Archive for the ‘adoption’ Tag
There is no shortage of things said or believed about dogs to make me, and others, cringe. Though I can understand “why” people believe the things they do, it doesn’t change the fact that I wish they didn’t. I understand why people would think the earth was flat, the sun revolved around us and because dogs are closely related to wolves they live in packs and follow a leader. Superficially these might make sense, but let’s not linger on the surface.
A reoccurring message that I am surprised to hear from trainers or people involved in rescue is that when providing foster care for a dog one must be careful not to let the dog form a strong attachment to the foster caregiver. Despite the fact that I have no idea how one would define what this meant for a dog, or how it would be implemented, the reasoning used to come to the conclusion seems shabby. It’s a sticky idea though, I wrote about it back in 2010 in the blog post BOND! and still find it in blogs and articles written today.
The conclusion seems to be that dogs who have been rehomed and institutionalized and suffer from behavior challenges, including separation anxiety, do so because they formed strong attachments with a previous owner, and had to move on. Really? I’m not going to argue that dogs don’t feel heart broken when they lose someone they loved and felt safe with, I’m going with the hypothesis that they do, but that this translates into separation anxiety or like a spurned lover they’d decide “never to love again” makes for great poetry, but not necessarily a manual for how to manage dogs. Is being rehomed more stressful because you lose a loved-one or because you are unprepared to find solace in the arms of someone else? What skills are gained having lived life on the sidelines while others bonded around you, or no bonding occurred at all?
I am not aware of any studies indicating that dogs who had formed strong bonds with a previous owner are more likely to develop behavioral challenges when they are rehomed. There are studies indicating that shelter dogs who are comfortable with people, are handled by a previously unknown person during their first 3 days at a shelter have lower cortisol levels than dogs who are not handled. Cortisol levels are indications of stress. Having positive associations with humans in the past would seem an important condition to see this effect.
What foster dogs need are skills and experience learning that humans predict good things to come. They need the skills pet dogs need so as to avoid being punished. As much a I think that my dogs would be unhappy about me not being in their lives I am also certain that should they (most of them anyway) find themselves in a new home they would quickly discover who can open the refrigerator or toss frisbees. I am not insulted by this, I find it comforting. This ability is likely to contribute to them experiencing lower stress levels overall. Lower stress is good. Stress can trigger mental disorders.
I am not suggesting that being repeatedly institutionalized and rehomed is good for the soul, but it’s more likely this experience, and not the attachments formed that destabilize a dog. Moving is one of the more stressful events a social animal can experience. If you want to help a foster dog navigate the maze of rehoming teach them how to; come when called, get off, or not get on in the first place, the couch, walk nicely on a leash, greet guests calmly, snooze contentedly in a crate, and how to play with people. There are plenty of other fish in the metaphorical sea when you have the right bait.
Ray Coppinger studies the world’s population of free-ranging dogs. These are the domesticated dog (as opposed to wild dogs) who are not under the reproductive control of humans. There are millions of them and they represent over 80% of the world’s population of dogs. He has looked at how dogs end up living as pets.
The most common thing that happens is that dogs adopt people. Travel in any developing country and you’re likely to see a puppy or young dog trailing behind a person, often a child. The pup survives on the scraps or offerings of the person they choose to be with. If the food or other necessity such as water or shelter is available on a regular basis, and provides an advantage over not sticking around the person, the dog has found a home.
When I was a kid my mother, having traveled to Florida, brought me home a baby alligator. The person who sold her the alligator told her that we should feed it bread. That my mother didn’t have an understanding of the needs of alligators is obvious, that the person selling her the alligator didn’t care is obvious as well. Martin the alligator (named after my brother) didn’t survive for long in his bathtub by the radiator. People also adopt dogs. One of the required conditions for any animal that is adopted by people is that they are able to survive the adoption process. Dogs for the most part, unlike alligators, have been overwhelmingly success at this.
Fearful dogs frequently do not survive the adoption process. Their needs are misunderstood, and even the most compassionate of people may not be able to meet them. The people responsible for finding homes for dogs with fear based behavior challenges need to be able to either give a dog the skills they will need to be successful as pets, or find someone who can.
