If you would have asked me what my dream job was five years ago, I would have said professional pet sitter. It was what I was doing at the time, and I loved it. I loved caring for other people’s pets and making them feel loved while their parents were away. I also loved being able to train and socialize the ones I walked each day. Puppies were the easiest, they were always so eager to learn, but what always got me excited was working with a shy or fearful dogs. I can’t explain it, but there is something so rewarding about being able to build their confidence and win their trust.
Even when I volunteered at our local shelter, it was the shy or fearful ones I was most drawn to each day. In the 8 1/2 years I was there, those were the dogs I woke with most. I think it’s in my DNA. It’s most certainly how I met my dogs Indy, Daisy and Jasper.
Several years ago, I heard about a small facility that was being set up as a pilot site to work with and better understand how best to help dogs coming from dog fighting rings, puppy mills and hoarding cases.
Operating out of St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison New Jersey, the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center rehabilitates dogs that are damaged and traumatized by abuse and neglect. Their goal? To give dogs, most likely to be euthanized at local and county shelters, a new leash on life.
Back when I first read about it, it was more of a proof of concept, an experiment designed to prove that these dogs could be rehabilitated. But, it was also a study into learning what worked and didn’t work when rehabbing these dogs.
Fortunately, it appears they are succeeding. Thanks to the ASPCA and the wonderful people working at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, dogs are successfully being rehabbed and placed into new loving homes.
And now, they are ready to graduate and take it to the next level. Recently, they announced that they will be moving to a brand new (and much larger) facility in Weatherville, North Carolina in 2017. This is HUGE news. For those of us who work with puppy mill dogs, it means we may soon learn more about how best to help these dogs recover from abuse, trauma and neglect, and that really excites me.
This is my dream job! Think they would be open to a Minnesota transplant with a silly Fargo-like accent? Would it work if I made up a sign “Will rehab dogs for food?”
A person can dream, can’t they?
If you want to learn more about the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center, there is a great piece on it in NJ.com: Meet the ‘miracle’ dogs: N.J. center rehabilitates animal cruelty victims
When you work in rescue, you encounter a wide variety of situations that you not only can’t anticipate, but for which you also don’t have an easy solution. Things are rarely in black and white. Answers aren’t always easy, and many times you second guess yourself.
There is no question that rescues are there to save every animal they can. No one wants to be the one to make the decision to euthanize an animal. When an animal is in pain and suffering, the answer is a little easier because you know that it will no longer need to suffer in pain. But when it involves behavior or genetics, it can be so much harder to know what to do.
I often struggle in this middle ground. I firmly believe that many animals are euthanized when they could have been saved. Proper training and dedication can help many a dog who is fearful or has fear aggression. But, I also believe that there are animals being saved who should not be. Many of these are animals are ones who but for the perfect owner, would be a danger to others, people or human. and dedicated and self-sacrificing that without said owner, they would be a danger to others, people or animal.
Perhaps my strong sense of what is right and wrong prevents me from seeing other possibilities and options, but in a world where mistakes can happen, where perfection is impossible, I just cannot see how saving a dog that is a potential danger to other dogs is the “best” decision.
Last year, I participated in a group discussion involving a dog who had killed an older resident dog in the foster home he was staying in. The foster mom had made an urgent plea for someone to please take the dog. Many in the group expressed their condolences. Many praised her for being able to see beyond her grief to want to save the dog despite him killing her dog. A few of us expressed our condolences and broached the topic of euthanasia. She was seriously considering it.
But then, the person who had originally rescued him was able to get the dog into a no-kill shelter just south of here and he was saved. That was a little over six months ago.
Since then, I’ve often wondered…
Was the shelter informed about the death he had caused? If the shelter was informed, did they plan on or did they tell prospective new owners about the danger (I am assuming they are legally required to do so)? And, if they have told prospective owners, and he was rejected on that basis, would he spend the rest of his life in a shelter?
I also wondered if he had been placed in a new home and if the new owner knew understood the risks involved if the dog were to get loose or live in a home with another dog. I wondered if his new owner was experienced with dogs with behavioral issues. I wondered if he or she was continuing to work a training and behavior modification plan with him, like his foster mom had been trying to do, and if the he had harmed another dog since being shipped across the border.
I fully support rescues and shelters transporting dogs to places where they can have a better chance at living in a real home. I also support trying our very best to help a dog who has behavioral issues rather than choosing euthanization first. So many dogs have been saved this way.
