Whole Dog Journal's Blog January 20, 2014

Mourning the loss of an “easy” dog

Posted at 01:41PM - Comments: (23)

I know a couple who adopted a shelter dog, and, some six months after that fact, have decided to give the dog up following an incident with the dog. The wife took the dog to a friend’s house, and due to a lot of factors (that were entirely predictable to anyone knowing much of anything about dogs, but apparently, undreamed of by the inexperienced owner), the adopted dog attacked the dog who lived in that house. The resident dog and her owner both required treatment for punctures –nothing major, not surgery or anything drastic. But the entire event was traumatic enough that the owners can no longer imagine living with their (aggressor) dog.

It’s very sad for me to hear about, because the dog is an only dog, is very affectionate and well-behaved with her humans, doesn’t share the house with other dogs or cats or anything but adult humans, and yet, because of this episode of easily preventable dog-dog aggression, is about to lose her home and be returned to a shelter, where she may or may not be given a chance to find another family.

The couple has been offered services by a trainer who worked with them shortly after they adopted the dog – and declined those services. They don’t want to “work with” the dog, they just want her gone, as soon as possible.

I was thinking about this, and a conversation that I had once with a close relative came to mind. Her daughter suffers from schizophrenia. My relative has struggled for over a decade to get help for her daughter, as doctors have struggled to find medications that give the young woman some peace from the paranoia and voices that plague her, and enable her to distinguish reality from delusions – or at a minimum, resist responding to those delusions. My relative once told me, one of the hardest parts of dealing with her daughter’s illness is letting go of the image of the perfect girl her daughter had once been – extremely bright, communicative, creative, and athletic. She told me, “It’s not that I can’t deal with the illness; it’s that I find myself constantly mourning the loss of the person my daughter was before the illness.”

When one of our dogs develops a serious health or behavior disorder, mourning the loss of our image of our relatively carefree, healthy dog is often the first step that we need to take in order to get on with the treatment. Whether the dog is going to require lifelong testing and medication for a thyroid disorder or diabetes, or surgery and rehabilitation for dysplastic hips, or management and training to deal with a budding aggression issue, the first step is accepting this new reality: The future with that dog is not going to be as cheap or easy as one hoped.

The big difference, of course, is that it’s somehow an option for people to not only decline to treat their dog, but also, give up on it altogether, whereas one can’t walk away from a child in need of treatment so easily. And sometimes, I really hate this difference.

I would be more understanding and compassionate toward these people if they couldn’t afford the training or management tools, or had no time to invest in the project, or had other vulnerable parties – another dog, or cats, or small children – that they needed to protect. But all I have heard is that it’s too traumatic to consider.

I’m not dismissing the idea that witnessing (and having to break up) a dogfight is traumatic. It’s also humiliating and upsetting to suffer the judgment or anger of the owner of the victim dog in a dog fight. And it’s very uncomfortable to feel guilty for failing to pay enough attention and prevent something bad that your dog does. In my lifetime with dogs, I’ve suffered every one of these feelings. They are not fun.

But dang it . . . it’s still your dog. 

Comments (23)

Please, please, please understand, any "purebred" dog purchased from a breeder has just as much chance developing issues, fears, and anxiety as a rescued dog. It does rescue dogs, and promotion of rescuing a homeless animal, such a disservice for everyone to assume they are damaged goods.

Posted by: thejanine | January 26, 2014 10:33 PM    Report this comment

My husband and I have a dog with behavior issues. We have and continue to work with her constantly. It can be exhausting both physically and mentally. I sometimes wonder what we ever did to deserve such a pain in the neck dog. I have to admit that I have secretly wished that she would just disappear especially when we have children visit and we physically have to remove her from our home (children agitate her and we do not feel safe having her in her home when children visit). Thankfully my husband has an office about 1 block from our home where she can relax and watch TV. With all this being said, we know that this dog is our responsibility. We did not welcome her into our home only on the condition that she be a loving, perfectly behaved companion. I have probably made her seem like a monster but she does have some good virtues. She is really good at catching treats mid-air and keeps me warm in bed a night!

Posted by: Melissa | January 24, 2014 12:44 PM    Report this comment

Give rescues time - they have been abused - from what we dont really know. One of mine was locked in a cupboard all her life. Her companian has scolious of the spine and not in good shape. My 2 rescues follow me everywhere and so loyal. Please dont Buy Adopt........... Great reward.

