I used to pooh-pooh the people who used to claim that the animal activism aimed at eliminating puppy mills and backyard breeders was the first step on a slippery slope of animal activism that would lead to crazy people trying to control every aspect of an animal’s care and welfare.
I say “used to” because now I’m not so sure that they were that far off from the truth. The advance of social media has created some wonderful new and inventive ways to help animals in need. More dogs are being networked and finding homes, many lost dogs are finding their way back home, but social media has also given rise to little pockets of reactionary and aggressive vigilantes who are willing to take whatever action they deem necessary to save a pet, even when that information is based on hearsay and mistaken assumptions.
When someone posted a picture of an injured dog in a private Facebook group a month ago, my first thought was to get the dog (who was hit by a car) posted on Lost Dogs MN so the owner could find him more quickly and know he as injured. Others turned to finding out where the dog was taken (a local animal hospital) so they could donate money for his care. Awesome community action right? It was, until it turned into something else. And, it happened very quickly.
Shortly after the call for help in finding the owner went out, someone posted that the vet clinic would euthanize the dog (vs. treating it) if the owner wasn’t found. (There was no evidence that this was the case, but within minutes the feed was filled with people demanding to know where the dog was and that the clinic’s number be posted so they could call and demand they care for the dog). The animal hospital was inundated with calls from people demanding they take care of the dog, and if they couldn’t, to release him into rescue. Mind you, the dog hadn’t even been in the vet clinic’s care for two hours and already all sorts of assumptions had been made about the dog’s condition, vet care (or lack thereof), and where he should go next. It was mass hysteria turned into animal activism that bordered on ridiculous. I shook my head as I watched people, effectively, lose their fucking minds. I cannot imagine what the people at the animal hospital thought.
After an hour of craziness, a rational person was able to find out that not only was the dog fine, but he had been released to an animal control center for the night. (Even then people were demanding to know if the care center would be keeping the dog under observation through the night. What if he wasn’t okay? Who would make sure he was saved?). The calls to the animal hospital ceased, but calls to the care center did not. Thankfully, the calls ended the next day when we found out that the dog had been reunited with his owner.
I’d like to say that this is the first time I have seen this type of out-of-control activism, but sadly, it is just one of many I have seen lately. Mostly it starts with a single posting seeking help for an animal, but very quickly it devolves into crazed assumptions and people wanting to take decisive action without all the facts.
I couldn’t help but shake my head when I saw this one (Rescue Groups Impersonated SPCA to Confiscate Dog: Owner) recently pass through my news feed. It left me wondering how long it would be before everyone was suspect in the eyes of the crazy and uninformed animal activist. It concerns me.
I love when people can come together to help an animal that is really in need. When the authorities are slow to act, animal activists can push them to take action sooner. They can get them to intervene before something serious happens to the pet. But, when individuals become both judge and jury in a pet-related situation, they better have more than just hearsay and speculation to fall back on. Or in the above case, more than ONE poorly taken picture taken from a bad angle.
Presenting yourself as a legal authority in order to steal someone’s dog is not only wrong, but illegal. It also makes the rest of us in animal rescue look bad. Calling a vet clinic over and over again to demand they care for a lost and injured dog (because you assumed they would not) is crazy and ridiculous.
I am all for saving animals in need. I know our country’s laws are woefully inadequate when it comes to saving injured and abused animals; they allow too many animals to suffer before they intervene, but this kind of animal activism is not helpful. It hurts the animals and it hurts those of us who are serious about helping them. It makes all of us look like crazy animal people.
I don’t want this to become the slippery slope that ends up hurting our fight to stop puppy mills, or to prosecute those charged with animal cruelty.
Stop the crazy people. Just stop. You are hurting all of us with your crazy.
Breathe. Learn the facts. Work with the authorities.
You don’t like the laws? Work to change them. Don’t break them.
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?
If you’ve read my blog, then you know that I am a big believer in dog training and helping people to better understand their dogs through dog body language. You probably also know that I am also a huge supporter of animal shelters and animal rescues.
The biggest issue many rescue organizations face is making a dog more adoptable. Training is key to making this happen. How a dog behaves is one of the biggest factors that impacts whether a dog will be adopted. It is a key factor in keeping an adopted dog in their new home.
