Whole Dog Journal's Blog October 11, 2010

Shelter Sadness

Posted at 04:56PM - Comments: (10)

I spent a half day at my local shelter recently, working with a half-dozen large, adolescent dogs who have been languishing there for two or more months. Not one of these dogs knew the cue “sit” but they were friendly and healthy and in need of homes.

Being at the shelter for even just a few hours a week can get me down. I’m hopeful for the animals there – especially the ones who just learned to sit and lie down on cue, and sit politely by their doors. No, it’s humanity I sometimes get depressed about. This morning’s depression came after the following:

As I toured through the kennels with the shelter’s veterinary technician, looking for a dog to feature as the “Adoptable Pet of the Week” for our local newspaper, we came across two German Shepherd-crosses, probably siblings, lying entangled in each other’s legs. The tech explained that they were two of three dogs who were picked up as a little tight-knit pack by the county animal control officer, and that the older dog had an implanted microchip. The shelter staff called the owner, who came to pick up the implanted dog (paying a fine, of course), but who claimed not to know the other two dogs.

A woman with a little boy, perhaps three years old, was sitting and petting a dog in one of the outdoor runs. When she saw me working with one of the dogs, she asked “Are you a trainer?” I hesitated – I’m not a trainer – but for her purposes, I guessed, I could be. “Yes,” I said. “Can I help you?” She said, “Well, this dog, he’s got so many bad habits. He play bites sometimes, too hard. And he knocks my son over.”

I said, “Well, we have a lot of really nice dogs inside. Perhaps you should consider one of the older and smaller dogs.”

She responded, “Well, this dog – he used to be my dog. I got him from here when he was a puppy. I brought him back about a month ago. But I’m so upset that he’s still here; no one has adopted him!”

I was sort of stunned. Then it occurred to me that even if she surrendered him, she came back; she must actually care about the dog. I said, “Are you thinking about taking him home again? I could recommend a training class . . .”

She said, “No, he’s trained, he can sit and all that, it’s just that he chews everything, and knocks my son over, and he barks if he’s left alone.” She hesitated, and then said, “Maybe we should just get a new puppy.”

Later, I saw the vet tech in the parking lot with a middle-aged man and what looked to be a very senior Airedale. The dog was emaciated, three-legged lame, and covered with matted dreadlocks. My first thought was that the man had rescued the dog. No, said the tech told me later; the man brought the dog in for euthanasia. He said the dog didn’t get along with his other dogs.

I know that shelter staffers have to deal with irresponsible and ill-informed pet owners every day, and I bless them for their hard work. I know that I couldn’t do it with a smile on my face.

Comments (10)

I empathize with shelter staff, because they are the ones who have the to do the dirty work created by thoughtless, irresponsible, selfish humans. Nonetheless, I think shelters need to do a better job of educating and guiding the public to decisions that are appropriate to their circumstances. Saying "NO" to people who insist on getting animals according to what they want instead of what is appropriate for their circumstances.

Unfortunately, many young adults have fond memories of having pets as children. It seemed so easy when their parents took responsibility for the animals. They imagine having the same happy experience, but they are not prepared for the commitment it takes to raise a puppy, raise a family, care for a home, and hold down a job. Couple that with societies throw away mentality, and it is a recipe for disaster for helpless animals.

Killing so many animals for the sins of humans is unacceptable.

Posted by: Doris Muller | October 17, 2010 12:43 AM    Report this comment

All four of my dogs are from shelters, all of them were over the age of 9 months (one a 3-yr old rottweiler) and none of them have behavior problems I couldn't handle on my own (with the help of Whole Dog Journal and other smart resources). I just want to emphasize that behavior issues aren't limited to shelter dogs or older dogs. If you've never adopted and you're nervous about it, adopt from a rescue organization where the dogs are fostered and the people can tell you what to expect from the dog. Then you will still be saving a life.