Posted by: Unknown | January 23, 2014 1:58 PM    Report this comment

Perhaps they really don't understand how this happened and, in spite of well intentioned offers of help, can't bring themselves to keep the dog because of their own shame and sense of responsibility. This is sad. But only time and their own willingness to learn will help them. I hope the dog is placed with an agency or group that will understand the dog better than the current owners and be able to place it in a loving and aware home

Posted by: jannilabluver | January 23, 2014 10:30 AM    Report this comment

These people look at at a dog,as "just a dog." With their thinking,they are the type that will use any kind of excuse to get rid of their family pet.Whether it be wanting a new one,moving,to old etc. These are the type of people that should never have one.Would they "get rid of" their child if he's older and gets into trouble,or themselves for that matter.Some dogs,like people,aren't sociable around their own kind.Also they bought their dog into another dogs "alpha" space,so a fight for dominance pursued.I would rather loose a friend,than my little guy and if was family,then you can crate him or put him in another room until they leave.That simple!! He was being what he is....a dog!! If they want him to act like a human then they should stay with their own kind and stay away from animals period.If this had happened with me,I wouldn't even consider the thought of letting my little guy go.Ever!! But then I love him and dearly.Something it seems they were obviously lacking.They take patience,love and care every day to which I feel privileged to give to my guy.I wonder what will happen to this dog now.Sad :(

Posted by: Brenda G | January 22, 2014 4:17 PM    Report this comment

This is indeed a saddening thing to read. I do have a Carin Terrier and will go after dogs that she feels she can overtake - I now carry a spray bottle of water and spray her if I think she is getting aggressive with other dogs and it usuaally stops. If we are at a dogpark, then I remove her from the dogpark.

Posted by: Elaine J | January 22, 2014 4:12 PM    Report this comment

The people getting rid of the shelter dog have little enough knowledge of dog behavior that they are better off not to have the dog & the dog is better off not to have them. Is there a fool proof method of screening applicants for dog adoption?

Posted by: SUSAN D | January 22, 2014 5:59 AM    Report this comment

Thank you for the example of the woman who was mourning the "daughter she used to have." Our relationships with both family, friends and pets change as we and they age, and not always the way we would prefer.It is easy for me to forget that I must renew the relationship - care for an aging parent and pet, or paying more attention to the child or young dog that got forgotten when an emergency claimed my time. They all have a way of letting us know that they need us. It help me to remember this when I start to get short or angry with my 15 year old Aussie or my young, energetic Border Collie.

Posted by: Robin Chaffey | January 21, 2014 6:48 PM    Report this comment

I adopted a surrendered dog a little over a year ago. Not long after getting him home, I quickly realized why he was brought to the shelter. He had no training, no social skills and a TON of energy. He is a Rhodesia Ridgeback cross, and an uncontrollable big dog is very stressful. I Spent time every single day training and working with him and the bond we now have is proof that the reward far outweighs any grief. The main point is "baby steps". It won't happen overnight. My dog came with absolutely no background information. If you truly want to "rescue" an animal, you need patience and at least the ability to read your dogs body language. Too much too soon can be scary for a newly re-homed dog. If you are not willing to show patience and try to understand that you can not wipe their previous life away, then a rescue mat not be for you. Rescuing a dog goes WAY beyond just taking it into your home.

I am glad my rescue dog ended up with me. He is a fast learner and loves his morning runs. I knew what I was possibly in for, and it is worth it.

Posted by: Kim M | January 21, 2014 6:07 PM    Report this comment

I feel bad for these people and the dog, my golden retriever turned aggressive to me and sent me to hospital, I had to make a decision to either help her or send her back, she came from a back yard breeder at six weeks old, I decided to try and find the problem and contacted a behaviour specialist trainer. It cost me 700 dollars and was worth every penny, the training is for life of the dog and if I need help its a phone call away, Abbey is now a happy easy going retriever and I'm happy I spent the money, they do take payments. Abbey is now 14 months old.