Today, I would like to introduce you to someone who has a novel new idea that I hope will become a model nationwide. Fetch-for-Fosters is the brainchild of dog trainer Katie Grillaert of Fetch Dog Training and Behavior. It is a new program focused on proactively addressing a dog’s training needs while he is still in the shelter or in a foster home; before he is adopted, and where needed, working with the adopter to ensure his forever home really is his home for life.
Below is my interview with Katie Grillaert.
What is Fetch-for-Fosters?
Fetch-for-Fosters is a social entrepreneurship initiative, meaning that we are using business methods to try and solve a social problem.
Our vision is to shape and support a rescue community that both understands and prioritizes the value of training. I’d really love to see a trend toward proactive dog training, rather than reactive.
Fetch-for-Fosters provides low-cost training and behavior services to rescues and shelters in order to facilitate the adoption of pets; as well as to help them stay in their new home. We prioritize education and promote training techniques that are effective, ethical, and that nurture the human-animal bond.
Our Fetch-for-Fosters staff are talented trainers who have been accepted into a training/behavior internship with Fetch Dog Training and Behavior. The program allows them to see a diverse range of dogs and students as they work toward their own goals. For example, one of our trainers is also a veterinary student with a special interest in shelter medicine and behavior. I mentor the trainers through this entire process, so we maintain a high quality of service for all of our rescues.
The program is new, but if things continue to go well I am excited about the growth goals that I have been brainstorming… but I’ll just have to leave you with that teaser for now.
I love the idea of helping a dog to stay in its home. What motivated you to create Fetch for Fosters?
My first dog, Petra, was a rescued Belgian Malinois. She was my shadow. She read my mind. I was heartbroken when I had to euthanize her due to serious behavioral issues due to extremely poor breeding and poor puppyhood socialization. Her sacrifice is what drove me deeper into behavior modification and rescue. Every time I can help another dog, I can honor her a little bit.
I have been fostering and doing volunteer training for a long time now, including through the birth of my business Fetch Dog Training and Behavior. As the business grew, I continued to volunteer, but found myself with limited time for volunteer work. (This saying is so true: “Entrepreneurs: The only people who work 80 hour weeks to avoid working 40 hour weeks.”). I wanted a way to formalize giving back to my community, but also to make it sustainable.
I’m fascinated with the way for-profit companies can provide social benefit. For example, Grameen Danone Foods Ltd. created a fortified yogurt for malnourished children in Bangladesh, improving health outcomes and creating local jobs. They are a sustainable business, but do not return any profits to their shareholders – it is all reinvested in the social business. (http://socialinnovator.info/ways-supporting-social-innovation/market-economy/social-business-partnerships/partnerships-betweeen/grameen-danone-partnership-b) This is my current answer for my local community, in my area of expertise and passion.
How does the program work?
Our service contract is with dogs in foster care – the actual rescue. We will provide email/phone support when the dog is adopted so that we can advise new owners on what work we did with the dog, and how this relates to the settling-in process. In fact, we’d love to disclose this to adopters before they even adopt the dog – that piece is up to the rescue, as we are not involved in the adoption process.
If adopters have questions beyond the scope of work that we already did, or beyond the initial two weeks, we might refer them to our training business or another local trainer. This is for their benefit – there is a real importance to the trainer being able to observe the dog in its new home, form a connection with the dog’s people, and make sure that the trainer is getting the full picture before making a training program. This avoids wasting time and money (at best), or the behaviors worsening.
What kinds of issues do you generally see?
Adolescence is a frequent time that people decide to re-home their “annoying” dog, so we see a lot of regular goofy teenage behavior. First-time fosters do quite well with a session or two to help them understand how to communicate with their youngster, and how to develop good behavior.
Separation distress and leash reactivity are both quite common as well, and those are things that we want to address immediately so that they don’t become big and costly – they rarely resolve on their own, and in fact they can get worse quite quickly.
It’s also not uncommon for us to work with fearful dogs, usually puppy mill dogs, to help them conquer their fears, and especially to help their fosters understand how to support them.
We are also able to address any training issue – house training, manners, puppy issues, polite walking, chewing, digging, grooming, barking, and so on.
We can also offer limited services for fear, aggression, and anxiety. Hopefully most dogs in rescue will not have serious fear or aggression, but sometimes these issues pop up when the dog has already been accepted into the rescue. We can help the rescue address management and safety concerns with the foster, and give our professional assessment of the issue. Long-term behavior modification assistance may be available, but this takes a large commitment from the rescue.
Do you provide the rescue updates on the dogs you work with?