Posted by: patricia s | October 16, 2010 7:52 AM    Report this comment

This situation is very sad and has just recently come to my attention. I have not adopted before and always buy my Labs from a breeder but the next time....... I think that trainers on television, like Cesear Milan, and there are others, and Oprah has done several shows on this topic, have done a world of good to bring the plight of these animals to the public eye.

Posted by: Jennie W | October 13, 2010 11:13 AM    Report this comment

Wow, what a wake up story. You are right. Humans are the real reason to whether there are good and bad behaved dogs. I've always trained and socialized my dogs, but they were obtained from breeders as puppies. That was many, many years ago. Back then, I was not aware of the shelter problems. After my beautiful Rottie passed away at the age of 12, I went to the pound and found a Rottie pup of about 9 or 10 months old. Boy was I in for a surprise. This dog was obedience trained, but he was an aggressive play biter, not house broken, jumper, and etc. I took the time and hired professional behaviorist trainer and we worked with him. Three months later, he is now house broken, obedience (graduated 2nd top of his class), and just a wonderful companion in our household. I am very happy with him and I will do it all over again. I just wish more people were like us, aware of what dogs are all about and will do all the right things to make their lives wonderful. There would be fewer dogs in the shelter.

Posted by: Betty P | October 13, 2010 10:02 AM    Report this comment

Thanks for the insightful article. As a shelter volunteer I feel you captured many of the situations that tear at our heart strings on a regular basis. People take home a cute little puppy and just expect it to know not to pee on the carpet and not to chew shoes and not to bark. They make no effort to train it and at 9 months to a year it is a juvenile delinquent (often an unneutered male with raging hormones to boot) and it ends up at the shelter. And then to your point, they figure they just had bad luck with that one so they go out and get another one. And the things is they aren't bad people - they just don't get it.

Posted by: VICKY P | October 12, 2010 3:07 PM    Report this comment

I can sympathise with how you feel - I volunteer at a rescue society in South Africa and it is much the same there too - we have made a concerted effort to try and train all the puppies as well as the older dogs and to expose them to as many experiences as possible as well as trying to match the right dog with the right people to make sure that when a dog is adopted it stays adopted. You can only do it one step at a time and try not to let the 'whole' picture overwhelm you. Take heart from the fact that you are there and you do make a difference. You give value to lives that had none before!

Posted by: Unknown | October 12, 2010 1:10 PM    Report this comment

I have a Rottie that I just rescued. He is the sweetest boy and I've been told that it was his wonderful temperment that saved him. He had been at 5 shelters before I got him. I'm told that each time his "number was up", he was sent on to another shelter so that his life could be spared and he could be given a chance for a forever home. I am the lucky one and he is the darling of the household.

Posted by: Rochelle | October 12, 2010 12:23 PM    Report this comment

I have a Rottie that I just rescued. He is the sweetest boy and I've been told that it was his wonderful temperment that saved him. He had been at 5 shelters before I got him. I'm told that each time his "number was up", he was sent on to another shelter so that his life could be spared and he could be given a chance for a forever home. I am the lucky one and he is the darling of the household.

Posted by: Rochelle | October 12, 2010 12:23 PM    Report this comment

You wonder if these same clueless people would do the same for their misbehaving kids? In most cases, I think not!

Posted by: azogal | October 12, 2010 12:02 PM    Report this comment

This is why so many shelter workers/volunteers suffer burnout. I try not to think about the great sadness, fear and grief the dog feels when they are brought in and handed over and watch their family turn and walk out leaving them behind. Even after they've been abandoned they still feel such loyalty. Two of my dogs were surrendered as 9 month old "monsters" to a rescue group because their families could not handle them. With a lot of patience and much training both of these out-of-control pups grew into such wonderful adults I could take them anywhere and trust them with anyone or anything. One went on to become a certified therapy dog. My heart breaks for all the wonderful dogs and cats whose spirits are broken from a life behind bars - all because of humans. Most will never be adopted and their lives will end there. We as a human race should be ashamed.

Posted by: Joyce L | October 12, 2010 11:13 AM    Report this comment

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