Sh*t happens

photo of bathroomIt’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.

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23 comments so far

  1. Terri on

    I think with most “businesses” you have good ones and bad ones. Some are right on top of everything that happens to one of their adoptees and others, unfortunately, have the out of sight out of mind mentality.

    I think, for the most part, most of the shelters and rescues try to do a good job in placing an animal in a new home. And those are the people we should praise and bring to the forefront.

    High five to S.H.A.R.P in Polk County, Tennessee for being one of the good groups!!

    • fearfuldogs on

      I am all for heralding the folks doing good work, but not turning a blind eye to what is actually going on out there. And how can we know that ‘for the most part’ shelters are doing a good job if there is no documentation proving that? In my own small community there have been two highly publicized confiscations of dogs from home breeders by a major humane group. In the follow up press there has not been any mention made of the number of dogs who died in their care, have gone missing, or are currently still hiding in corners in their new homes.

  2. lakeshoredogs on

    I couldn’t agree more with your assessment !

  3. Joni on

    There is so much farther we need to go. You are right about the need for follow ups on animals adopted or rescued. Hoping that with more people becoming aware of the numbers of animals in our shelters and wanting to help them that more volunteers will make follow up a real possibility.

    • fearfuldogs on

      When I used to work with a local animal shelter there was no shortage of volunteers who would have been willing to make follow up phone calls to adopters, if only to support them should they be facing challenges with their new pet. For a variety of reasons shelter management did not embrace the practice.

      • KellyK on

        That’s a shame. I understand that some level of follow-up will fall through the cracks when you’re busy and short staffed, though I think calling once a year is a pretty easy to meet expectation. But when there are people able and willing to do it, there’s no reason not to.

  4. Bluff Country Canine Rescue on

    I intend to do thorough evaluations of the dogs’ temperament as well as the situation it would be going into. My policy will also be to follow up (by phone or visit at my discrecion) after one week, one month, six months and one year. I do realize that this means a lot more paperwork but I do believe that it’s in the dog’s best interest.

    • fearfuldogs on

      All the best to you. Keep us posted on how it goes.

  5. Marta (@smorty) on

    It’s the same here in Austria : There are people I talk to in the dog parks who say they have adopted a dog from a rescue group and many of them mentioned that they were surpriesed there was not even a pre-check to see what home the dog would go to. Some of the people got the dog without further questions asked.
    I myself adopted a dog from a rescue group. A person came to my home before I got the dog and talked to me about the adoption, but they never did a follow up.
    I still have contact to the woman who did the pre-adoption control and we are a little bit like friends. She told me that she ist very unsatisfied with many rescue groups she volunteered for because many of them don’t do any evaluation of the future owners and also don’t ask any question after they give them the dogs.
    She has already heard of some cases where the dogs has “escaped” from their new homes and come to death…

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for sharing that Marta. I suppose it’s no surprise or consolation that the world of rescue isn’t different in other countries.

      I know I recently frustrated a potential adopter because of how persistent I was regarding the behavioral challenges of my foster dog. But when they finally told me ‘not to worry, he’d adjust’ to his new home, I realized they did not fully comprehend the extent of the dog’s fearfulness. He’d already escaped from one home and been missing for weeks while other dogs from his group went missing and were never found. They went missing because they were afraid. And that’s just one concern. Others have begun to show signs of aggressiveness toward people and other dogs.

      Screening potential adopters is not just for the dog’s sake. People suffer as well when poorly matched placements are made.

      • KellyK on

        Screening potential adopters is not just for the dog’s sake. People suffer as well when poorly matched placements are made.

        This is a really important point. Especially for dogs that have fear issues, it’s crucial for people to understand what they’re getting into when they adopt. I can say from personal experience that discovering how scared of everything a dog is after you’ve adopted them can be extremely frustrating. I would’ve loved to have known more about Diamond’s challenges when we adopted her, so it floors me a little that you’re giving a potential adopter all the info they could want, and they’re blowing it off.

        (To give the rescue and foster home credit where credit is due, Diamond was only four months old when we got her, and she frequently “shuts down” when she’s scared, in a way that’s easy to misread. Like, when we first got her, she stayed in her crate for quite a while, but didn’t whimper or pace or seem stressed out. She just lay there, seeming calm, and we didn’t realize immediately that she was hiding, not relaxing. So I wouldn’t say that it’s something they *should* have picked up on, only that if they had caught it, it would’ve been great to have been prepared.)

  6. ettel on

    This hits home with me. I did some work with a local “rescue” – really more of a poorly cloaked hoarding situation. The dogs and cats are in abysmal conditions, filthy, stuck in too small cages for 23 hours a day, often with 2-3 dogs per cage. When you’re running an organization like that, getting any animals adopted is close to a miracle. They have an adoption application and ask for landlord information and etc., but I’m quite sure they don’t call any references or do any checks.

    When an organization doesn’t have the funds to properly care for the animals themselves, we can’t expect them to be diligent about the homes they’re going to. I just don’t understand how “rescues” like this can be legal. In many cases, I do think a humane euthanasia is a better choice than three years in a tiny cage (and I should point out that the “authorities” have been called on them more than once and they’ve repeatedly passed the minimal allowance for the way the animals are kept).

    I’ve always had dreams of starting a rescue organization, but it’s the type of project that if done at all, needs to be done right, and requires a LOT of funding, which can be difficult to obtain. I wish that someday all rescues will be accountable for their actions and their treatment of their animals, as well as the homes they send them to.

  7. Tegan on

    We need so many more statistics on everything! before we can start making more positive steps in rescue. Full stop!

    • fearfuldogs on

      How about everyone who’s going to make a donation to a group asked to see their ‘rescue record’?

