Home > Animal Rescue, Lost Dogs, Missing Pets, Pet Adoption, Pet News, Pet Ponderings > What would you do? Give the dog back or keep him?

What would you do? Give the dog back or keep him?

j0387553I don’t know if you do the same thing, but when I see a news story on television I often try to imagine what I would do if I were in a similar situation. Would I rush onto thin ice to save a stranger’s dog? Would I intervene in a situation where someone or a group of people was abusing an animal? Would I really break into someone’s hot car to save a pet in need?

I would certainly hope I would help any human or animal in need, but I still wonder what I would do if I were REALLY in that situation.

On Sunday night, I read this story about a deaf woman whose dog (Bear) went missing and ended up at a shelter. When he wasn’t claimed in the allotted eight-day holding period, he was adopted out to another family.

When the woman finally found out that Bear had been adopted out, she contacted the shelter and asked them to contact the family and ask if she could have her dog back. The shelter said they did and the family said no. Just no. She couldn’t have her lost dog back.


I immediately wondered what I would have done if I were in the family’s circumstance. Would I return a dog to the woman who owned him first?  How long would it have to be before I would say no? (In this case, Bear has been with his new family at least a month, probably more.) Would there be a circumstance or situation in which I would not give the dog back? I can definitively answer that one. I would never return a dog to an abusive home or to a situation where he would likely suffer neglect. But, that doesn’t sound like the case here. So, would I return Bear to his owner?

I would like to think so. To me it seems the right thing to do. But, I am sure many would say no. There are certainly reasons why many people may not have chosen to return Bear to his owner:

  • She just assumed Bear had run off with another dog and would be back.
  • He had no tags on him.
  • He wasn’t microchipped.
  • She waited a week to report him missing.
  • She didn’t call local shelters.
  • She didn’t have him in a fenced yard or tethered so he couldn’t run away.

But  I wonder… Are any of these reasons enough not to return her dog back to her?

I couldn’t help but think about the story I read last week about the homeless man whose pitbull had been stolen from him while he slept. The media fanfare that surrounded his story eventually led to the return of his dog. Yes, he is homeless. He will not be able to provide his dog food, shelter or medical care, but still I cheered when i heard they had been reunited.

Would I have felt like cheering if I had adopted his dog and then was asked to give him back? Would I have so willingly returned his dog to him? To be honest, I doubt it. Isn’t that sad? I feel bad even writing it. The truth is I don’t know if I could have given the dog back. I know it would not have been an easy decision.

Every day we are faced with decisions like these, decisions about who is worthy and not worthy of a pet. It always seems so easy looking from the outside in, but the more and more I ask myself what I would do the more and more I wonder if what I think I would do is what I would really do.

What would you do? Would you give Bear back? Would you have given the homeless man his dog back?

  1. May 27, 2013 at 11:07 PM

    You’re asking some really good questions, and I have to admit I’m not really sure what I would do. My first reaction was disgust at the family who adopted Bear. How could they not give him back?! But then after getting those details I had to wonder whether I would. I feel bad for the woman who lost him, especially after reading the article. She still thinks she can get him back, but I can’t imagine how. And I feel bad for the dog that ended up back with the homeless man. I see many homeless people with dogs here in the LA area. I like to think for some of them life isn’t so bad: they get constant companionship, lots of stimulation and attention, a fair amount of exercise. But I’m only trying to look on the bright side.

  2. May 28, 2013 at 12:03 AM

    I think regardless of the actions or lack of actions the lady took, it’s still her dog. I would hope to God if something like that happened to us we could get our dog back. I would never feel right keeping a dog that I knew was someone else’s. I would feel too guilty, especially if it hadn’t been that long and there were good reasons for the delay.

    Wouldn’t think twice about giving the homeless man his dog back.

    • June 3, 2015 at 9:09 AM

      See, you show how quickly human decency instinctively surfaces, yet, some have stated the are not sure if they would know what the right thing to do is or if they did know in their hearts what the right thing to do is, the simply are not sure if they would make that choice.