However, when it comes to dogs with serious behavioral issues (or a history where another animal in the home was killed) I wonder where a rescue or shelter’s due diligence and responsibility begin and end. Is it okay to pass on a dog who has serious issues as long as the receiving rescue or shelter is aware of it? Is it okay to simply hope that the receiving rescue or shelter will do the right thing and inform the new owner of the possible dangers? Is there a right and wrong decision when it comes to this dog? I don’t know. Maybe there isn’t, I just hope it wasn’t passing the buck.
What do you think? Where does a rescue or shelter’s responsibility end when it comes to a dog with serious behavioral issues?
It’s become an annual tradition for me to end the year by sharing those blog posts I thought were most touching, interesting, or emotionally powerful throughout the past year. This year I have decided not to limit my selection to just blog posts. Among those included in my list are articles, Craigslist postings and other pieces.
The hardest part was whittling down my list. You may not have the same ones on your list, but I hope you will find them worth reading and sharing.
Do you have one that you want to share? Feel free to share!
Heartfelt Open Letter To Dog Owner On Craigslist Moved Me To Tears – This powerful post is actually a posting on Craigslist. It is an adopted dog owner’s letter to the original owner of a stray dog, named Laurel, who showed up outside an animal shelter one day.
Tails: Let’s focus on getting them back home, not adopted. – This piece is a particularly important one to me. Too many lost dogs are ending up in our shelters as strays. We need to do a better job trying to reunite them with their owners.
Rescue Decisions: The Dog, or the Community? – Sara Reusche is an amazing dog trainer and a great writer. Her blogs posts are relevant, thought-provoking and well written. This one is no different. Borderline dogs are something we should all be talking about.
10 Things To Do If Your Adult Dog Bites – This post was written by my friend, Nancy Freedman-Smith, who is a dog trainer and a wonderful writer. This time of year is particularly hard for dog trainers because it is when people start calling them asking for help after their dog bit a child or adult or another dog over the holidays. This piece may help them as the grapple with what most likely was a preventable situation.
4 Things Dog Trainers DON’T Do – This is a great piece by Laurie Luck. I first shared this on my Facebook page back in June of this year, but it is worth sharing again. I can vouch for the 4 things on her list.
I Rejected The Perfect Pet Adoption Family For The Wrong Reasons – This post was penned by Julie LeRoy in place of Cuda the Pit Bull, who passed away earlier this year. I thought it had a powerful message for those of us in animal rescue. it certainly gave me food for thought.
You Can Survive Burnout: How To Regroup When Your Year Really Sucked – This post came in under the wire (it was just written this week), but it was so impactful that it made me want to share it far and wide. The author is Dr. Jessica Vogelsang DVM. who is a veterinarian I really respect, not only for her brevity and wisdom, but also for her honesty and reflection. She always leaves me thinking.
The Biggest Mistake Pet Owners Make at the End – This is another post penned by Dr. Jessica Vogelsang DVM. I shared this on my Facebook page earlier this year and was disappointed to see that many people had not only NOT read it, but left comments that clearly showed they hadn’t read it. We need to stop telling people that our pets will tell us when it is time, because more often than not, they won’t. Please read and share. Another great post is by Jessica Dolce, How to Talk to Your Gynecologist About Euthanasia. Definitely worth the read.
What’s Important to You? – I don’t know about you, but it seems like the pet owner world has become more and more like the mommy wars over the years. What I mean is that just like the competitive mommy world where judgement about how you raise your children is at an all time high, the same is seems to be the case in the dog world. Trainer and writer, Sara Reusche, shares her perspective. I like it.
Training “Calm?” – I love this piece of Denise Fenzi. Training “calm” is not something that is often discussed amongst dog owners, but maybe it should. It could go a long way towards helping the dog/human bond.
Pet Safety: How Safe Are Pet Products? – Blogger Mary Haight’s, piece on pet safety was an eye-opener for me. If you think your pet is safe in a crate, in a car seat or with the toys that you buy, you may want to thin again. Very little safety testing is done on those items that you think will keep your pet safe. If you really want to learn more about the dangers that lie in the pet product industry, listen to her podcast interview with Linsey Wolko, Founder, Chairman and CEO of the Center For Pet Safety.
Comforting an Old Dog – A powerful piece by Shirley Zindler highlights the important role Animal Control Officers have with the animals they capture. Sometimes just being there is the most important part.
Screw Finding Your Passion – This second to last one has nothing to do with dogs, but has a powerful message nonetheless. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.
That thing others are shaming you for? Do it anyway. – Crystal Paine’s post on being your authentic self is one worth reading. If you have ever felt like hiding your true self or worried about criticisms by others about how you look or how you speak or write, then this piece is worth reading.
