When Strange Myths Override Common Sense

Courtesy of the Corvallis Gazette-Times

In the spring of 2009 I was in Oregon, presenting the Open Paw Shelter Program to a small, lovely humane society in Corvallis. During the three-day workshop the staff, volunteers, and I worked with many wonderful dogs awaiting adoption. One dog in particular both caught my eye and captured my heart; she was a little Sheltie with no name. “Sheltlie”, as I oh-so-creatively called her, was at least 12-years old if she was a day and as well mannered as could be, sweet as pie. She’d obviously been loved and well cared for, “How could a dog like that end up in a shelter?” I wondered. Turns out she came in as a stray. Hmm.


During the workshop a reporter visited the shelter to learn more about the Open Paw program. “Sheltie’s” charm led her to be the dog featured with me in the local Corvallis newspaper article that followed. About a week later I received word that “Sheltie” was no longer at the shelter. Hooray! Someone out there looked past her advanced age to her inner beauty and adopted her!


Well, not quite.


Turns out that “Sheltie” already had a home and a minor heart condition. Her owners loved her well enough, as was evident in her demeanor and general state of well being. However, one day she went missing, and when her owners couldn’t find her right away they assumed she’d “gone off to die in the woods”. So they stopped looking for her. Because, you know, old dogs go off alone in the woods to die. It’s nature’s way!


Imagine their surprise when they saw “Sheltie” alive and well on the cover of the local paper being trained at the shelter as part of the fledging Open Paw program!


Fast-forward about 15 months to this morning, when I saw this story, “20-Year Old Lost Dog Found After Seven Months”.


A (supposedly) beloved very old dog goes missing from her yard and the owners assume she’s gone off to die and just go about living their lives without looking for her. The poor old girl ends up at the shelter and is eventually reunited with the people who couldn’t be bothered to get off of their bums and report their dog missing to the local animal control. Same darn thing!


There really isn’t much to the old myth that dogs run away to die. Dogs that don’t come home generally have gotten lost, been picked up by a good Samaritan, gotten run over by a car, have been stolen, or have been captured and taken to the animal shelter. Old dogs are particularly likely to wander off and not be able to find their way home. If they die while away it’s likely because nobody went looking for them and they couldn’t fend for themselves!


Even if you do truly believe that your dog has gone off to die, wouldn’t you want to go confirm your suspicion? Wouldn’t you want to find your dog’s body for confirmation and one last goodbye? Wouldn’t you at least report to animal control so they could pick up the body off of your neighborhood streets? I just don’t get it. How does such a silly old myth override a common sense response to the caper of a missing dog? That, to me, is the real mystery.

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