  8. Melissa on

    Rock On. I’m so glad you wrote this. As a trainer in Boston, I see a lot of dogs that were placed in the wrong home (overwhelmed dogs placed in a bustling city with a large family instead of a quiet place with a single owner). More often than not, things work out because the owner is dedicated, and with a little tweeking, the dog and new owner do just fine. However, in the cases in which the rescue group/shelter did not do a good job of placement, the dog and the family can end up suffering many years of stress that could have been minimized by doing a placement evaluation on the dog.

    I’d love to see any studies or statistics if anyone finds them.

  9. Rachel on

    Before I adopted my dog (from a breed-specific rescue group), I had several interviews and a home-visit. There was a bit of follow-up in the couple of weeks after I first adopted my dog, although this was probably a result of my calling them back for advice (how to get a scared-stiff dog to eat, drink, go potty, etc). I don’t know if they follow up with people that were not having problems at first.

    Since then, I’ve stayed in touch with the rescue group through voluntary stuff – I’ve done some potential adopter home-visits and gone to a few of the social / donation events they hold. But these have all been my perogative; they seem like a method of keeping in touch with people that want to keep in touch, rather than keeping tabs on the dogs.

    I’m not sure about the rate of rescue or the rate of returned dogs. Maybe those are statistics that the board of the rescue group keeps to themselves. There isn’t anything about that in the biannual newsletter; although they do list the dogs that have been adopted out since the last newsletter, but without any other figures, this number is not super meaningful.

  10. honeysjourney on

    You hit the nail on the head with this one. I’ve seen it, lived it and agree totally.

    There are 19.5 million people out of work right now, of those 5 million have given up on finding a job and are no longer on the unemployment rolls. Just think what could be accomplished if only 1% of those 5 million would volunteer and help, they may be able to change the”big picture”!

    ‘course then Oprah, Springer or whoever else is on daytime TV would sadly loose viewers.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Often times it just takes asking someone to help. When I worked with volunteers at our local shelter most were happy when I called to invite them to join me on a project.

  11. Megan on

    I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve been involved in several different rescue groups (some with shelters, some without), and have discovered there are flaws in every one. Unfortunately it’s part of the “business” that there will be placement fallouts, BUT a rescue or shelter who is constantly evaluating their process can at least make changes to do better moving forward. They can evaluate what they are doing, look at statistics for dogs being returned, dogs who have gone missing, etc. and then establish why those things happened, and how they can prevent them moving forward.

    Unfortunately, however, in the past, I’ve seen firsthand what happens when a rescue begins to care more about the number of dogs they’ve “saved” without caring for the quality of life of those dogs. I’ve seen when a rescue/shelter has 50+ dogs in a kennel situation where the majority of dogs only get out once a week, if they’re lucky. Or where a good portion of dogs only get out of their runs 1x a month and are going kennel crazy. Or when, there are so many dogs, and no behavioral staff that the dogs don’t even get evaluated, and dogs with seriously questionable temperaments are adopted out to unsuspecting individuals. I’ve also know people who are involved in, or worse, in charge of rescues who are no better than hoarders — with 15-20 dogs in crates in their house because they insist that 20 minutes a day out of their crate in a home is better than being in, or being euthanized in a shelter.

    I think it’s up to us, as rescue or shelter volunteers, employees, and animal advocates, to attempt to help these types of organizations change. That, however, is much easier said than done. I’ve recently left an organization after 2 years because of some of the above reasons, with absolutely no changes in sight. I am, however, lucky to have found a rescue where the emphasis is on the dog’s quality of life and ensuring that dogs are placed in homes that are appropriate for them.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Megan. There are people out there committed to the process of finding forever, good homes for dogs and good pets for people. They need to be supported for sure.

  12. Blessed Silence on

    “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?”
    Ouch. I don’t have these statistics and neither does my “parent” sanctuary. I hear from a lot of my adopters but not from all…shame on me. All are diligently screened with home visits (when able). I emphasize to adopters to call if any questions and, if for ANY reason, they no longer can keep their adopted dog, she comes back to me….I have made other arrangements twice to benefit the dog. We have a board meeting next week – this is a topic I will put on the agenda to at least address and consider…Thank you. Found you through Rescued Insanity.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I know the limitations we face and the burden keeping track of animals places on us. But not only might we find out if an animal was given away (it happens a lot!), perhaps to someone they shouldn’t have been, we are also able to help owners with problems before they become to difficult to ‘fix’. Asking or inviting owners to contact us would seem a likely solution to the behavior challenge issue, but it’s surprising how many owners, when they are contacted will talk about problems they’ve been having with the dog, for months and months. Just last night I heard about a dog who was being grabbed and squirted with bitter apple spray when he bit people. I was not responsible for placing the dog, though I did meet with the owners early on, as a courtesy call, because they had taken on a fearful dog. Instead of contacting me or the organization they got the dog from, they got bad advice, and IMO were now in effect torturing a small, fearful dog. And they were folks most rescues would have felt more than happy giving a dog to. Nice people actually.

      Contacting owners is a great job for volunteers. Provide them with a list of questions and keep a list of those who could benefit from a consultation with a trainer. Dog trainers are among some of the most generous and caring professionals on the planet. Not only would you likely find one who was willing to help on a volunteer basis themselves, it’s good PR and marketing for them to be the ‘official trainer’ of ‘such and such’ rescue group. You should (of course) look for a trainer experienced in reward based training. 😉

  13. M Riley on

    Thank you for this tough topic- “rescue” means so much more than pulling a dog from a shelter. Our group learned the hard way when we transferred fearful dogs to two groups who placed them, but ended up then going missing. Some were never found. We now only take dogs that we can be fully responsible for-for as long as it might take to find a great home and even beyond, should they not be suitable for placement.


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