Archive for the ‘dog adoption’ Tag

Surviving Adoption

small black dog being held by a man at an animal shelterRay 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?



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.

How to get ‘less adoptable’ dogs adopted

old buff cocker wearing a sweaterWhen the term ‘less adoptable’ dogs is mentioned different images come to mind. Some might think of dogs with physical disabilities or old dogs. Others might think of dogs with behavioral challenges, dogs that don’t get along with other dogs or certain members of the human race. When I think of less adoptable dogs I have to admit that almost any dog over 6 months of age comes to mind. Everyone loves puppies.

There are those of us who would rather not adopt a puppy, we have had this experience and as fun as it might have been, are happy to forgo it, thank you very much. But as a friend involved in a recent adoption event commented, “it was like a fire sale on puppies,” people almost can’t help themselves from snatching them up. This is not always a good thing. Puppies get older.

The difference between an adoptable dog and a less adoptable dog is often just one thing-skills. Give a dog a few skills and they go from being ‘one-eyed, old and not quite what I was looking for’, to, ‘OMG isn’t he clever!’. Teach a deaf dog to sit and look expectantly up at a person and they move up a peg on the adoptability scale. Teach them to ‘down’ or ‘shake hands’ and potential adopters can think they are looking at the equivalent of a doggie prodigy. These skills can help get a dog adopted, other skills can help them stay adopted.

I am aware of the limitations of time, energy and money rescue groups and shelters face and so training dogs themselves may be a limited option, but it still surprises me that more that could, don’t require that new adopters take a training class with their dogs. Some shelters include the cost of these classes in the adoption fee. A trainer friend offers a 75% discount for a private, in-home lesson, to anyone who adopts a dog from our local shelter. In five years she has had 2 takers. Whether this is due to a lack of marketing the offer to new pet owners by the shelter or simply a disinterest on the part of the owners, I don’t know. But if the shelter made training mandatory (oh the dreaded word) perhaps more would have taken her up on the offer.

I frequently hear groups cheering about how many dogs they’ve adopted out but none shouting out the numbers of those animals that are still in the original home 2-3 years later. Judging by the number of times some dogs go through the system I’d guess that a note-worthy number of dogs are not. Dogs who are unsuccessful in their adoptive homes continue to drain the resources of the rescue system. Then there are the dogs who end up being passed on to another home, despite any clause in a contract requiring the dog be returned to the shelter where the adoption originated, the dogs who end up dead because of behavioral issues, the dogs who are never seen again after fleeing not long after adoption and the dogs relegated to a life on chain because of unresolved behavior issues.

Here’s my dream-large rescue groups, shelters and humane organizations change the culture of dog adoptions and make it fun and sexy to be required to attend a training class as a condition of adoption. Dog trainers are some of the most caring and giving professionals on the planet. I can’t think of one who I have met who wouldn’t support making it financially available to new pet owners to attend their classes in obedience, agility, nosework, rally, manners, tricks, CGC, you name it. Getting ‘less adoptable’ dogs into homes is just the first step. Keeping them there is the next.

This post originally appeared on the Dancing Dog Blog for Petfinder’s Adopt A Less Adoptable Pet Week.