Is the pet shop owner, knowing that the majority of baby alligators they are selling to tourists to bring home to their kids will not be cared for appropriately, behaving in an ethical way? If the pet shop owner is unaware of the needs of baby alligators should they be in the business of selling them? What is our responsibility for the dogs we either adopt out or bring home to live with us as pets? How can we increase the chances that a dog will not only survive the adoption process but thrive in it?
It’s true, sh*t happens and when it does it’s good to know about it. It’s like those fast food restaurants with the sign in the bathroom that says ‘Please let us know if this restroom does not meet our high standards for cleanliness’. If sh*t happens and you don’t know about it, how can you clean it up?
In the industry of animal rescue, and find fault with my use of the term ‘industry’ if you like, there is a lot of sh*t going on that doesn’t make it into the reports and stories created to provide PR and donations for the group doing the rescue.
I catch sh*t from people who insist that getting a dog into a home and out of a shelter is worth doing, whether there has been adequate evaluation of the dog’s and future owner’s needs and skills or not. Some will say that the odds are better for the animal, 100% chance of dying in a shelter vs. some unknown percent chance of suffering in a home, or wherever they end up. But make no mistake in plenty of cases they die anyway. They may suffer emotionally and physically while being passed from home to home or shelter to shelter. They may be forced to live a life of confinement or isolation. They may be ‘adopted’ by dog traffickers who sell dogs to labs or fight rings. If the dog is intact they may be used for breeding. They may end up as part of a hoarder’s collection and receive inadequate care. In a surprisingly high number of cases they may flee from their home and never be recovered.
How many shelters and rescue groups have statistics regarding how many animals are still in their original home, with contented owners, a year after being adopted? And if they don’t have them, why not? How can we raise our pompoms and cheer for dogs being placed in homes if those placements are ultimately unsuccessful? How can a group learn to improve their assessment of dogs and potential owners unless they can see the results of their current practices and procedures? I already know all of the excuses for not doing this kind of follow-up, time and money being high on the list. But I just don’t buy them. If we seriously want to declare ourselves ‘animal advocates’ then the ‘out of sight out of mind’ rationale doesn’t hold water.
If we are committed to the animals in our care we can find ways to ensure that we are doing the best we can for them. But we’ll never know how to do that until we are willing to expand our vision to include the ‘big picture’ and not just the snapshot ‘feel good’ moment of adoption.
I am straying from the fearful dog theme for just a moment. I have been looking at a lot of shelter and rescue websites. Some are fabulous, many are the obvious and well-intentioned efforts of people who are website novices, too many feature auto-music that starts blaring as the site loads (how can you expect someone at work to sneak a look if they’re likely to be caught out by the refrains of ‘Rescue me!’ blasting from their computer) but design flaws aside, the most egregious flaw is the tone of the content I found often enough to prompt me to write about it.
One site warns that if they deem you ‘GOOD ENOUGH’ they may adopt one of their dogs to you. Another contained a list of 25 reasons why you should NOT call them, the personal pet peeves list of the author which included the lame excuses people give when getting rid of a dog. Having volunteered at our local shelter for years I was exposed to the attitude that many rescue and shelter staff have toward the general pet-owning public and that is that they are the genetic equivalent of a combination of Mike Vick and Elmer Fudd. If they are not outright villains, they are buffoons who don’t know why their dog keeps having puppies.
Doing rescue or working in a shelter is a tough job and I’m grateful that someone is willing to do the hard physical and emotional work of helping homeless animals. But maligning the very population, that being the general population, of people that you hope are going to reach into their pockets to make a donation or open the doors of their home and heart to an animal, is not a good strategy for success.
We know that there are bad pet owners out there, but it’s unfortunate to use the same broad brush to paint all owners because of them.
**It has gotten even weirder! I found one site that will adopt to single people or married couples, but not unmarried couples. They want to ensure that there is stability and commitment for and to the dogs. I suppose that means gay men or women who can’t marry, can’t get a dog. Haven’t these folks ever seen the stats? Married people get divorced, single people lose their jobs and need to move. I’m turned off just by the policy itself.