We will disclose personal information upon request if the legal owner of the dog has given us permission to do so. In general, it is the rescue’s responsibility to follow-up with owners and track the progress of the dogs they have placed.
What is the cost, who pays, and what does it cover?
I want this program to be sustainable – helping my community for a long time. If your organization – even your nonprofit – could not function without some key people, then I think you should be putting things in place to make sure those people stay happy and available to you. That’s my goal. Therefore my trainers for Fetch-for-Fosters get reimbursed for their travel and time spent with the dogs. Because they are paid, there will always be space on their schedule for foster dogs. I think this will be fundamental to the program’s success.
We directly invoice rescues for their training sessions. A $45/session for a training issue (this is something I think we should highlight) with my regular Fetch-for-Fosters staff, includes:
- Approximately, one hour with the trainer.
- Our summary of the session and homework for the foster family, which is shared with the foster and the rescue.
- Two weeks of email/phone support with the adopter once the dog is adopted. (We’ll also provide follow-up support to the foster family, but we may ask that we see the dog in-person again if there are many questions, or if they are complex.)
Most rescues will only need these regular training sessions, as that is the category where most adoptable dogs will fall. However, we do offer behavior consultations for $75/session, and we’ll staff an experience behavior consultant for this. Often behavior consultations need at least one follow-up, if not more.
Our fees allow us to purchase insurance and to pay our professionals for their time. The other overhead costs are supported by Fetch Dog Training and Behavior, which is one major reason why it makes sense for me to operate this as a social initiative of my business, rather than a non-profit – it keeps our costs significantly lower.
Donations for training, submitted directly to the rescue, are tax-deductible. We do accept online donations to our program, but these are not tax-deductible. Online donations may be earmarked for a specific rescue, or may enter our general pool and distributed as a scholarship.
Do you only work with foster dogs?
Our work is entirely with dogs in foster or shelter care. We support adopted dogs through their two-week transition to the new home if we have already provided them services during their time in rescue, so that the adopter understands exactly what work we’ve done with the dog and how that may relate to helping their dog settle into his new home.
We do not work with “owned” dogs; we’d refer someone to our business or another local dog trainer. I believe that training is a really important part of owning a dog, and should be planned for just as are veterinary and food expenses. Good trainers spend a lot of time on their education and professional development, and deserve every penny that they make. If they couldn’t get paid for their work, they wouldn’t be able to get really good at their craft – and that would be a loss for everyone, foster or not.
How does a rescue organization contact you if they want to be a rescue partner or want you to help one of their dogs?
Any interested rescue can send an email to email@example.com and we’ll provide our program information right away. There is no cost for rescues to become a rescue partner. By becoming a partner, they are able to schedule our services whenever they need them.
We’re able to do some special services for our partners as well, such as running a group class for their foster dogs. So far, we’re doing this on a case-by-case basis, brainstorming together to address a particular need.
It’s been a lot of fun for me to work with the rescues to see what we can accomplish together, and we are all excited about the potential for growth – which, of course, is how many dogs and families we can positively impact.
You can learn more about Fetch-for-Fosters on their Q & A call this week, on Wednesday, July 8, from 12:00 p.m. to 12:30 p.m. Central time . To join the call, go to their Facebook event page by clicking here.
Katie Grillaert is a professional trainer and behavior consultant specializing in work with fearful and aggressive dogs. She holds two certifications from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA) and is also a Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor (CBATI). She is pursuing a degree in the Interdisciplinary Master’s Programme in Human-Animal Interactions at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna
This past week I read a really great piece that was posted on Facebook by 4Paws University. It was a powerful message and one that seemed to resonate with people (it had over 900 shares, 930+ “Likes,” and so many comments I had to quit counting. You can read the actual posting here: BONE TO PICK: THE RUSH TO ADOPT THE SAD STORY DOG.)
The post has to do with America’s penchant for the “sad story dog.” You know the dogs I am talking about, the ones that come from a sad situation, get shared in the media, and generate a mass swelling of people who want to adopt the dog and “save” them. It happens time and time again.
You and I have both seen those individual stories of that one dog who was abused and saved, or the dog who ended up in a serious, life-threatening situation and suddenly needed a home. But the most common situation you and I see is the one where there is a mass rush to adopt a dog after it has been rescued during a puppy mill raid. Stories like these make the local (and sometimes national) news. The pictures and video are usually heart-rending. People follow the story closely. When the dogs are ready to be adopted, there is usually a big media campaign to let people know about them and to encourage them to adopt.