Never heard of it? The official description is below, but I can tell you that for Minnesota charities, this is the biggest day of the year. In this one event, charities can raise enough funds to keep them going for the next year. It means they can continue to help those in need, animals and humans alike, for a whole year.
|About Give to the Max Day
Give to the Max Day was created in 2009 to launch GiveMN, a collaborative venture led by Minnesota Community Foundation and many other organizations committed to helping make our state a better place. That initial spark touched off a blast of online giving — $14 million in 24 hours. Since then, Give to the Max Day has become an annual tradition. Every year thousands of organizations and individuals generate donations and excitement for Minnesota causes that are working to improve the quality of life for all Minnesotans.
Give to the Max Day has become a national model for giving days.
Give to the Max is a competitive day of massive giving and fundraising. What makes it special is that ON THIS DAY ONLY charities have the chance to earn extra $$’s just by you giving.
- Every hour a random drawing will give $1000 to a charity on each of the categories. This is called the Golden Ticket.
- Two SUPER SIZE GOLDEN TICKETS of $10,000 will also be awarded to two charities.
- In addition to that, top earning charities for each category will have the chance to win extra $$’s just by you keeping them in that top slot. Here is where Minnesota Sheltie Rescue hopes to be (small organization leader board):
I often try to remember back to when I adopted my first shelter dog. I was so uninformed and inexperienced back then. I had never adopted a dog before. I had absolutely no idea what to expect with an adult dog, especially not one who had a whole history behind her that I didn’t even know about. I probably made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions in those early days (I am sure of it).
What I didn’t know then, but know now is that for a rescue or shelter dog, the first few days and weeks in their new home are risky ones. They are at the mercy of their new human to make the right decisions for them. One mistake, and the dog could end up back at the shelter, or worse, euthanized for a serious mistake that could have been prevented if the human had made a different choice.
That last part is what I was thinking today when I read a story on my local station’s website – “Brainerd Woman Suffers ‘Serious’ Injuries from Dog Bite”. If what the dog owner said was true, and he actually did just adopt the dog who bit the woman in the story, then he just put his new dog’s life in danger. Most likely, when he and his dog are found, his dog will be quarantined, and then euthanized. One mistake. One life.
I don’t want make pet adoption seem so serious and dire, but it kind of is. We can make a lot of survivable mistakes with our newly adopted pets, but there are a few that could place their lives, and others, in danger. Knowing what not to do can be the difference between life and death.
Here are a few things NOT to do when you adopt a rescue or shelter dog.
- Take him to a pet store – A dog in a shelter environment is already stressed out. Taking him from one stressful place to another stressful place, with a complete stranger (yes, that would be you), is a recipe for disaster. A stressed dog may do things they might not do in a another time and place. I remember one dog that was adopted from our shelter and taken immediately to a pet store to purchase some things for him. He ended up biting a child and as a result, lost his life. I know another dog who was adopted right off the rescue transport and taken to a pet store. He escaped the car and was missing for several days. When he was found he was almost 20 miles away from where he was lost. It almost cost him his life. Luckily, a stranger came upon his dehydrated body and saved him.
- Take her to the dog park – Not only has your new dog not had a chance to bond with you, but even more importantly, she doesn’t even know you yet. I still remember a couple who brought their new dog straight from the animal shelter to the dog park and ended up spending a couple of hours trying to catch her. She might have been having a ball, but they were not. Luckily, their dog was not aggressive, but many people have brought an adopted dog to the dog park who was. To assume a dog you just adopted is not dog aggressive or will not harm another dog is not only naive, but dangerous. Get to know your dog before introducing her to other dogs and people. You may also want to work on training her to come when called before letting her off-leash in a dog park.
- Invite friends and family over to meet her right away – People often want to show off their new dog right after they adopt them, but this can be a huge mistake. Strangely enough, dogs are very much like us humans in that they need time to get settled into a new place. Imagine how overwhelmed you would feel if your new neighbors came over and started making themselves at home while you are still unpacking from the move. Pretty uncomfortable, right? So imagine being a dog and having complete strangers invade your space and touch you and get in your face when you haven’t even had a chance to get settled into your new home. Not fun. It’s also a recipe for disaster. One mistake, one dog bite later, and you may have a dead newly adopted dog.
- Let him off-leash in a public place – See #2 above. No, seriously, why would you let a dog you don’t know off-leash in an unconfined area? You don’t even know if he likes squirrels or people or other dogs. If you have a dog like Jasper (my Sheltie), then you might find out that he likes to herd runners and bikers and skateboarders and…. yeah, you get my point. Once you let a new dog off-leash, you have no control. Not only do you risk him getting lost, but you also risk being liable to the danger he might do to another person or dog (see the news story I mentioned above).
