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.
Last week, I saw an image pop up on my Facebook page that sent me back four years. It was the image of a Lost Sheltie flyer, Cupcake’s Lost Sheltie flyer to be precise. It was from when she was missing in November 2011.
Cupcake was lost and found after 12 long days, and it was only because of many, many wonderful volunteers and a handy little thing called a flyer, that I got her back.
Cupcake’s lost dog flyer was placed everywhere – on grocery store walls and convenience store windows, in newspaper boxes and inside neighbor’s screen doors, on cars in a church and shopping store parking lots. Her image was seen by hundreds of people all over Eagan.
I remember thinking how lucky I was to have taken so many photos of her. She may not have been my dog at the time (she was my foster dog), but I loved taking pictures of her, and that turned out to be a fortunate thing, because I was able to use so many of those pictures to make sure people knew it was her when they spotted her.
Seeing the flyer again made me realize that perhaps in all the educating being done on micro-chipping your pet, handing out flyers and getting the word out, we may have forgotten to mention that having a few good, current photos are essential too.
Too often, I see photos on the Lost Dogs Facebook pages that are too dark, out of focus, or don’t give viewers a full and complete image of their dog. These are the photos someone will use to (hopefully) identify their dog. A bad photo can make the difference between a dog that gets seen, and reported, and one that does not.
This is not to say that someone is a bad owner if they do not have a good photo of their dog (we all have bad photos of our pets), but it is a call for dog owners to start taking better photos of their pets “in case” they ever need to use it in a lost dog search.
I recognize that most people never expect their dog to go missing, but being prepared for the “what if” situation is easier than saying “if only I had…” So here are some tips on how to capture some great photos of your dog that you can use in a lost dog flyer, if you should ever need it:
- Take pictures of your dog in natural light or in a well-lit area. It not only gives people a better idea of what your dog looks like, but it can also show off any unusual features they may have, such as unusual colorations in their coat or face.
- Shoot pictures of your dog from all different angles – you want to get photos that show their front, back and sides, it gives people a better sense of their size, coloring, and length.
- Get a close up of your dog’s face – A close up shows searchers and shelters more of their facial features and makes it easier for them to make a positive identification.
- Take a selfie with your pet – Almost everyone has a cell phone on them these days. Why not take advantage of a moment when you are out with your dog to take a selfie? It will help people make a connection with you and your dog and it almost guarantees that you will have a more current photo with you, if you should ever need it in an emergency.
- Take an action shot of your pet – It will give a potential finder a better sense of how your dog stands or moves. This is especially helpful in the case of a sighting of your missing dog.
I hope you will never need to use one of these photos in a lost dog flyer, but if you ever do you will be much better prepared to provide one that will help searchers make a positive identification.
Note: If you find a lost dog, please do your best to take a really good photo that is in a well-lit area. It will help the owner find their dog so much more quickly.
It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, but after seeing a picture today of a child dressed like a jockey and sitting on the back of a Great Dane like it was a horse, I can’t help but feel like I haven’t done enough of them. We humans constantly place our dogs in situations that put them, and kids, at risk. How do we educate millions of dog owners on dog body language? How do we help them to see beyond the cuteness to see what a dog is really telling them?
No dog is fool-proof. Ever. Some dogs are more tolerant than others, but pushed far enough a dog will bite, especially if he cannot flee from the situation. If we can learn to recognize when a dog is uncomfortable, we can intervene and stop whatever is making them uncomfortable or we can remove them from the situation and place them somewhere they feel safe. Dogs and kids are at OUR mercy. It is up to us to protect them both.
Below is a video I’ve had in my video file for some time. Overall, it is not a terrible video. It doesn’t have a child standing or jumping on a dog. It doesn’t have a dog snarking at or biting a child. But, it is a good example of the subtle behaviors a dog displays when uncomfortable, and in this video, the cues are really easy to see.
Watch the video below and then see my observations and analysis.
What I see…
A baby and a dog are laying on a bed. The child is on her stomach and she is lying next to the family dog, who is looking out the window. The baby is propped up on her hands and is looking in the opposite direction. The dad is the one videotaping what looks to be a very cute moment.
.04 sec: Dog looks at camera and does a lip lick. Baby is looking down and away from the dog.
.05 sec: Dog does another small lip lick and looks at the child.
.06 sec: Baby looks at dog
.07 sec: Dog looks at baby and does a small lip lick. His ears are way back on his head. It appears he has a whale-eye, but hard to tell since he has turned to face the baby and we are only seeing him from the side.
.08 sec: Dog does another very small lip lick and ears are back. Child raises the hand nearest the dog.
.09-.10 sec: Child raises are and swings it towards the dog a couple of times. Blink.
.11 sec: Dog does another lip lick. Ears appear even further back on his head. Blink. Blink.
.12 sec: two more quick lip licks from the dog. Looks at camera. Ears are spread far apart on his head and are back.
.13 sec: Baby leans forward. Another lip lick from the dog. Slight whale-eye.
.14-.16 sec: Baby leans towards dog. Lip-lick. Dog pulls lips back (no teeth shown) and looks at child.
.16 sec: Child touches dog’s mouth. Dog does another lip-lick. Whale-eye.
.17 sec: Dog leans sideways towards child and does another lip lick.
.20 sec: Child raises hand. Dog pulls head away slightly and turns it. Looks slightly away from child.
.21 sec: Dog looks at child. Blink.
.23-.24 sec: Dog and child look at man behind the camera. Dogs ears are back.
.25 sec: Child rocks up and forward on hands.
.26 sec: Dog looks up at ceiling in opposite direction of the child. (Distraction?)
.26 sec: Dog looks to side. Eyes focused. Mouth slightly open.
.30 sec: Child rocks forward. Dog looks at child. Lip-lick.
