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?
After a week of blog posts dedicated to National Dog Bite Prevention Week, I thought it might be fun to end on an uplifting note. This week’s video was first introduced to me by Debbie Jacobs of Fearfuldogs.com. Debbie is an expert in dealing with fearful dogs, like Foster Maggie.
I love this video for a multitude of reasons:
- It features a child learning how to use positive reinforcement to improve the relationship with his bird.
- It demonstrates how easy it is to use positive reinforcement to change a response to something fearful (in this case, Noah). If a child can do this, so can you.
- The smile on Noah’s face when he realizes that his relationship with his bird has changed. It’s an amazing smile and the look of accomplishment says it all.
I hope you will indulge me this week as I skip the cute dog video for one with a wonderful message and purpose. Watch Noah train his bird.
I promise you, you won’t regret it.
Happy Friday everyone!
On Wednesday night, I took the dogs to the dog park (like I usually do). Jasper spent his time chasing after sticks, Daisy explored the woods and Cupcake sniffed to her heart’s desire. We even walked with some friends (Tom and his dogs Ruby and Max), and said hello to a few other friends we know. It was fun evening
It was towards the end of our walk that we first heard them. Children. Little ones. We could also hear their dog barking, and the owner calling it over and over again, with absolutely no success. Trouble was coming. I could just feel it. I called Daisy, Jasper and Cupcake to me and we headed out of the woods and across the field to the far end of the park.
I admit I am always little wary of anyone bringing kids to the park. You just never know what can happen. I watched from across the field as the little children exited the woods with two women. They all turned and walked along the edge of the field – away from us. I breathed a sigh of relief and led my dogs in the opposite direction.
As we walked, I noticed that the older child, about 5 years old, was carrying an arm load of sticks. The other child a toddler about 2-3 years old, followed closely behind him and then stopped to pick up a stick of his own.
The older boy followed his mom and the other woman down the mulched path, away from the toddler. I kept watching as he and the two women kept moving away from the toddler, widening the distance between them. They got a good distance away from him before they even turned to see where he was. They seemed unconcerned that they were so far away from him.
It was then I saw the dog approach. He went right up to the child’s hand and face and grabbed the stick right from his hand. (Luckily, the toddler did not try to take it back.) The dog stayed there, looking at the child, no more than a couple of feet away from him and his face, not moving closer, but also not moving away. It was not until his owner called him back to her, that he finally left the child. Thankfully, he had a great recall.
The whole time this was going on, the mother and other woman just stood there, almost half the length of the dog park away from the toddler. They did not yell, or call his name, or even start to run back to him. They just sent the older son back to retrieve him. I don’t even think they realized how dangerous a position her child had been in. I don’t think she realized how quickly this incident could have turned into a tragedy.
She was damn lucky. How foolish that mother was to bring her small child to a dog park, filled with dogs she did not know, and then leave him in such a terribly vulnerable position. A dog bite could have happened so easily. Another dog could have caused some serious damage to her child. That this dog, or another dog, did not do so is a miracle. That mother was so very lucky that the dog her toddler encountered was well-trained and had a good recall. She was lucky her child encountered a “good” dog. But, let’s face it, even a “good” dog can bite.
We humans have to get better at preventing dog bites. We need to take interactions between dogs and kids more seriously. We need to be more purposeful about where, when and HOW we expose dogs and kids to one another. And, I’m not just talking about stranger’s dogs either. More children are bitten by the family pet than by a dog they do not know.
So how do we get better at keeping both dogs and kids safe?
- Teach kids that they have to ask permission before approaching a strange dog. ALWAYS.
- Educate kids on how to tell when a dog is safe to approach and then how to do so safely. Make it a game. Quiz them in the car and in the park. (Stop the 77 has a great video for pre-schoolers called “I Speak Doggie.”)
- Supervise, whenever a dog and child are together (NO multi-tasking or playing on your cell phone). We need to be completely present and watching their interactions. We also need to be watching for signals that the dog is done with the interaction. (4Paws University shared a great graphic and information today on their Facebook page.) If you see a dog LOOK AWAY, TURN AWAY or MOVE AWAY, the dog has had enough and you need to either remove the dog or the child from the interaction.
- Stop punishing dogs for growling. This is your warning sign that your dog has had enough. When you punish a dog for growling, you are taking away the alarm bell that tells you a bite could happen. (4Paws University shared a great graphic on this one too.)
