Selecting the right dog extends to rescue dogs too
There seems to be a double standard going on. We devote quite a lot of time (and rightfully so) toward counseling prospective dog parents on selecting the right dog for their family and individual situation. In fact, right now on amazon.com there are over 20 titles of books and dvd's on that very topic. Most focus on matching dogs and humans based on a certain dog breed's characteristics and the human's lifestyle. Criteria such as size, temperament, exercise requirements, trainability, coat type and grooming requirements are taken into account. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, you're steered away from breeds that need more activity such as sporting breeds and terriers. If you live in an apartment, smaller dogs and dogs that don't require much room are suggested. However when it comes to rescuing a dog, I've noticed more emphasis on getting dogs out of rescue and into homes than making sure that dog gets in the right and most appropriate home.
Recently I received several calls from frantic newly adoptive parents of rescue dogs. In the first case, the family had wanted a dog for their daughter as a pet and companion and also to accompany her when she trains for the cross country team. She often has to run early in the morning before school and sometimes after school before her parents get home. Wanting to "do the right thing" and provide a home for a rescue dog, they visited a local rescue organization's shelter facility and carefully looked through the available dogs. They settled on a very sweet Lab mix that seemed to immediately bond with their daughter. The dog had been picked up as a stray so had no known history but had been at the shelter for about a month. There were no cautions of aggression, but his kennel card did mention he'd do best in a single dog family. Since they didn't have any other dogs, they spoke with a staff member and expressed interest in adopting him. They filled out the application and the staff member went over all the requirements including a fenced yard, references, etc. A couple of days later, they were approved and took Buddy home. All went well for the first few days and it was looking like he was going to be a great addition to the family. They decided to take Buddy out for a walk to see how he was on leash, and that's when it happened. A neighbor was walking his dog on the other side of the street and the minute Buddy saw the other dog he went ballistic! He started lunging, barking and growling at the other dog, ultimately pulling the daughter to the ground, and yanked his leash out of her hand. He bounded across the street and jumped on the other dog and started biting him. Fortunately the other dog was just as large and fully coated, so Buddy's teeth didn't have time to penetrate before the other owner was able to pull his dog to safety and Buddy's family were able to get control of his leash. The shaken family went inside and immediately called the rescue organization to alert them to what had happened.
The rescue group representative's response,"Well you were told he wasn't good with other dogs."
To which the adoptive parents' responded, "No, not really. His card said he would do best with a single dog family, which we are, but we weren't told he was aggressive toward other dogs. That's a big difference!" The staff member continued to insist that they did inform the family about his behavior, and that the problem could likely be fixed with some training and might subside after he's been in a stable home environment for a while. That's when the mother called me. She asked the usual questions, 1) could the problem be fixed, 2) how long would it take, and 3) how much would it cost. Sigh. I explained that great strides can and have been made in dogs with dog aggressive behavior through behavior modification, but it takes time, sometimes a lot of time, there are no quick fixes, and it takes as much effort as it takes time, along with a lot of management along the way. And if they will be working with a professional, yes, it's going to be a financial investment as well. Then she asked one more question, "so this dog probably isn't going to be a good running partner for our daughter then, at least not for a while?" It was rhetorical, as she had already figured out the answer. Next, she expressed anger in that the rescue organization did not fully explain his aggression issue, and how guilty they would feel having to take him back. Before we hung up I again reiterated that behavior modification can be very effective in lessening dog/dog aggression, and if they were up to the task, I'd be happy to work with them. Lastly I added that it's not only okay but appropriate to select a dog that will best fit into your family and they should never feel guilty about that. She expressed deep gratitude, and I figured it wasn't for what I'd told her about dog/dog aggression, but moreso for my helping to relinquish her guilt.
Next I received a call from a woman who was calling for her single, adult son who'd recently adopted a dog that immediately showed severe separation anxiety. Her son works all day, and the dog had already eaten through and destroyed two metal crates, and had scratched up three wooden doors and the molding. She was currently on vacation and was babysitting the dog while her son was at work, but had to return to work the next week. She didn't know what to do because her son really wanted a dog, liked this dog, but he worked long hours. "We'd feel so guilty if we had to take her back," she said. Now this particular dog had been in a foster home for quite some time, so I asked if her son had been alerted to any separation anxiety issues. Her answer was, "no." Sigh. Now it is entirely possible that the behavior didn't manifest in the foster's care, especially to that extent if the dog was always with other dogs and if the dog hadn't been crated. I suggested the possibility of doggie daycare during the day and since the anxiety was so severe, also offered to refer her to a veterinary behaviorist who might offer pharmacological treatment and options along with behavior modification. I also told her that they shouldn't feel guilty about wanting a dog that would best fit into their family. Again, she expressed deep gratitude.
No dog is perfect, and frankly, there probably isn't really a perfect match between dogs and humans. We're different species! All dog human relationships will need tweaking, and give and take on the humans' part, along with compromise and some modifications to our lives. Rescuing a dog is indeed an honorable thing, and we all would love if every homeless dog could find a forever home. But when it comes to adopting a rescue, especially one with no known history, how much tweaking, compromise and modifications to their lives should an adoptive family feel obligated to make? And if they aren't up to or just don't want to make those compromises and modifications, should they be made to feel guilty? I say no, but I see the opposite happening. That just isn't right.