None of this by itself is bad, but what gets missed is that some of the people wanting to “save” the dogs involved in the sad dog story are not always the “right person” for the dog and his/her needs. People who are drawn to a hard-luck story may be motivated by different reasons, and not all of them are motivated by the right reasons.
When foster Maggie and her fellow puppy mill friends were rescued, there was a lot of media attention around the raid and the care of the dogs. The facility that cared for them was flooded with adoption requests. I could not help but wonder the motivations of those who wanted to adopt a puppy mill dog. It wasn’t like this facility didn’t have dogs available for adoption before the raid, or that they ran out of dogs after the raid. So what motivated the people to adopt when they had not done so before? Was it the hard luck story? Did they see themselves as the hero in that story (rushing in to “save” the dog)? Or, did they want a certain breed that was rescued in the raid? Were they already looking for a dog and this just happened to be the right moment? Or, did they just act on impulse and get a dog with a story?
All too often we are motivated by the sad story dog without knowing a lot about what a commitment it is or whether the dog is a good fit for our family or lifestyle. Too many of these dogs are getting swooped up by emotion and being left behind by reality. Some of Maggie’s fellow puppy mill survivors have been re-homed, lost or discarded because the people adopting them did not know what they were getting into. They did not understand that the sad story dog they were getting was one that required work, time, patience and in many cases, another dog, to help them to start to live a normal life.
As adopters, we need to take more time to do our research. It’s great that people are excited and want to help by adopting a sad story dog, but we need to understand our motivations for adopting and recognize if it is a good fit. As rescuers, we need to be more diligent about who adopts a sad story dog. Rescuing a dog from a sad situation is not enough. We need to make sure that where they land is the safe landing we want for them too.
Sad story dogs will continue to come along. We just need to be prepared to ask the questions that will ensure it lands in the right home.
Millennials, the group that is expected to surpass Baby Boomers as the largest generation this year.
And it’s not just the pet industry that is taking notice. Almost every major company inside and outside of the United States is doing the same thing. Why? Because unlike generations past, millennials have influence. It’s not just their sheer size (in numbers) that is powerful, but also their reach. Millennials are more socially connected and more socially influential than any other generation. They are also ethnically and racially diverse, well-connected, technically proficient, and early adopters. They are unlike any other generation that has preceded it. They are the movers and shakers who will be impacting our world for many years to come, much like the Baby Boomers did in previous years.
With a generation this large and influential, it only makes sense that they would impact the pet world as well.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently published a report on how millennials will change the way veterinarians do business. In “The Generation Factor: How the rise of the millennial generation could mean changes in the way veterinarians do business”, they laid out the differences between Baby Boomers, Gen Xer’s and Millenials, not only as clients but also as employees. The differences are quite distinct. For instance, the work ethic for Baby Boomers has to do with how many hours worked, while Gen Xer’s are about working smarter (not harder), and millennials are all about tasks completed and getting feedback and gaining consensus.
I am sure many animal welfare groups are taking notice, but I wonder if smaller, local shelters and rescues are as well? I hope they are because there is another reason that the pet industry is taking notice of the millennial generation – they think pet ownership is going to decline with them.
This means more competition between those who are selling pets and those who are adopting them out, and the adoption side may be facing an uphill battle.
Why? Because millennials are more likely to:
- Rent than to buy a home – This means more apartment and condo dwellers, the residences least likely to allow a pet.
- Move frequently – More than any other generation, which makes it harder to care for a pet long-term.
- Stay in college longer – Millennials have had a tough time in the job market due to the poor economy, so more are choosing to stay in college longer and get their masters degree or a doctorate. Owning a pet and going to college is also a possible deterrent.
- Be impulse buyers – They are less likely to wait and go through an extensive adoption process to get a pet.
- Purchase a pet from a pet store or breeder (including online) rather than adopt a pet from a rescue or a shelter – According to a recent survey by Best Friends Animal Society, by almost 50%.
- Believe that animals can safely stay in shelters until they are adopted – 38% of millennials vs. 28% of the total population.
No wonder the pet industry is worried.
All hope is not lost however, millennials are also more likely to get a pet earlier in their lives compared to boomers (21 years old vs. 29 years old), be single longer (and thus, may seek a pet for companionship), and are more civic-minded and more likely to get involved tomato a difference..
