Camerado! I give you my hand!

Camerado! I give you my hand!

Allons! The road is before us!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Rescue Remedy

"Better to light a candle for one lost dog than to curse the darkness of man's indifference. Saving just one dog won't change the world, but it surely will change the world for that one dog." - Richard C. Call

Given the vast numbers of homeless dogs in this country, one understands why there are countless groups who are trying to help them. There are thousands of shelters or rescue groups in this country (no one knows how many for sure, as there is no agency that unites them all--despite the Humane Society of the United States' ploy to make their donors think there is). Some operate shelters, others do not. Some set up shop at local pet stores and other venues in an attempt to place dogs. Most utilize foster homes and large networks of volunteers to do, ostensibly, what’s best for dogs.

But sometimes, people look past the forest and see only the trees. Not all rescues or adoptive agencies are the same. Some are great places to get a “recycled” dog, and others should never be handling animals at all. This latter group includes shelters or rescues who do not put an emphasis on temperament, and therefore adopt out (or keep caged for life) known aggressive animals in an attempt to “save them all”; who do little or no screening of adopters, or are too strict and unyielding in their screening of adopters; who do not understand how to run nonprofit organizations, and therefore waste money and time; and who are “all about the dogs” while treating most people with suspicion or utter contempt.

A friend of mine was once refused adoption of a dog that would have been perfect for her because--I am not making this up--she “might decide to get pregnant one day and have kids,” and the dog was distrustful of children. My friend is not even in a relationship, and has no intentions of having kids—now, or ever. But the “rescue group” was adamant. Apparently, the fact that she has ovaries and a uterus was enough reason to deny her (silly women...always changing their minds, and stuff).

This is utterly ridiculous, and my friend is not alone. I have heard stories like hers numerous times. “Perfect homes” simply do not exist. When you are dealing in a commodity (dogs) that is utterly expendable in many people’s eyes, and you have a surplus of these animals who are dying everyday for lack of homes, you can be choosy to an extent, but being overly picky and unrealistic costs animals their lives.

Spending precious resources on dogs who will not be acceptable pets in most homes is also killing nice, adoptable dogs. Adopters are not usually professional dog trainers. They do not want a “project.” They want a pet! They want a dog they can touch, and train, and have around their kids and their kids’ friends, and make part of their family. In an attempt to “do right by the dogs,” many adoptive groups simply do not get this. Every time an aggressive dog is adopted out, all dogs in rescue and in shelters suffer the consequences. The adopter has a bad experience, and that bad experience leaches into the community like toxic waste into the water table. It is unethical to pass marginal or known aggressive dogs into the community by way of adoption. This is really also true for terrified or extremely shut-down dogs who will never be comfortable in their own skin, for they can become aggressive quite easily. Even if they never bite a single soul, seriously flawed dogs will try the patience of even the most stouthearted of kindhearted adopters. Most people, after 10-15 years spent with a seriously flawed animal that is supposed to be a pet but is instead a frightened, antisocial, unable-to-be-boarded-or-medicated dog will not make the mistake of adopting a "used" pet ever again.

Frankly, you can't blame them. But countless holier-than-thou types in the animal welfare business do just that every day. It's called "blaming the victim."

It’s time for “rescue” groups and other animal adoption agencies to wake up and smell the coffee. This “business” is as much about your potential adopters (the humans) as it is about the dogs. If you are not a “people person,” you don’t belong in animal rescue. If you are too emotional to understand that some dogs will not ever be good pets, you do not belong in animal rescue. If you think that your actions do not affect other dogs in rescue, you are wrong.

It has been said that only about 10% of animals in homes are from shelters or rescue. If rescue groups want to increase this number, they must be friendly, open, ethical, realistic, and a source for only the best-tempered dogs they can find.

Homeless dogs deserve nothing less.


  1. You are so right about not adopting aggressive dogs. I was a new trainer with a couple outstanding successes, working with a local dog club. Long story short - I was attacked by a rescued large breed dog that was placed in a foster home with one already aggressive dog while it was in an emaciated condition. He was dog aggressive and had a tendency to come up the leash at the handler. Well, he came up the leash at me and bit me three times, drawing blood each time. I can no longer train other dogs - it did a real number on me mentally. This dog did not need to be rescued! I'm convinced that "do-gooder" rescues will be the death knell for dogs in our society. Dogs like that get rescued while sweet dogs are euthanized. I don't get it.

  2. And one more important caveat for rescue groups: if you are not able to accurately assess your available resources and say 'no' when you are tapped out, you are a HOARDER, not a rescue.

  3. Tracy, I know that must have been difficult for you. I'm sorry it happened. I'm sorry on behalf of good shelters and good rescue groups who DO screen their dogs and who wouldn't dream of adopting out aggressive ones. I'm especially sorry for anyone who has been hurt, or has had their desire to own a dog soured by all the dogs who have been placed who never should have been placed.

    Reason and good sense just go straight out the window in this business more often than not. Good intentions are not the whole enchilada--they are just the tortilla with which it starts. One actually has to have some brains, and empathy for humans, do do right.

    I am lucky to work at a large shelter that screens dogs, and I get to decide, when it comes to marginal ones, which get to go on the adoption floor and which are too dicey. A few I can work with. Some I cannot.

    There are some days I hate the job of deciding. But then I think of the families in the community, and the kids who should grow up with REAL dogs, nice dogs, of which there are millions out there, and I make the decision with an untroubled heart.

    As much as I love dogs, they cannot exist without people.


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