      Like you, bummer as it might be, without hesitation, I would return the dog, once I knew for a fact it WAS that person’s dog AND if that person was PROPERLY caring for that dog. On the other hand, the CORRECT choice of the previous dog owner is to fully reimburse the new dog owner for all financial loss the new dog owners will have suffered. If doing what iis right is the issue, it seems to me that it should be a two way street.

  3. May 28, 2013 at 12:29 AM

    Several years ago we fostered a dog that was found wandering the streets. She was a 12 year old golden retriever and she was a sweet as she could be. We put flyers up all over town and had her for two weeks before someone called me and said “I think you have my sister’s dog”. The sister called me later that evening and said that her boyfriend would come and pick her up the next day after work. I was so pissed that they felt like they could wait until the next day to be reunited with their dog – if it was my dog – I would have been in the car immediately.

    I was so angry with myself for handing the dog over to them. The dog did not seem at all excited to see them. I still wish that I had told them they had the wrong dog. It’s hard to know what the right thing to do is.

    • Mel
      May 28, 2013 at 6:49 AM

      How sad Julie. I would have been angry with myself too I think. I have seen a rescue or individual hold back on some of the details about the lost pet just so they can be sure that the owner is the true owner, but when it is the owner and they are that uncaring I would be torn over what to do. Ugh! I am so sorry that happened to you. 😦

    • June 3, 2015 at 9:17 AM

      So many of us who try our best to be good human beings often get ‘caught off guard’ with situations we are not already familiar with or have no experience in something like it before. Yes, it sticks with us. Yes, we often wish we could go back in time to be able to have that opportunity one more time. It may not help at all, but this is how we learn about life sometimes. Since we cannot beat ourselves up with coulda, shoulda, woulda, we can learn from it to empower ourselves for future choices. Plus, when we deal with uncharted territory, all we can do is the best we can do at the time, then just learn from it.

  4. May 28, 2013 at 3:29 AM

    Very interesting one. I don’t know if I would give the dog back, if there was any hint that the dog might not have been cared for that well. I think the laws around this are pretty tough in Australia and you would be forced to return the dog. But ethically? I don’t know. I know some people who constantly leave their gate open and their dog gets ‘lost’ every week or so. Sometimes I’m just so tempted to ‘find’ him and keep him, because he has no street-smarts and is very unsafe out there. They just don’t seem to care. But how can I make that call, when I don’t really know their circumstances? It’s a slippery slope. What if someone else ‘judged’ that I wasn’t caring for my dog well, for instance because they never saw me walk him (we walk the dogs at odd hours sometimes)…I don’t know if people can just decide to keep a dog without very solid evidence that the dog is being mistreated.

  5. May 28, 2013 at 5:39 AM

    It’s hard a hard question for sure. I have a neighbor who’s dog gets loose several times a month. He always comes and visits my dogs. I have brought him back home more times than I can count. I posted a few days ago that I had brought him home again and few people responded that I should not keep bringing him back. He is not abused or mistreated, the owner is just at a loss on how to keep him contained. I suggested a couple things and she responded that he just needs to learn to stay in his yard. I’m torn on what to do, but still keep bringing him home.

  6. May 28, 2013 at 5:57 AM

    These are very challenging issues. I’ve come up against these sorts of “what’s in the best interests of the animal” {and who decides that/who’s to know?} vs. what the law or what procedures allow for.

    I had this experienced most recently with a big 12-year old ginger cat who decided most determinedly he wanted to come live with us. He seemed a stray, he was living rough, but was owned and chipped by a woman who lived right behind me.

    I spent 3 months emailing with this woman and fighting his corner for him – telling her how things were for him, sleeping in the snow etc. – which was bizarre. Very interesting experience.

    He’s now ‘ours’ and she has conceded to his decision to live with us. I put a lot of effort into making it happen this way for the cat.

    I know people who have heroically and illegally “stolen” dogs, that is, broken the law, to rescue animals from abusive owners.