Rescue groups have an opportunity to make a difference now. If they are not doing so, they should start working to build a relationship with millennials in their community. Organizations need to be inclusionary and seek their input. They should also be open to new and innovative ideas on how to improve the organization, increase adoptions and connect with other millennials.
Other ways rescue groups and shelters can connect with millennials:
- Have a strong social media presence (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, etc.) and be actively engaged with followers.
- Make your website and social media platforms a place where millennials can get information and learn something new that can help both them and their pet. You need to be the online expert they go to when they want advice and support.
- Connect on a person-to-person basis. Two-way communication is important to them.
- Be open to texting and responding via social media platforms. Millennials are less likely to use email.
- Make what you provide, and what they are getting from you, is distinct and different. You want it to be share-worthy.
- Be more customer-service oriented. Millennials are individual social media companies of their own, so what they experience with you will be shared with their network of friends and family.
- Recognize their efforts frequently. Acknowledge the work done and the benefits experienced by the organization.
- Appeal to their desire to make a difference. Adopting a pet needs to be less a sob story and more of a motivator to do good.
Despite some of the concerns about pet adoption declining, rescue groups and shelters should be very excited about the impacts millennials can bring to the rescue community. Their innovative and creative ideas, combined with a dedication and desire to help, has the potential to make a real difference in animal rescue.
I know one millennial animal rescuer who is making a difference on a daily basis here in Minnesota. I am often in awe of her ability to motivate people and get them involved in rescue. She is well-connected, uses social media extensively and has saved more dogs and cats than anyone I know. She is a force to be reckoned with. Just imagine what could happen if we had 100 more people like her.
- Ad Campaigns Depicting Shelter Pets as “Damaged Goods” Are Misleading, healthypets.ricola.com, January 15, 2015.
- Best Friends Inaugural Pet Adoption Survey, Best Friends Animal Society, Nov 2012.
- Getting Some ‘Me’ Time: Why Millennials Are So Individualistic, npr.org, October 14, 2014.
- Half (47%) of US pet owners believe owning a pet is better for your social life than social networking sites, reports Mintel, PR Newswire, June 17, 2013.
- Many life milestones are out of millennials’ reach by Catherine Rampell, The Washington Post, Sept. 15, 2014.
- Millennials and Holiday Shopping, qSample Blog, Nov. 25, 2014.
- Most in U.S. Want Marriage, but Its Importance Has Dropped, Gallup.com, June 2013.
- Nearly Half Of Young Adults Prefer To Buy Pet Rather Than Adopt, Veterinary Practice News, April 26, 2013.
- Please Do Not Leave A Message: Why Millennials Hate Voice Mail, npr.org, Nov. 2014.
- The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2015, Deloitte.com, 2015.
- The Generation Factor: How the rise of the millennial generation could mean changes in the way veterinarians do business, AVMA, Nov. 1, 2014.
- The Millennial Pet Owner, PIJAC, by Nathan Richter, Wakefield Research.
- US Attitudes Toward Animals: HRC’s Animal Tracker- Year 7, Rump Dog Blog, August 4, 2014.
- Young Adults After the Recession: Fewer Homes, Fewer Cars, Less Debt, Pew Research Center, February 21, 2013.
Over the past couple of months, I have had several friends adopt a new dog into their household. Given the fact that each already had a resident dog in their home, it is understandable that each one of them worried about how to introduce the new dog into their home. They also worried about how the new dog would make their current dog feel and whether they would get along.
I remember how nervous I was in bringing each one of my dogs into my home. (I think you would have to be a fool not to be a little nervous and anxious!) Every dog is different and every situation must be managed to ensure success.
When Cupcake first came into my home as a foster, it was a tough go. Not because she wasn’t an awesome and very sweet dog, but because she felt like she had to establish her place as top dog right away. She claimed the couch and snarked at Daisy and Jasper whenever they came close to her. Jasper and Daisy were intimidated by her behavior. Daisy started staying in her kennel to avoid her.I think it was at this point I seriously considered giving her back to the rescue.
But then, I remembered to use the skills and knowledge I had gained from so many other trainers. I took away Cupcake’s couch privileges to eliminate any snarking. Then, I started enticing Daisy back to the couch with treats and rewarding Cupcake with treats as well to show her that staying on the floor was a beneficial spot to be. Soon, the snarking had stopped and Daisy was feeling less stressed. We worked on other things too: waiting for dinner, not stealing other dogs’ food, sharing toys, etc.
