic influence is part of the reason why we still have a homeless dog problem in shelters and rescues. There are enough homes looking for dogs to solve the shelter dog issue today. In fact, if these people all adopted, we wouldn’t have enough dogs in shelters and rescues to meet the need. These homes just aren’t going to shelters and rescues.
They’re not going to shelters or rescues to get their next pet because they’ve seen their friend, family member, coworker, or neighbor struggle with an irresponsibly placed rescue dog. Or maybe they were the ones struggling. Regardless, they’ve seen the potential problems with rescuing a dog, and they’re not having any of it. Instead, they order a puppy online or go to a breeder they found in the newspaper, never realizing that there are responsible and irresponsible breeders just as there are responsible and irresponsible rescues. Every irresponsibly-placed dog drives people away. Lots of people. And all those wonderful dogs that those nice people would have adopted if they’d seen how well adoption worked for others they know? They sit in our shelters and foster homes longer, because their potential adopters took their business elsewhere. Backyard breeders and puppy mills love irresponsible rescues.
Part of the problem with the rescue world is that there are no easy answers. We’re dealing with intelligent animals who feel pain, fear, joy, and love. We’re dealing with relationships between two different social species, each with its own expectations and needs. Things get messy.
That said, one of the best ways to reach for an answer is to talk about the problem, openly and respectfully. Create a dialogue.
Is there more that shelters or rescues should be doing to make sure that they place safe animals, or does the responsibility fall on the adopter to make an informed decision? Have you ever adopted a dog with “issues?” Would you do so again? What’s the best way to tackle the issues discussed here? Please comment below with your thoughts!
03-01-2013 10:59 PM #2Junior Member
- Join Date
- Mar 2013
Re: Ripples in the Rescue World
I rescued Coco in September last year. He had been roaming around behind my workplace for a couple days. Someone called Oakland animal control to pick him up. I watched him for a while and he seemed to have a shy yet intensely curious temperament. I was able to hand feed him a little but he was very fearful of a leash. When animal control finally came I told them I would take him home with me because I know they will kill most of the Pits type dogs they take in.
We have Welsh Corgi named Simba and he and Coco get along together very well. So that was a relief to us. I think we were able to manage the introduction and early stage of the relationship well and we still don't leave them alone together.
Coco is fearful of strangers especially men and if approached to quickly and loudly he will pancake and run or pee and flee. He's getting used to meeting new people and very seldom will he pancake, pee and flee any more.
Walking on a leash was quite an experience for Coco at first! He would try to paw at it and chew it. He was so scared and unsure on our first few walks we never made it to far. He would walk for a bit and then shut down and pancake. I would gently tug and release to break him out of it and he would walk a little then try to flee and pancake again. Time consuming and hard work! He's a pretty good walker now except now he wants to be out front so we are learning to heel.
A few of the tougher issues that we are that he doesn't know how to play with humans and if left alone he will whine and destroy household items.
We know Coco has issues and we are helping him work through those issues. We won't give up on him and we will continue to look for solutions to help him deal with these issues.
Somethings I am looking into investing in are a carpet mill and enrolling in some obedience classes.
I thank everyone involved in the rescue and responsible ownership of dogs especially pitbulls. That's all that are in the shelters out here. I look forward to being a steward of the breed through striving to be a responsible owner!
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