    So it’s about how far will you go for an individual animal? If there is a strong connection and the animal speaks to you then you will have no choice really but to do things you never thought you’d do.

    I had a little tuxedo cat “speak” to me at an SPCA cat adoption facility a few months ago and found myself doing and saying everything I could to save this little guy. Me, who is an SPCA volunteer! Ultimately arguing with the inspector! Trying to go ‘under the counter’ even. It was humiliating and awful and I was outside my comfort zone big time but I did it anyway.

    The little guy was put to sleep. I will think about him always. So next time I will be smarter and more brave and more prepared to find a creative way around a situation.

  7. May 28, 2013 at 6:05 AM

    If I lost one of my girls I would do everything under the sun to find them, and they are chipped and wear tags. I think if I had a dog that had belonged to someone else and they had tried everything to find it and did not and one day found that I had their dog I would feel it right to return it. If they had not chipped the dog or had the dog wear tags and had not looked high and low for the dog I might not be so inclined to return it but it would really depend on the individual circumstances. If you lose your pet and want it back then you need to go above and beyond to find it and if that doesn’t work and down the road it is found you should not be penalized.

  8. May 28, 2013 at 6:54 AM

    Wow, that really got me thinking! At first I thought of course I would give the dog back, but then when you pointed out the other circumstances….I was not so sure. If one of my dogs went missing I would do everything in my power to find them, as Emma said above. But maybe if this woman is deaf, things were more difficult for her? I try not to judge other people, but you also have to consider what might be best for the dog. Wouldn’t a dog be better off living in a warm, safe home, than with a homeless person? But that dog might be the only true friend that homeless person has. I guess I’m not really sure what I would do…but try to do the right thing at the time. You can’t ever be sure 100% what the right thing is either, you just have to follow your heart and hope it works out for the best.

  9. May 28, 2013 at 8:12 AM

    As everyone has said – tough questions and it’s been a long time since Ethics class. I agree with what Jank said – I might give the woman a little slack for not finding her dog sooner given she is deaf – there might have been issues there. And I didn’t read the story, but I would hazard a guess that the homeless man’s dog was probably pretty happy to see his dad. There tends to be a very strong bond in those situations created from shared hardship.I also try to remember that not everyone thinks of dogs as we do. We’re pet bloggers for goodness sake. We LOVE our pets, but to many people they are ‘just the dog’ or ‘just the cat’. Just because they don’t love their pets the way I love mine, it doesn’t diminish the love they do have and I think we should honor that. Don’t you wish the dog could tell us where he’d rather be? That would kind of be the right answer wouldn’t it.

  10. May 28, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    I would go through the same thought process as you describe. I think the family should give the dog back because of the misunderstanding. But it would be nice to think that the woman could be educated a bit to make her home safer and perhaps healthier for her dog.

