The Canines: Looking For A Few Good Homes

Well, here goes–the first in what may prove to be a series of blog entries which piss people off left and right…

As I get more involved in pet rescue, I encounter more tangled issues.  I’ve been avoiding them, and could continue to avoid writing about them, but I cannot avoid acting on them.  Decisions have been necessary, and will be necessary.  I’ve managed my hurdles pretty well, and feel confident that I’ll be able to keep it up. 

Since I’ve been brave enough to act, I may as well be brave enough to write about it.  So I’m starting with this–I very rarely encounter a home situation which I think would be a great place for a dog, and I can’t figure out why that is.

Just in the past few weeks, a number of things have happened, touching on this issue. 

 I rescued a dog from down South for a friend, a dog both of us thought seemed perfect for her (my friend’s) living situation.  My friend said that she missed the dog her boyfriend had taken with him when they split up, that she’d been researching training and working with dogs, and was now ready for her own.  She was looking forward to attending classes with her new dog.  Sounds great, right?  Everyone who dealt with the dog on her way north told me what a love of a dog she was.  Well, three or four days into their relationship, my friend called and said she couldn’t do it.  The dog had too much energy, and was pushing her anger buttons.

That was all I had to hear.  I didn’t try to convince her in any way, since anger is a completely useless emotion when it comes to working with dogs, something which I know personally.  I appreciated her honesty, although I did wonder whether she’d spent much time trying to improve in that regard.  But, while that was an interesting thing for me to think about, it had to go on the back burner, because I had a sudden new responsibility–the dog.

I brought the dog here, and saw that she did indeed have a lot of energy, but that it was of a very lovely kind.  She’s a young dog, very playful and friendly, and she loves to run with my dogs.  It’s delightful to watch dogs playing, and she’s a particularly charming player.  I believe that all she would have needed, in order to have a nice life with my friend, was a daily visit to the dog park, something my friend had said she’d be happy to do.  Still, it’s water under the bridge…

…and I have no regrets, really, about what happened.  Oh, dear, this blog is going to jump around.

When I went to my friend’s house to pick up the dog, I noticed a full ashtray on the patio.  I hadn’t realized that my friend was a smoker.  It’s very rare, in my circle, and I haven’t thought about it in years.  So here’s something that’s bound to offend some of the people reading this, but I really think it’s important to be honest about our adoption requirements.

In my mind, anyone who smokes takes a nose dive in terms of his or her suitability as a pet parent (or, of course, a kid parent).  I don’t want to adopt a pet to a smoker, although if everything else in the picture were wonderful, I think I might consider it.  But my first thought on this is, in this year of 2011, when we know absolutely for sure that smoking makes us sick and those around us sick and eventually kills us, then if you’re smoking, you either have a latent death wish and are willing to drag others into it, or you’re so ignorantly arrogant or arrogantly ignorant that you think it could never happen to you.  Either of those attributes makes me not want to give you any animal I’ve gone to the trouble of rescuing. 

Many rescuers might think that’s crazy.  So, if you’re a smoker, go adopt an animal from one of them.  This is what I’m coming to realize, in the rescue business.  You need to find a match between the rescuer and the adopter, and there will be a match somewhere, for almost anyone.

Back to my dog.  We’re done with my smoker friend in this story, but, as it happens, another friend has been looking for a dog who is extremely high energy, and I’ve been watching the Facebook dogs on his behalf.  We weren’t expecting this dog–I think we need to give her a pseudonym, or it’ll get too tedious–let’s call her Goldie–to be very high energy, but now we know she is, in just the way he says he’s looking for.  He wants a dog who just loves to play with other dogs, to be a companion for his first dog.

Sounds perfect, right?

Well, not to me, because, during the time that my first friend was discovering that having a dog was pushing her anger buttons, yet another friend had rescued a litter of puppies, and my second friend, the one looking for a high-energy dog, had been out to visit them and think about adopting one.  I’d been in attendance, too, just for the fun of having dogs and puppies crawling over me.

This friend who wants a high-energy dog came highly recommended as a dog owner and an all-around nice guy, and I think in general he deserves that praise, but what am I to do?  Because, after watching him interact with his dog and the puppies, he’s not good enough for me.  He’s got his dog on an e-collar, not just for the invisible fence in his yard (‘Can you help me get him to stop running the perimeter?’) but at all times (‘I only needed to shock him twice, right at the beginning; now I just use the vibrate’); he uses a tone of voice to talk to his dog which I call a bark, but I shouldn’t, because I hate the sound of it, whereas I enjoy a true bark; and, after telling my friend he would think about the puppies, he never contacted her again, which isn’t responsible.  Yes, it requires courage to tell someone, ‘no’, but it requires courage to bring a new dog home, too.   