- Teach our kids how to act when a strange dog approaches them that is scary. (Doggone Safe shows children how to Be Like A Tree in order to avoid a dog bite.)
- Stop pretending that your dog is different from other dogs and that they like having a child climbing on them. They really don’t. Do you like it when a child pulls your hair, yanks on your ear, steps on your gut, kicks your leg or bites you? No? If we don’t like it, then why do we expect dogs to like it any better? It’s not cute. It’s rude (and dangerous).
When a dog bites a child, everyone pays a price.
You lose a dog and a best friend.
Your child loses a friend and his love and trust of dogs.
The dog loses its life.
The kind of behavior displayed in the video below (And if that doesn’t scare you enough, maybe this one will.) has lose-lose results for everyone. Let’s make it stop.
Stop pretending dogs don’t bite.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, this week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 17-23).
I’ve been planning for this week for a few months now; collecting videos, graphics and other information, so that I could share it with all of you.
Even with all the prep work, I know that not everyone will read it. This subject is not as sexy as the latest news story about a lost dog or harrowing dog rescue story, but it is a very real problem with huge impacts. Did you know?
- 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs every year
- 1 in 5 are bad enough to require medical attention
- It is estimated that in 2013, insurers across the country paid over $483 million in dog bite claims (You can see the top 10 states for dog bite claims in 2014 here.)
- In that same year, 26,935 reconstructive procedures were performed to repair injuries caused by dog bites (Information provided by the AVMA for Bite Prevention Week)
It’s not just the emotional and physical damage one experiences when a dog bites, but it is also the cost. Not cheap is it?
One of the most common things people do, that can lead to a bite, is hug their dog.
I know. I know. Your dog LOVES to be hugged. So do mine. Well actually, they really don’t. Jasper hates them. Cupcake will tolerate them. Daisy is the only one who actually invites a hug from time to time. How do I know? Because I closely watched their behavior when I did so. They stiffened up, pulled away, turned their heads and did several lip licks. Hugs are just not their thing.
You don’t have to be a dog trainer to see the signs that a dog does not want to be hugged. Just look at her body language.
- Does she pull away from you?
- Does she turn her head away from you when you try to get close?
- Does she seem uncomfortable when you get too near her?
- Does she put a paw up to keep you away when you try to hug her?
If so, then believe her. She is not trying to be cute. It is not her puppy dog way of trying to be funny. She is telling you that she does not like you in her space. (To paraphrase a quote from Maya Angelou – When a dog shows you what they like/dislike, believe them. They are not kidding.)
The video below provides a great example of a dog giving really clear signals that a hug is not okay. You don’t have to be a dog trainer to see all the signs, but I am glad his owner calls them out anyways. Observe how many signs and how many times this dog tries to let his owner know that he does not want to be hugged.
I wonder how often our own dogs give us these cues.
I wonder how often we miss them.
This week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 17-23).
Every year, more than 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs. By far, children are the most frequent victims of dog bites. They are also the most likely to be severely injured when a dog bites.
I was one of those children. In fact, I was bitten twice, by two different dogs at two different times. In both cases, I was at fault. Of course, each of the dogs bore the blame for the bite. One was euthanized. It’s something I wish I could go back and change, but since I cannot, I focus on spreading the word instead. Children and dogs can be a volatile combination, especially when you have younger children.
There are lots of ways you can keep kids safe, but among them are these:
- Don’t let your small child (especially those on the same eye level as a dog) stare a dog in eye – In dog body language this can be seen as a threat and it could well end up in a bite. This is what caused me to be bitten.
- Tell children that hugs are for humans, not for dogs – Despite what “your” dog does or does not like, most dogs do not like to be hugged. They also don’t like to be climbed on, stepped on, or crawled over, so when you see a small child doing this, stop him. Remove him or the dog from the situation.
- Teach your children to ask before they pet – One should never assume that all dogs like kids. Children need to know that not all dogs can be approached. If they would like to meet a dog, they should ask the owner first. It’s not only polite, but safer for the child and the dog.
- Always supervise small children around dogs – Many dogs are unnerved by the jerky and unsteady movements of small children. If your dog is lip licking, his ears are back, he is turning away or trying to get away, or is growling, remove the dog from the room and give him a safe place to go where the child cannot get to him.
- Understand every dog has the potential to bite. Yes, even your family dog can bite – Children are most often bitten by the family dog, not a stranger’s dog. Just because you have had your dog since a puppy doesn’t mean he won’t bite. Given the right situation (pain, fear, excitement, etc.) any dog can bite.
