Tuesday, April 2, 2013

WANTED: Childless, lesbian couple living off the grid!

I often get calls about dogs who need new homes.  Do I know of anyone who would like a dog who has killed the family cat?  Would I like to take on a dog who has chronic stress colitis and is afraid of all humans except for one, all dogs, cats, cars, bicycles and who has bad hips to boot?  Is there perhaps a farm that will take on the dog who has killed seven skunks over the past year, and is now moving onto larger prey?  Is there anyone out there who would like the dog who has been designated a dangerous dog by the authorities because he ran down a cyclist and mauled his leg?

Everytime I read an ad or get a call looking for a rehome of these dogs, I think of the title of this blog.  Peruse the files on Petfinder, and you can get a sense of the dogs that are available and considered potential family pets.  What exactly does “Fluffy would be best suited to a family without children or other pets” mean?  Without any further information about this dog, do you want to live next door to Fluffy?  Would your opinion change about living next door to Fluffy if you had a small mixed breed dog?  Would your opinion change if you had two young children?

I have seen ads for dogs that blow my mind.  “Needs space to run.”  “Prefer a single woman owner.”  “Must not live with cats.”  “Suitable for a home with children over the age of 12.”  When you deconstruct what these statements mean, you paint a very different picture.  Like the real estate ads, “handy man’s dream” doesn’t usually translate into “home workshop in the garage outfitted with your dream tools”.  A handy man’s dream usually means that significant renovations are in order and you can expect to spend every waking moment repairing plumbing, wiring, the roof, the railing on the stairs, repainting, installing drywall and so on.  

So let’s deconstruct some of the more common statements.  “Needs space to run.”  What does that really mean?  In my experience it can mean one of two things.  Either the dog is a high energy animal who needs two off leash, one hour walks each day along with structure and training or the dog has really poor impulse control and whose anxiety manifests as whirling in circles.

How about “best suited to a home with a single woman”?  Again, in my experience that means that the dog is not good with men or children.  Do you know of anyone who lives in a world without men or children?  Let’s say we find a woman willing to take this dog.  What should she do if her father wants to visit?  Do we expect that she will never have a relationship with a man?  What should she do about the fact that her neighbours have children?

One of my favourites is “Suitable for a home with children over the age of 12”.  I think this age number is somewhat arbitrary, as I have seen ages from three to 12 in the advertisements, but it does beg the question of why these ages have been selected.  Is it because the dog bit an eleven year old?  Is the dog predatory to toddlers?  Is it just that the dog is huge?  Does the advertizer think that the dog should never be exposed to children under this age?  Has the advertizer thought through what it means for a dog like this to live in a suburban neighbourhood?  If the home has children over the age of twelve, what might happen if they bring home a younger child as a guest?  What will happen if mom has a baby?

The final category that baffles me is “I want to find a nice farm that would like to take on my problem dog.”  People don’t seem to realize that farming is a business.  If I raise crops, I don’t want that dog to be racing through the fields and messing up the growth of my grains.  If I raise chickens, I don’t want a predatory dog who might kill the chickens.  If I am raising pigs or milking cows, I cannot have a dog in the barns, so where is that dog going to be while I am working in the barn?  I think people have a largely detached view of what it means to be a farmer in today’s world.  Farming is a world of heavy machinery, of powerful tools like chain saws and post holers.  In the egg, pork and milk industry, strict biohazard controls are implemented to keep pathogens out of the barns where the animals are housed and handled.  Farmers have no more time, and possibly less time than someone running a machine shop to deal with a problem dog.

While I am attracted to the idea that there is a home for every dog, you just have to find it, I see the evidence on a day to day basis that this may not be true.  How many childless, lesbian couples who live far enough away from civilization that a dog placed with these kind ladies would never again meet their problems do you know?  I have to say that I don’t know any.  In some cases, there just isn’t a place for these dogs, which brings me to the point of what I want to say.  If you cannot live with your problem dog, can you ethically send that dog along to someone else?  The humane society is not a magic place where magic people live who magically want to take your problem dog and fix him.  Rescues are often started by people who are trying to address this issue of making better matches for dogs, but they also not equipped with any sort of magical population of people well prepared to meet the needs of the dogs with problems.  There are a few trainers I know who take on these problem dogs, but they are limited in the number of dogs they can take; they often have ten to twelve dogs already, so they may not be able to take your dog on.  There are sanctuaries; places where dogs are housed for the duration of their lives.  Some sanctuaries are better than others, and some of them are much worse.  

Many behaviour problems can be helped.  We have loads of tools now to help dogs with a wide variety of problems.  I would like to stop dogs from being surrendered to shelters and rescues.  I would like people to start looking at the problem dogs that live with them and help them in their first homes.  There will never be a day when there aren’t dogs who are in need, but many, many of these dogs could be best helped in the homes they start with.


  1. Well put.

    We need to make it easier for owners to keep their dogs. Unfortunately, I fear that by the time that Ward and June have decided to give Spot away; not only have they made their minds up, but Spot's so far down spiral that it's hard to bring him back. The resources need better PR.