Posted by: abbeysmom | January 21, 2014 4:31 PM    Report this comment

Some people have a really odd view of pet ownership. They see pets more as accessories than living things to be loved. I don't think I'll ever understand that way of thinking and I don't want to. I adopted a rescue dog about a month ago, a two year old Aussie mix. He is a handful but I understood that going in. Some people like to be able to say they rescued a dog more than actually owning a dog. It makes them sound like really swell folks. I did my homework though. I know that one reason so many dogs are in shelters and rescues is because they do have problems that their previous owners could not or did not want to deal with. One major problem is that they were not socialized as young puppies. My dog is one such case. He gets so excited when he sees new people or animals that he loses control. That might be what happened with the dog in the article. He might have gotten overly excited and his behavior crossed the line into aggression. This is something I know I have to be on guard for. We've been to obedience class--I acknowledge that I'm being trained as much as my dog--and I'm learning to keep control even when my dog loses it. I'm also beginning to recognize that most of the dogs in my neighborhood have never been trained or socialized either so I'm learning to avoid them so they don't set my dog off. I guess what I've learned the most is how much I need to know so I be a good owner and help my dog be the best dog he can be. Sadly, the more I learn the more I see other people ignoring their dogs' need for structure and socialization. I do see snarling, fear aggressive dogs and owners that are afraid of their own dogs. I also see lots of dogs tied out in backyards and forgotten except for a bit of food everyday.

It's a heartbreaking situation all the way around. So many sad dogs and uncaring owners.

Posted by: LBowman | January 21, 2014 2:07 PM    Report this comment

People who decide they aren't going to keep their dog should first contact a breed rescue, or a rescue that takes mixes. A responsible rescue organization is the dog's best chance for a good life because they'll do vet work and screen adoption applicants to make a good match between the dog and the new home. Rescue work is art and science. Science comes in the vet work, rehab, and applicant screening. The art of rescue is in making the matches. As a rescue volunteer one sees the best and the worst of humanity's relationship with animals. I think if a person wants to give us their dog, that dog is better off with us because we'll find a good home. Occasionally the people truly love the dog and are willing but no longer able to provide to provide proper care. Those are heartbreaking intakes for all parties involved, starting with the dog.

Posted by: Jo B | January 21, 2014 12:47 PM    Report this comment

Why do people need to take their dog to visit at someone house where there are dogs or cats or small children? It makes me angry, people need to think ahead and consider what might happen in given situations,not wait till a tragedy and then blame the pet. We are suppose to be more evolved but I have doubts as to how true that is in a lot of situations. I hope these people are never allowed to adopt another dog. Since I have a Anatolian Shepherd puppy and devote a couple of hours a day with her so she will deal with life and be happy (Anatolians are a challenging breed but so wonderful and not for inexperienced people) But what ever breed you have there needs to be a commitment or just go by a gold fish.

Posted by: Thornhedge Farm | January 21, 2014 11:44 AM    Report this comment

I also am involved with animal rescue, dog and cat, and have to agree unfortunately with Kate S. Most people only want a pet who is cheap, convenient, and easy. As soon as a pet displays any type of issue, the majority of people will return it. There is a real lack of commitment to the animal in my experience. I will go so far as to say, most people in animal rescue end up not having a good impression of their fellowman. Do agree however, with this particular situation, if the couple was now afraid of the dog, they may never have been able to overcome that. The people who want an animal to help an animal, are few and far between but they do exist, and guess that's what keeps us rescuers going.

Posted by: HAZEL F | January 21, 2014 10:14 AM    Report this comment

wow this looks like a red min pin or red mix rat terrier mix. a beautiful dog wow. COME ON FOLKS LETS get this darling safe and out , they will KILL THIS ONE AND MANY MORE HURRYYYYYYYYYYYYY folks. share like crazy. This pup is stunning and worth it.

Posted by: carolejean | January 21, 2014 10:02 AM    Report this comment

Please know that the Shepherd mix was not returned a TERRIER, but TERRIFIED! Auto correct...Grrrrr!

Posted by: Karen H | January 21, 2014 9:49 AM    Report this comment

It comes down to if you're not willing to stick with your pet through thick or thin, you should not be picking her up and bringing her home in the first place. No pet is a disposable entertainment unit to be discarded when the shine wears off.
I have such a discarded pet - he is an escape artist, having learned early that the wide world is more entertaining than the boredom and emptiness of his day at home. One escape too many, and he was dumped into the local shelter. He is work, but it is easy work, happy work, a celebration of progress in baby steps as well as leaps and bounds. I can't imagine anyone with half a heart not seeing him, his personality, his heart and his love. He is not an aging TV set. He is MY dog.