So, that’s the end of that possible home, too, for me.  I don’t expect to let a dog under my care go into any situation where shocks will be used to ‘train’ him or her, and I’m pretty adamant that only positive reinforcement/negative punishment methods be used for true training–no dominance theory training, thank you very much–no barking out commands at your dog.  But my friend will have no problem finding nor adopting a dog from someone else, when he’s ready, and that’s good.

Back to Goldie.  The last thing I need is another dog, no matter how nice, and I’m wracking my brain to think of other possible homes for her, so I make contact with a friend who’s very dog savvy.  She is, in fact, an excellent trainer, and she’s been thinking about adopting a second dog.  Only a few days have passed since my first friend returned Goldie to me, so I’m hopeful that she might be able to settle into a new home with minimal disruption to her psyche (although she took only half a day to show signs that she’d be quite happy to stay at my house, with my pack, for the rest of her life, so I am a little worried…)

Still, as I say, I’m hopeful.  My friend meets and likes Goldie, and so does her present dog.  My friend invites Goldie to her house, and that’s the end of my hope, because Goldie is stressed when she visits my friend’s house, and I know my friend knows a stressed dog when she sees one.  Also, even if she hadn’t, Goldie’s behavior on returning to my house would have told me–she was very obviously relieved and delighted, and raced madly around the yard with those of my dogs who are her special buddies, and who were very happy to have her back.  Sigh…

And here’s another thing–this last friend tells me that the experience has made her family members realize that they’ll never find another dog who won’t ‘inconvenience’ them at all.  That’s another thing I don’t even consider arguing about.  It’s true.  Every dog will inconvenience you.  Every cat.  Every gerbil.  Every person, house plant, meal, hair style, visit to the bathroom…I just don’t know what to say.

I know what she means.  The dog she has now is about as easy as a dog can get, and she’s being responsible to know and be honest about the fact that an easy dog is all they can handle right now.  But still, where are the owners who can handle a not-perfectly-easy dog these days?  I’m not talking about a problem dog; I’m talking about a normal dog, the kind lots of people used to have in the old days, and they managed somehow. 

Is it possible that, in the course of becoming an attention span-less society, with sound bites and planned obsolescence wherever we turn, we’ve thrown away man’s best friend, because we have become so unable to commit to anything that requires a little time and patience?  Are we not only a fast food society, but a fast relationship society?  Are we squandering our attention on trivial pursuits, because they’re screaming for our attention 24/7, and ignoring things which have much greater value, because they’re ‘quiet’?  Have we become careless, and thoughtless, and casually cruel? 

Your cat scratches the furniture?  Quick–rip out its claws.  Your dog barks a lot?  Quick–slice out its vocal chords.  You want your dog to stay in your yard but don’t want to spend money on a fence?  No problem–here’s a collar and a little box–now you’ll be able to shock your dog from far away–you won’t even have to step outside.  Don’t want to leave that screen for long, after all!

Well, I’m sure I’ve made my point.  I just don’t know what to do about it.  Another friend, one who, with no prior experience, surprised me by going right to the head of the class in terms of dog ownership, said to me recently, ‘A dog who comes to your house is never going to want to go anywhere else’, and God help me, I think that might be true.  These two things–that I have a superb setup for dogs, and that there seems to be something in the air causing people who should be good adoption candidates to shy away from commitment to pet ownership–may sink my dog rescue ship.

In order to avoid having more dogs set foot here, I was trying to rescue only dogs for whom I had a home already lined up, but clearly it doesn’t always work.  And you might say, well, people shouldn’t adopt from so far away–if they adopted closer to home, they could find out more about the dog before bringing it home.  But you know what?  That’s just not true.  Any dog in any shelter, near or far, will most likely not ‘present’ as his or her true self until she or he has settled in with you for a few weeks.

And that used to be OK.  People and dogs used to grow into one another.  People and people used to grow into one another.

And now?  Wife not such good eye candy anymore?  Husband getting boring?  What’s the problem?–that’s why we have divorce.  Dog taking up too much time?  Drop it off at the ‘shelter’–they’ll deal with it.  (And they will, often finding a ‘final solution’.)  Old dog becoming incontinent?  ‘Shelter’ again.  But, you say, it’s too embarrassing to turn a thirteen-year-old dog into the ‘shelter’?  OK, I have the answer–we can pretend it’s a stray!  Oh, good idea.

I guess I don’t see today’s horrible ‘disposable pet’ issue as just its own problem.  I see it as a symptom of an even bigger problem, and I feel like we won’t be able to fix the smaller problem (‘smaller’?  it’s huge) until we’ve tackled the big issue.

For some reason, though, I don’t feel hopeless about it.  I will continue to do what I can, and I’ll keep thinking about this.

And tomorrow or the next day, I’ll blog more about what I’m really looking for in a prospective owner, and what you might be looking for, and how this is a very thorny subject, fraught with danger for freelance rescuers.

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