A short while ago, a concerned dog owner, Janet Scott, emailed me about a perplexing situation she found herself in with her dog, Buster. I could tell from the tone of the email that she was deeply concerned so I called her and we spoke for the best part of half an hour. It turns out that she and her husband, Chuck, had adopted Buster, a Cocker spaniel/Lhasa Apso cross, from a rescue operation called Double Dog Rescue (DDR), via volunteer, Shelly Bookwalter. This adoption was not any old adoption as Shelly Bookwalter is budding star with an Animal Planet series called Last Chance Highway. A condition of the adoption was that the process would be filmed – including the Scott’s picking up Buster.


The series features Shelly and her partner (Kyle Peterson) rescuing and re-homing surrendered pets from the South (Mississippi, Tennessee, Texas, etc). All went well with the adoption until afterwards when the Scott’s found that Buster was a biter. In fact, he bit several people, including a child.


Not to be deterred, Janet Scott, who had fallen in love with the little tyke, re-contacted Bookwalter to seek assistance. She explained that she was willing to do whatever was necessary to help Buster “work through his issues” and suggested that his rehabilitation might be good for a follow up show. Bookwalter made the capital mistake of trying to make light of the Scott’s situation explaining in effect that all Cockers bite, including her own. She then added words to the effect that she could not find evidence of Scott’s payment to DDR for the adoption. Several emails later Bookwalter stopped responding to Janet Scott who then went into full investigative and complainant mode. “What were Bookwalter’s qualifications to run this adoption network,” she questioned, and could find no evidence of any (in fact, Bookwalter is a realtor). “Where did the dogs come from,” she asked, and found out that they were spirited into Massachusetts via Connecticut by means of some covert “underground” adoption network that was unlicensed (in Mass) and possibly illegal. Then Ms. Scott realized that there was probably no screening of the adopted pets because there was no one on the Double Dog Rescue staff with the credentials to evaluate them, so dogs like Buster would be passed on to unsuspecting dog parents with no proper warning.


Then Ms. Scott contacted Al Roker Entertainment, who produced the show, and Animal Planet, asking difficult questions about how the show came to be on the air. She also contacted State officials in Massachusetts to inform them about the funky adoption network and, in the meantime, she sought professional help for Buster as well as enlisting an Animal Rights lawyer. The following events then transpired. First, the piece about Buster’s adoption was withdrawn from the show, something that did not bother Ms. Scott at all. Second, she received a fairly tough letter from Al Roker’s attorney telling her to butt out and to cease making defamatory comments about the series, the producers or the network. In addition, she received a letter from John Kenney, from the State of Massachusetts Dept. of Agriculture, explaining that he was ordering a cease and desist order to Mississippi and Connecticut regarding the illegal rescue operation. And John Kenney thanked Janet Scott for her help in uncovering the illegal operation.


So, you see, the situation is getting very complicated, with an untrained adopter operating an illegal adoption service and the whole process being aired on television for reality TV style entertainment. The fist show airs in a few days and Ms. Bookwalter also already appeared on NBC’s The Today Show to promote the enterprise. While we all thoroughly approve of saving dogs lives by adopting them rather than leaving them to be euthanized, adoptive operations should be licensed, legal, and above board. The operators of these operations should have some training and access to a trainer or behaviorist who can properly evaluate dogs prior to adoption. Aggressive dogs should be recognized for what they are, and adoptive dog parents should be forewarned about what they might encounter and how to handle it. The staff of such operations should also be in a position to be responsive to concerns that adopters have following adoption, not simply, as happened in this case, saying, if the dog is not working out simply return to the rescue organization(like it a pair of shoes that doesn’t fit). This is another sad case of well-meaning and well-doing not always being the same thing.


Dr Dodman will be giving a seminar in Colorado at the end of August. For more information or to register visit his website: ThePetDocs.Com

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