Introducing a new dog into your home when you have another dog can be difficult. I’ve been offering my own advice and suggestions when asked (think baby gates, crates and slow introductions), but then I remembered that I had attended a webinar earlier this year put on by the ASPCA. The guest speaker was well-known author and animal behaviorist, Patricia McConnell (PhD, CAAB, Author). The topic? Multi-Dog Households: From First Date to After the Honeymoon (You can find more materials and information here as well).
It was a great seminar and discussion and one that I suspect would be beneficial to many an adoptive parent and/or rescue or shelter. I’ll definitely be sharing it with my friends. You can check out her presentation deck here.
So how have you handled introducing a new dog into your home? What worked? What didn’t work?
Reading the latest news on Steve Marwell, owner of the Olympic Animal Sanctuary (OAS), made me realize once again how few of us have actually spent time asking how this all came to be in the first place.
How did a man who had never registered his charity with his state, and who collected donations but never made any of the required disclosures needed to maintain his good standing as a rescue or sanctuary, able to fool so many rescues and animal shelters into sending their unadoptable dogs to him?
How did no one know about all the dogs living in crates and kennels and in extreme conditions, with little to no food? How did this place pass as a sanctuary and continue to receive dogs for years?
The whole awful and disturbing story brought to mind a blog post I had read back in 2012. Written by Jessica Dolce, “How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary“, was a sad, but very insightful look into something that happens so often in rescue – we push it on down the line.
As Jessica wrote:
We all keep pushing down the chain. Individuals reach out to shelters, shelters plead with rescues to pull dogs, rescues can’t place all the dogs, so they board hard-to-place dogs in sanctuaries.
We’re all begging for someone else to give us the happy ending we so desperately want for the animals we love. If people deny us, we lash out that no one will help. If a shelter isn’t no-kill, we refuse to donate to them. We keep pushing and pushing until someone will take this painful, difficult situation off of our doorstep.
We all push until we find sanctuaries who say yes. (How I Failed as a Rescuer: Lessons from a Sanctuary by Jessica Dolce, Notes from a Dog Walker, July 21, 2012)
But the responsibility isn’t the person on down the line is it? No. The responsibility is ours, the rescuer’s, and we should be taking it more seriously.
I wonder… Are we asking the right questions when we decide to pass a dog off to someone else? When we choose to ship a dog off to a sanctuary to live out their lives, do we do our due diligence? Do we ask around for references? Do we go visit the facility ourselves? When we choose to save a dog that cannot be placed, are we really “saving” the dog? Or, are we just making ourselves feel better?
Recently, I said NO to someone who wanted help in finding a home for an unwanted dog. The dog had an extensive bite history (with several owners) and was scheduled to be euthanized in three days. The person wanting to “save” the dog could not take the dog herself, but wanted desperately to find someone else who would. I could not help but be angry. She wasn’t willing to take in the dog in herself, but she wanted someone else to take on that risk? Really? It very much felt like she was passing it on down the line, leaving the dog for someone else to deal with it, all the while patting herself on the back for saving a poor dog.
I won’t lie. I recommended the dog be euthanized. With so many dogs out there in need, and so many of them without a bite history, why would we save this one dog? Why save this dog who has bitten several former owners in the past?
Desperate to save the dog, the woman ended up taking the dog where? A sanctuary for difficult dogs. God only knows if it is a “good one” or it it willbe one that we will one day see in the news, like OAS. I can only hope it is a good one and the dog is receiving great care, and hopefully, some retraining. I can’t help but wonder if the “rescuers” have bothered to check in to see how the dog is doing since they “saved” her? I would bet the answer is no, which is precisely the problem. Out of sight, out of mind.
What happened at OAS should never be allowed to happen again. And yet, I know it will.
As rescuers, we need to get better at doing our due diligence. We need to visit the places we send our unadoptable dogs. We need to inspect, ask for references, ask questions (lots of them) and follow-up regularly. But most importantly, we need to stop passing dogs (who cannot be re-homed or who are unsafe in a normal home) down the line.
We need to be honest and ask ourselves if euthanization wouldn’t be a better solution in these types of situations rather than passing the dog off to a sanctuary where they could suffer unimaginable cruelties for years on end.
Because the truth is, that kind of solution is not rescuing, it’s passing the buck. It’s contributing to animal suffering, not saving them from it.