  11. Kate
    May 28, 2013 at 9:07 AM

    When I was in college, there was a young golden retriever that was constantly running loose on campus. He was very friendly, and would come right up to me. I was able to find out where he lived- but the neighbors who told me all seemed very reluctant about telling me, or angry with the family. They confirmed that this dog was always getting loose, the family was not very nice to him. They’d called the police several times, but all they did was force the family to get the dog licensed (though they still did not put any identifying tags on his collar). Now, this happy go lucky dog would very suddenly freeze and resist as soon as he saw his house come into site every time I walked him back. Every time I knocked on the door, one of the family members would take him back in without seeming to care much that he’d been gone. I saw his kennel area outside- small for such a big dog, and overgrown with grass. I hated bringing him back every time… but he had no concern about running in the road and nearly got hit several times. He’d also spend a lot of time in the lake which can be dangerous if unsupervised. I’d sometimes see the family walking him, and though I suppose it’s arguable whether they crossed the line over to abusive, they were certainly *very* harsh with correcting the dog when they’d do anything “wrong” like pull on the leash… I was at a loss for what to do. Even the neighbors didn’t like the idea of this family having the dog, but the police wouldn’t help. My school was in a rural area with a large Mennonite population, and was not known for animal welfare (in fact, I believe it was more known for puppy mills). Finally, after several months, I came across some students feeding the dog chicken wings. That was the last straw. After getting the bones out of the poor dog’s mouth, I begged a friend who worked at the school to take him. She had a farm a good distance away, with lots of room for the dog to run (safely!) and a good, loving life. She was hesitant, but when I explained the situation and confirmed that he was *only* licensed because the police forced them to, she agreed to take the dog- but that she would have to give it back if the family came looking. I paid a great deal of attention… They never asked around, they never posted up flyers anywhere, they never contacted the animal shelter I volunteered at… I don’t regret it at all. The dog has a wonderful life now, and he’s safe and loved. That’s what was the ultimate factor for me. Not only was it the dogs safety, it was his eyes. The way he’d change from a happy, playful, biddable dog with me one minute to fearful and begging me not to move forward when he saw his house… he obviously did not want to be there. I think sometimes they let us know. Was the dog with the homeless man happy to be there? Was he loved? Was he provided for in the best he could? I *think* I’d have returned him… and done all I could to help the two of them with food, etc. The dog from the family that hadn’t bothered to take the most basic of safety precautions? Probably not. And I’m willing to bet if you gave the dog a choice now, he’d probably choose his new family.

    • May 29, 2013 at 6:49 AM

      Well done Kate! Bravo!

      • Mel
        May 29, 2013 at 6:51 AM

        So agree. Kate – you absolutely rock. Thank goodness for you.

  12. May 28, 2013 at 9:33 AM

    Being a sissy of a lost dog I had to think about this really hard. My first conclusion is YES I would give the dog back but then I really had to think. How long was this dog part of her life, the time it took her to report the dog missing, what kind of life did this dog have. A lot of things went through my head but my heart goes to my missing brudder Zen. If someone has adopted him I would sincerely hope they would return him to us. They could see on social media outlets, articles that have been wrote ,the pleas that we have done that we have tried very very hard to find him. I would only hope and pray they would give him back to us. We would offer to pay the adoption fee, any money that has been spent on him, etc. I do not know if she has offered to do this. We will continue to search for Zen because he belongs to our family.

  13. May 28, 2013 at 2:44 PM

    Like some other commenters, I first thought, “Well, yes, they should give the dog back!” But the fact that the dog had no tags and the woman didn’t seem too fussed about where he’d gone would definitely disturb me. With all that additional info, you’ve got to wonder if the dog has a better life with the new family.

    We found a dog roaming the neighborhood once. No tags, etc. Put up signs in the neighborhood, and nothing. That evening when the hubs got home, we took the dog for a walk along with our pup to see if anyone would recognize him (he was an adorable little Pembroke corgi in the usual blonde color). While walking a little boy walked up and said, “I have a dog like that.” The dog and the boy both gave ZERO indication of knowing (or loving!) each other. I asked the kid if he could take us to his house – I thought his mom might know who else in the neighborhood had a Pembroke (just like we knew the other houses with beagles) so we could find the owners. When we got to the door, the mom says, “Miller! [the dog’s name] What are you doing out?” They didn’t even realize the dog had been missing the whole day!

    I’ve always regretted giving that little guy back to them! Stupid kid didn’t even recognize his own dog! What the heck??

  14. Jen
    May 28, 2013 at 3:02 PM

    If my dog was lost, I wouldn’t wait a week to look for her. I wouldn’t wait a day. Even if it was after hours, I would call all the local shelters, and all the local police departments. Stuff would be up on Facebook. I would be out LOOKING. She wouldn’t have the time to spend a week in a shelter, and if she did make it to a vet or something like that, her microchip would send her back to me. I hope.

    So, when I heard they wouldn’t give the dog back to the deaf woman….well, maybe the dog is better off. “Your” dog is only “YOUR DOG” when you act like it, not when you feel like acting like it.