Posted by: Dietlinde W | January 21, 2014 9:37 AM    Report this comment

That is so unfortunate. I just adopted out a foster dog, an 8 year old Shepherd mix. He came to our rescue as a 3 week old puppy with his littermates and mom from Katrina. He was adopted and then returned, a terrier and traumatized 4 year old. His adopters said that they " had had trouble with him from day one". Right. He was in an experienced foster home for a year, where he regained confidence, but still remained very sensitive and somewhat fearful. A wonderful couple adopted him, but two years later he was returned when the man died and the woman had serious health issues and could no longer care for him. That is when we stepped in. He I again was traumatized, I think because of all the emotional trauma that was going on in his home, and I felt that there were genetic problems also. When he was neutered, they found make and female parts. Who knows the pollutants he was exposed to while in utero? Anyways, he was with us ten months while we worked on his issues. I am not a huge fan of positive only training, but with this dog, that is what we used,very gradually introducing him to new things and people and using treats and other rewards for calm behavior. He made great strides, but I feel,he will never be as gregarious as my two Labs, who never met a stranger and are certified therapy dogs. Anybody who expressed an interest in him was told point blank if his issues,and that if they adopted him the had to be committed to keeping him until he died of old age, and NOT to adopt him because they felt sorry for him. Everyone backed off (wisely) except for the couple who fell in love with his sweet affectionate self and are going the extra mile to make him feel safe in his new home. We have decided however, that if he is returned again, he is ours for good, but I am confident that these people know what they are getting into and will do the right thing.

Posted by: Karen H | January 21, 2014 9:26 AM    Report this comment

I have 3 dogs of my own which I adopted from shelters. My oldest, an eight year old dalmatian mix has many fears when she's away from home or anyone comes in. I have had her to a trainer, but with little improvement. I never give up on her. She doesn't like cars, but I put her thunder shirt on her, and with my 3 year old lab/Shepard mix drive to the dog park. She doesn't mind other dogs, it's people, places and etc which frighten her. She stays next to me or my other dog. This has been going on for years. I love her too much to give up on her. I take her to as many places as I can..even to the local Lowes Home Improvement store, sometimes alone. My Lab mix who was 5 months when I adopted him came with his own problems, but now is a friendly, sweet dog who loves everyone. I hate to think what happens to dogs who are returned to shelters. I also has a min pin who I took to my vet a couple of days after I adopted her..turned out she has health issues which require meds twice daily. I have had her for 2 years now..she brings me so much joy as do my other two. I have to say..I have no use for anyone who would get rid of a dog or any animal for that matter just because the animal might require some time, or extra attention or money to rehabilitate.

P. Marie

Posted by: Unknown | January 21, 2014 9:09 AM    Report this comment

My husband and I have been dealing with this recently. We have a total of 4 dogs. 2 male & 2 female. The 2 females used to get along somewhat & would play occassionally. Now they no longer do. The bigger doxie mix (she's 28 lbs) has started jumping on the smaller mini doxie (all of 9 lbs). The last episode ended in a vet visit where they kept her for 2 days.
This has been bewildering for my husband and I. We are very concerned about the smaller dog's wellfare. I am starting to work with a trainer to see if we can determine the underlying cause of this sudden aggression. They haven't always gotten along but it has never been this bad. If we do end up re-homing the bigger dog, I refuse to return her to the shelter (although I may ask for their assistance in re-homing her) and I refuse to let her go without trying to correct the problem because I know it will probably cause problems farther down the road which will end up with her back at the shelter regardless..

Posted by: joandmar | January 21, 2014 8:50 AM    Report this comment

The initial post is very thoughtful and takes many things into consideration. I agree that your commitment to your dog should be for life. there is one thing that would be an exception and that is fear. if you become afraid of your dog, then that could be a major detriment to the relationship and foster continued problems. if these folks are truly afraid, then no amount of working with a trainer will necessarily solve that. in that case, surrendering the dog may be the best choice.

Posted by: Unknown | January 21, 2014 8:49 AM    Report this comment


Posted by: kmax | January 21, 2014 8:46 AM    Report this comment

Having been involved in dog rescue for more than 20 years I have learned that a very large number of pet owners only "love" their pet if it is Cheep, Convenient, and Easy. As soon as the animal becomes expensive, inconvenient or a problem, that animal then becomes 100% disposable.

I once had explained to me (by a woman who wanted to get rid of her dog) - "That people have pets to enhance their lives, and if that pet is proving to be a detriment to a persons life, well that animal needs to go." It is socially acceptable to throwaway a problem animal. Though many people getting rid of pets probably do not think of their decision with the same eloquence they most definitely exhibit the sentiment.

From my jaded perspective this couple with the shelter dog are just like many many people. The dog has become an embarrassing inconvenient problem and they are disposing of the dog accordingly.

Posted by: Kate S | January 20, 2014 3:00 PM    Report this comment

New to Whole Dog Journal? Register for Free!

Already Registered?
Log In