Urgent, Last Chance, Emergency Dogs

Every day my mailbox is full of requests for help with dogs who are scheduled to be euthanized.  I receive plenty of requests for help in rehabiliting dogs who have hurt people or other animals and are now going to pay for it with their lives.

These requests tug at my heartstrings and illicit my anger and frustration with certain dog owners.  The stories are all similar.  The dog was never trained or socialized as a pup, turned into a teenage with no manners or social skills, was relinquished to a shelter and is now unsafe to adopt through no fault of his own.  In other cases the dog was treated poorly by humans and is now afraid and reactive around some or all forms of the species.  All of this was preventable and predictable, and that is what makes me so mad.

Despite my anger about the situation, I force myself to think with my head and not my heart.  Even though it isn't the dogs fault, I have to look at where the dog is right now, today.  I also have to consider the shortage of resources for shelter dogs and how my own resources will best serve these dogs.

I'm unapologetic about not being a big fan of major rehab for sheltered dogs.  I'm very clear about that.  What isn't always clear is what qualifies as major rehab and where to draw that line.  Many dogs are thrown out of the adoptable category due to resource guarding.  In my opinion, this is a highly treatable issue and by itself doesn't disqualify a dog from being adopted.  However, a dog who resource guards, is afraid of men and can't be around cats might be a different story.  Yes, still treatable, but a lot of time and resources that may be better spent on a less troubled dog.

Let me stop here and say that this isn't easy to write about.  It may sound as if I'm making quick, bold statements, but I'm not.  I'm struggling with the reality of the sheltering world and trying to be as honest as I can be about my own opinions and experiences.  I don't like that any of these choices need to be made.  I wish there were endless resources and time to fix all of the dogs, educate all of the dog owners and make this whole cycle stop once and for all.  Until that's possible, I have to keep my eyes wide open and make informed decisions.

With many shelter dog rehab issues it is not at all a question of whether the behavior can be improved.  Of course we can always do something.  In my mind, the question is about whether we should or not.  Should we be spending time, energy and money to improve a dog to the point that it can be adopted by a narrow percentage of the dog-adopting community with on-going management required?  Once this dog is "rehabilitated", would I want this dog living next door to me, or my granddaughter, or another dog?

In my area, there are several shelter dogs that I have met personally and would not want living in my neighborhood.  I know of one very dangerous dog that has been up for adoption for over a year.  In the time that he has been undergoing rehabilitation he has lived in a small dog run at a shelter with limited contact with humans.  He can only be adopted to a very specific kind of home and will require major management for the rest of his life.  In the time that he has spent in that shelter, many other dogs without any behavioral issues who could have been transferred to take his place may have been euthanized due to a lack of space in another shelter.  Meanwhile, the dangerous dog has an extremely low quality of  life.

I don't have any definitive answers here.  All I can do is decide for myself where I will put my energy.  My first priority is prevention.  After that, helping currently owned dogs remain in their homes.  Next, providing help to sheltered dogs who have minor issues and/or a lack of manners to be quickly brought up to speed and adopted.  Last on my list are the dogs who require a lengthy behavior modification program, a specialized adoptor and life-time management.

That list comes from my head.  My heart aches most for the last dogs on the list who have been put in that category by the very people who were supposed to take care of them, train them, socialize them and love them (their owners).  I look forward to the day when that category of dog is no longer being created.  All it would take is for every puppy to be well-socialized.  That's it.  That would solve the problem.