  2. Working on it. The single biggest indicator of how successful a pup will be in his home is if he went to puppy school. Been thinking about how to reach more puppies.

  3. I really like this post Sue. I know my brother and sister in law have a dog with behavioural issues, and my parents wanted me to take home the dog! (We were all living together, my cat both their dogs, and 5 people in total) Poor Barkley was a wreck every time my brother & wifes dog left he would go nuts... Because I was able to help this poor dog a bit, they thought I would be the best owner for him. I politely declined (besides the fact that it wasn't even the owner that was asking me to take the dog) and gave a few suggestions to my family on how to help Barkley. However, no one has the time for him. I'm sure right now he feels like a foster kid amidst chaos. I feel guilty for leaving him there, however, I do know he is not my problem or responsibility and I have done all I can.

  4. I don't usually do much social media stuff, but I am pretty passionate about this subject and wanted to comment.

    This is a really great article, and I enjoyed reading it -I will check out the rest of your blog posts on the subject when I have time!

    I have a bit of a built-in bias as someone who has been involved with a few dog adoptions, simply because I have seen an number of dogs successfully re-homed from homes that were unable to provide training to homes that were. While I also really dislike the coded language a lot of rescues adopt ("needs space", "women only", "single dog", "protective") to disguise serious behavioural problems, I also don't think the dog you take home has to be a perfect match out of the box if (and only if) you enjoy the process of helping that dog learn to live with you AND are willing/able to adjust your lifestyle in significant ways while you work through issues.

    Personally, I kind of like this process, although I certainly find it frustrating at times -and so for me, a 'project' dog is an okay fit. I have seen some enough adoptions go really well that I do think it is worthwhile considering a shelter dog as long as you are realistic and go in with some knowledge, some scepticism, and a plan. Especially as long as there is a significant economic component surrounding access to vet care and behavioural training, we will see dogs surrendered to rescue that are more than capable of living a long happy life of companionship with only a little bit of extra time and effort invested into training.

    In any case, sorry for the wall of text. Your blog just got me thinking. I'm not sure if you remember me, but I had the poorly behaved narnia shepherd last january. He's still living with me and is now officially mine for good -actually, he is a pretty good example of a poorly thought out/researched/planned adoption, so maybe I should listen to my own advice. In any case, I am hoping to be able to do good dog in the fall once my schedule levels out. In the meantime, we are both managing pretty well. I guess this is the other piece of it for me -I agree with you 100% that adoptions should be well thought out, researched, and planned. But sometimes things don't really happen like that, and sometimes people just learn to live with the dogs they end up with. If your personality inclines more towards off-the-cuff decision making, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Yeah, I'd sometimes like to be able to have guests over. But I can't, and that's fine too.

    Hope all is well & that the puppy program is going well. I really think that kind of program is the way forward.


  5. Hi Kirsten,

    Thanks for the well thought out comments. I agree that no relationship is going to go perfectly smoothly from the get go, but there is a huge difference between getting an unruly, untrained dog who will learn that there are rules in your home and the dog who comes out of the shelter or rescue with serious separation anxiety, OCD, or aggression. The dogs I am seeing are sometimes downright dangerous, and I think we need to start to consider what that means for the dogs we meet.

    Thanks again; I look forward to hearing what else you have to say!


  6. I'm one of those people who take on the challenge of working with extremely difficult dogs - I often spend time trying to reassure owners that "Fido" is not really a lost cause, that just because he hits the fence of his pen head high to the person that looks at him and roars like a salivating lion, or draws blood on the hands that reach out to him or the hands that feed him, Fido is not a lost cause - "If you don't give a dog what it needs, it can't give you what you want" I tell people, and the statement is very true - I've been working with dogs for the past 36 years and my failures are few and far between - the exceptions largely being the old, or new owners, that refuse to believe how much exercise their dog really needs, or how firm the boundaries must be set - if Fido needs a 3 mile run every day while leashed to a bicycle, then that's what Fido needs, and if Fido doesn't get that 3 mile run leashed to a bicycle, then Fido CAN'T give you what you want - if Fido needs some firm boundaries and he's not given them, then you can bet that Fido is going to keep pushing until he finds where the boundaries are - I see people who decide it's time to lay down some rules after they've been drinking all afternoon and then come to me seeking help because their "dangerous dog" bit them - believe me, I'd bite them too if they tried the same thing with me - my policy, or program includes controlled exercise to the point the dog has run off it's frustrations - it includes exposing the dog to the company of other dogs in a safe environment - it includes setting boundaries with a bit of leash work doing some "heel, sit, stay" lessons, and then heaps of love and affection AFTER the first 3 things on the list are completed - MOST dogs would have no behaviour problems at all if their owners did the above - no excuses, no procrastination, just DO IT, every day for as many days/weeks/months or even years that Fido needs it

    1. I am not talking to dogs already in homes. I am talking about the dogs in shelters. I do not support placing dogs in the wrong situation, and when that situation is extremely rare, then you may not be able to place the dog.