This week I will be sharing information (like the great infographic below) on my blog and on my Facebook page to bring attention to National Dog Bite Prevention Week. The goal is two-fold – 1) to keep kids safe from dog bites, and 2) to prevent dogs from being euthanized because of a bite that could have been prevented.
I hope you will share and spread the word. Let’s keep both kids and dogs safe.
On Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend an online seminar put on by Maddie’s Fund. I was already interested in the topic, but expected to learn little new as I had already been reading up on the topic on my own. As it turns out, I learned a heck of a lot more information in the seminar than in the newspapers. Go figure.
The topic? What Animal Shelters Need to Know About the Canine Influenza Outbreak. The seminar was presented by Dr. Sandra Newbury from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine and UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program. Dr. Newbury has been working closely with shelters since the outbreak and was able to share some details that the media has missed in their rush to join the hype.
She shared some of what shelter workers who have been dealing with after the spread of this virus, not only in the shelters in Chicago, but also in the surrounding areas and states. Wow. I cannot imagine the stress. They deserve our support. What they are dealing with is incredibly overwhelming. I imagine they are exhausted after managing through this for the past two months. They are not only caring for hundreds of sick cats and dogs, but also worrying about exposing their own pets to this virus. Imagine how scary it must be for them.
You can get a copy of the presentation handout here, but I thought I would share a few of the things I learned.
- The virus currently making dogs sick in Chicago (H3N2) originated in Korea, China and Thailand. It is suspected it came from the Avian influenza and transferred to cats and dogs. In Korea, China and Thailand, the virus also infected cats, who experienced a significant mortality rate when infected (something we have not seen here).
- Despite what we may think, there is no proof that the virus came in with a dog imported from these countries to the United States. They may never know how it made it to this country.
- The virus did not originate in a shelter, but started with one dog living in a home. Contraction of the virus most likely started in a training class, vet clinic, or doggy daycare.
- When it did hit animal shelters in Chicago, it hit them like a tidal wave. Example: One or two dogs started showing symptoms on Monday. By Tuesday, ten dogs were sick and by Friday, shelters were seeing 50-100 dogs sick. In CACC, they saw 200 dogs sick with the virus.
- Most of the dogs have had mild to moderate respiratory disease. Very few that have died, but some have developed pneumonia and needed additional treatment.
- Symptoms usually start with a cough and nasal discharge. Dogs sickened with this virus seem to feel worse than the dogs infected with the known virus, H3N8.
- This virus differs from the one we have previously seen in the United States (H3N8) in that it has a longer “shedding” period (the virus can still be shed by the formerly sick dog long after they seem well, thus making them still contagious after 19 days).
- This has had a huge impact on shelters and shelter workers. Because of the longer shedding period, shelters have had to stop or slow down the release of dogs to rescues and they have had to turn some dogs away in order to avoid infecting more dogs, sometimes diverting incoming dogs to other uninfected shelters. They are trying to be very, very careful to not spread the virus.
- Because this virus is new to the United States, many shelters were placing dogs up for adoption after seven days, when they appeared well, but they soon discovered that other dogs were getting infected when exposed to these dogs even though they (the formerly sick dogs) were well.
- Dr. Newbury said they are now recommending that dogs be isolated for at least 21 days after they were first diagnosed to prevent spread of the disease, but she cautioned that they are not yet positive that 21 days will be long enough, because they thought it would be fine after 14 days and discovered it was not.
- If a rescue or animal shelter chooses to adopt out a dog who was sick and no longer has symptoms, they should be apply two rtPCR tests and get a negative result from both before allowing the dog to be adopted, and even then, they should gain agreement from the adopter that they will keep them isolated for the full 21 days (no dog parks, no training classes, etc.).
- Shelters in Chicago are developing plans to release some dogs from their shelters to avoid an increase in euthanasia, but they are giving rescue groups very, very specific instructions on holding the dogs in isolation and away from other dogs. They do not want to move dog to an area that does not have influenza already.
- Sick dogs are not turning over to recovering dogs as quickly, but they are starting to see more recovered dogs than sick now. That is very good news.
While I still think this is a very serious outbreak, I feel better knowing more of the details. The speed at which this virus spreads and the fact that the shedding period is so long should be a concern for rescues as they import dogs from these sates. They may want to avoid the ones where cases already been confirmed for now.
Kudos to all the shelter workers dealing with this and trying to make sure it is contained. You have a tough job on normal days. This is above and beyond what is “normal.”
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)