- Leave him out in your yard unattended – This one might sound silly, but I really cannot emphasize it enough – Do Not Leave Your New Dog Unattended In Your Backyard. The riskiest time for a new dog to become lost is in those first few days and weeks in a new home. Your new dog is probably stressed and scared and disoriented. One strange noise or sudden movement or scary incident and he can be gone in a flash, right over the fence. Being in the yard with him tells him he is not alone. It also ensure that he won’t have a chance to dig under a fence or look for an escape route, and if he does, you have an opportunity to redirect him before he makes it out.
Most rescue and shelter dogs are not there because they were bad dogs or had behavioral issues. Most are there because someone had to move or was going through a life change that required them to give up their pet. They need time to adjust to all the changes.
And while these dogs are awesome pets and companions, they also have the potential to bite if backed into a corner or placed in a stressful situation (every dog has the potential to bite when placed in a stressful position with no way out). It is up to us, as their new owners, to protect them. It is up to us to do right by them. Spend time getting to know your new dog, and let him get to know you too. Before introducing him to all the new wonderful things in your world, take the time to bond. You have time. You have the rest of your lives to do all those cool things you want to do together. Why rush it?
I’ve been stewing on this issue for some time now, but the recent outbreak of canine influenza in Chicago, and some of the recent stories I have heard about dogs transported here, has led me to believe it is time for Minnesota to regulate the transport of rescue dogs into our state.
I know it is odd for a rescue supporter and pet adoption advocate to suggest such a thing (I have no doubt it will be considered blasphemy by many local rescues), but I come at this as more than just a supporter of rescues. I come at this as a pet owner, an owner with senior dogs, dogs who have had recent health issues. I come at this as an owner who has seen rescues, acting in the best interest of the rescue dog, make critical but unintentional mistakes that have the potential to harm the dog populations that are already here.
From a lack of proper foster parent training and education to a lack of proper care for sick dogs with the potential to expose other dogs to illness, rescues have the potential to cause harm to existing populations of dogs in our state.
Just last month, a group of dogs were transported in from another state and placed in foster homes (after an urgent call went out for people to foster) with little being said about the health checks these dogs received before they were handed off to their new foster homes. I know that the situation was an emergency, and that rescues had little time to act, but I wonder if they gave any thought to what they might be transporting in with them before they drove them across state lines? Were the potential dangers considered beforehand? Did they get a full health assessment and blood workup done before they handed the dogs off to their foster homes?
More diligence must be taken, especially in light of hearing that the canine influenza was likely imported with a dog that came from China or South Korea and that Canine Brucellosis was recently transported into Calgary, Alberta, Canada via rescues in the southern U.S. and Mexico. I wholeheartedly support saving dogs, but we need to be more diligent. We need to be more thoughtful and plan ahead. We need to make sure we are not saving one dog while putting a whole population of resident dogs at risk.
In New England, the south to north dog transport (i.e., rescue transports from southern shelters to northern rescue groups) got so big that veterinarians became concerned. They started seeing more cases of parvo, rabies, heart disease and other dog diseases and parasites as a result of the dogs being brought into their states. Massachusetts was the first to implement laws around dogs being transported into their state, but others soon followed including New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
To circumvent the Massachusetts regulations, officials say, some rescue groups simply told adopters to meet them over the border. New England was caught in a geographic game of Whac-a-Mole, trying to ensure that only healthy dogs were being transported by responsible rescues. Dr. Scott Marshall, the state veterinarian in Rhode Island, says that state saw parvo cases blossom from two or three each year into two or three each week in recent years before enacting regulations that mirror the Bay State’s. Today, all the New England states have rules. Boston Globe, May 12, 2013
The laws in New England require:
- Rescues register with the state
- Each animal have a health certificate that is signed by a veterinarian
- Imported animals be held in isolation for 48 hours in an approved facility to allow dogs to recover from the stress of travel so their health status can be more accurately assessed
- Must be examined by a vet after the 48 hour holding period
I know that implementing something similar in Minnesota will cause hardship for many rescues, at least initially, but I think it is necessary. Importing dogs from out-of-state is such a common event now that regulation is necessary. In the rush to save more dogs, some rescues are choosing to cut corners and worry about the health of the dog once they get here versus before. This is not to say that rescues are bad. They are not. They are in the business of saving dogs’ lives. Their heart is in the right place. But if we are to do it in a way that protects all dogs, both those in and out-of-state, we need to ensure that all groups are following protocols that ensures this is the case.
As always, I welcome your thoughts.
Massachusetts Animal Rescue and Shelter Regulations (initial Draft)