.31 sec: Lip-lick. Looks at camera. Blink.
.33 sec: Dog yawns. Baby yawns. both look towards camera.
.36-.37 sec: Baby lifts arm and drops it on bed near dog. Lip-lick from the dog. Blink.
.38 sec: Lip lick. Blink
.43 sec: Lip-lick.
.44 sec: Lip-lick. Baby looks at dog. Blink.
.48-.49 sec: Baby lifts arm that is further away from the dog and places it on dog’s paw. Dog immediately turns and licks child’s hand.
.50 sec: Licks child’s hand again.
.51 sec: Dog licks child’s hand again and moves face closer to baby’s face. Lip-lick. Displays whale-eye.
.52 sec: Licks baby’s face.
.53 sec: Licks baby’s face again and then her ear as she turns away.
.54 sec: Licks baby’s ear twice more.
.54-.55 sec: Two more lick-licks. Baby and dog look at camera.
.57 sec: Dog glances away from baby and then back at camera.
1:00 min: Baby rocks forward and towards dog. Dog does another lip-lick. Ears are back on his head.
1:01 min: Lip-lick. Whale-eye. Dog leans over and licks child’s face.
1:02 min: Licks child’s face again.
1:02-1:03 min: Two more quick lip-licks from the dog. Looks at camera. Child is now leaning forward and almost looming over dog.
1:03-1:04 min: Two more quick lip-licks. Dog closes eyes on second lip lick (exaggerated blink?).
1:05 min: Blink and lip-lick from the dog.
1:06 min: Child leans over and hand touches paw again. Dog immediately leans forward and licks child’s hand.
1:07 min: Licks child’s hand again and places at the camera.
1:08 min: Two more lip licks.
1:09 min: Lip-lick. Dog raises head. Mouth is slightly open. Dog is looking at the camera.
1:11 min: Child touches dog’s paw again and he licks her hand again.
1:12 min: Licks child’s hand twice more and looks at camera.
1:13 min: Lip-lick.
1:15 min: Lip-lick.
1:16 min: Dog blinks.
1:18-1:19 min: Child lifts arm and touches side of dog’s face. Dog gives a lip-lick and closes eyes.
1:20 min: Dog flicks ear and lip-licks.
1:21 min: Dog blinks.
1:22 min: Child raises hand towards dog’s ear. Dog closes eyes.
1:23 min: Child touches dog’s ear. Dog blinks and then does another lip-lick.
1:24-1:25 min: Child grabs on dog’s ear and pulls, Dog lip-licks. Mouth is closed. Blink.
1:26 min: Child pulls his ear. Dog looks at child. Whale-eye. Looks at child. Lip-lick.
1:27 min: Two more lip-licks from the dog. Moves face closer to child.
1:28 min: Lip-lick. Blinks. Pulls body away from child. Looks at camera.
1:29 min: Lip licks again and pulls further away from child. Mouth tightly closes.
1:30 min: Small lip-lick. Dog seems stiff. Lips are drawn. Child is touching dog with hand.
1:31 min: Child touches dog again. Dog appears stiff. hale-eye. Dog looks at camera.
1:32 min: Lip-lick.
1:33 min: Lip lick. Child touches dog’s paw. Dog freezes. Dog leans head away from child and pulls paw away from child’s hand.
1:34-1:35 min: Dog lays head on bed. Paw is in the air. Dog rests paw on bed.
1:36-1:37 min: Owner tells dog he is a good boy and dog lays back further and closes eyes.
1:38-1:39 min: Child touches paw with a finger and the dog sits back up quickly.
1:40 min: Whale-eye.
1:41 min: Lip-lick. Dog looks at baby.
1:42 min: Two more lip-licks. Licks child’s face.
1:42-1:47 min: Dog licks child’s face and ear multiple times.
1:48 min: Owner moves hands toward dog and tells him “That’s enough Spencer” while chuckling. Dog gives another lip-lick.
1:49 min: Lip-lick.
1:50 min: Lip-lick.
1:51 min: Lip-lick.
1:51-1:53 min: Dog lifts himself up with front paws and stands up on bed and makes move to jump off.
My analysis: Spencer the dog displayed numerous appeasement and stress signals throughout the video. I don’t think I have ever seen so many lip-licks in such a short period of time. The number of lip-licks and blinks in just a mere second of time was amazing too. All of these (lip-licks, blinking and yawning) are appeasement signals. They are telling the child (and the owner) that he is uncomfortable and would like the behavior (touching him, leaning over him and grabbing him) to stop. He is especially not comfortable with the baby touching his feet. I think these moments were some of the scariest moments to watch. I literally held my breath because I thought the potential for the dog to bite was there (examples can be seen at .16 sec, .17 sec, 1:01 min, 1:31 min and 1:40 min).
Spencer the dog was exceptionally tolerant. Thank goodness. The number of times the baby’s face was near Spencer’s were way too frequent. If Spencer had bitten, he could have done some serious damage. What amazed me is how many signals Spencer gave in just one second of time. In one second, he could have bitten the baby and the father would have been unable to do anything to prevent it. Just one second is all it takes.
So what did you see? What did I miss?
Want to learn more about dog stress and appeasement signals? Victoria Stillwell has a great piece on it on her Canine Body Language page.
If the date, September 11, fell on a Friday before, I did not notice it. However, today seems like the very best time to have it fall on a Friday. Why? Because today I have the opportunity to share a video that honors the last living search and rescue dog from that day.
Bretagne was one of 300 dogs who swooped down on Manhattan to help search for people and then for remains. This is a dog who, like the other dogs of 9/11, deserves our love, honor and recognition. I hope you will find her special day as touching as I did.
Have a good day everyone.
If you get a chance, send a little wish of love to Bretagne and her handler.
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!