  15. May 28, 2013 at 4:21 PM

    These are very interesting questions. I don’t think I would know what I would do until faced with them. I have two rescued dogs and one of my fears has been that someone would come and say it was their dog and try and take them back. I think what I would do would depend on all the information I could get about why the dog was lost and not returned to them.

    Interesting things to think about . . . .

  16. May 28, 2013 at 8:18 PM

    It’s a difficult ? as the woman had some faults too of not taking good care of Bear. She should have been more diligent in looking for Bear. On the other hand, it’s not right to keep Bear. How can the new adopted family live knowing Bear’s real owner exists. Also, the Shelter should have intervene or help at least. Golden Woofs

  17. May 28, 2013 at 10:04 PM

    I wouldn’t have given Bear back. I wouldn’t even consider it, but I wouldn’t have hesitated to help the homeless guy get his back. To me, there is a bright white line between “My dog was missing for eight days and I wasn’t really worried about it, didn’t bother looking for him and made no effort to identify him as my own in the first place” and “My dog was stolen, even though I had no resources to do so I found a way to get him all over Facebook, raise funds for an award, posted flyers and was overwrought with emotion over his loss and return.”

    I understand and relate to the homeless guy. If I should loose every tomorrow (though God willing, I won’t) I would be that girl. On the streets because I refuse to go to a shelter that won’t take my dogs. For a long time, there was a man living in a tent behind a local church. We met him by accident, tramping through the woods. He wouldn’t take a single thing for himself, but he gratefully accepted food for his dog. Many of the homeless people in Vancouver (and there are too many) will accept help for their dog and not themselves.

    On the other hand, I could never be the woman that didn’t look for her missing dog for over a week, never contacted the shelter and didn’t place a missing ad for a month. I read the articles on her and Bear. Never once does she say she loves him, but she does talk a lot about how Bear helps her know when someone comes over and how she’s nervous to live in the country without Bear for protection.

    All that being said, I think Carma Poodale’s story is very different. If I found out I had adopted a much loved fog whose owners had done everything possible to find them, I’d be heart broken for myself, but I’d return the dog. It’s just a different situation altogether.

  18. May 28, 2013 at 10:26 PM

    Hmmmm, what very good questions Mel. I think it would be a tough decision because I would try my best and look at what is best for the dog and not what is best for me or the other person involved, but that’s easy to say since I’m not in that siutation.

    Thanks for all your kind words on my blog today, it really meant a lot!

  19. May 29, 2013 at 8:48 PM

    You raise some very interesting questions. I think that I’d have to evaluate each situation on its merits and go from there. I agree with Jodi – in the case of the homeless man, I don’t think I’d hesitate to return the dog. I believe strongly in the mission of Pets of the Homeless, and in honoring the animal-human bond. (Jodi’s comment also raises a good point about the need for pet-friendly shelters.) In a case like the woman who wasn’t frantically searching for her dog, I cannot even relate – I would be an absolute mess if my dog was suddenly missing.

  20. June 6, 2013 at 5:14 PM

    Just catching up on this one, and you’ve nailed one of my recurring nightmares – what if someone came forward and claimed Buster? What would I do? We found him without tags, without a microchip, still un-neutered at a year old. We put up flyers, contacted the shelters and the local German Shepherd rescue to let them know he’d be found, and no one came forward to say he was theirs. We’ve had him for five years now, and he’s a significant part of our family and the GoPetFriendly team. If only there were a way, I think I’d prefer Buster make the decision.

    • Mel
      June 6, 2013 at 11:03 PM

      Wow Amy. I never even thought of Buster until you mentioned it! I felt you had done everything possible to find his owner. I can’t imagine he would ever want to leave even if an owner would suddenly come forward to claim him. He has the most awesome life with you and he has bonded to you.

  21. June 3, 2015 at 9:23 AM

    I wish I could put a link to this article somewhere on the side of my blog. I’m new to this whole deal and still learning the ropes. I’m finding so many fantastic articles/blogs on WP. Gee, where have I been? Feels like under a rock or in a remote cave, regarding the world of WordPress.

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