Whole Dog Journal's Blog February 22, 2011

Only Human

Posted at 09:22AM - Comments: (17)

I was casually reading an online article this morning from BayAreaParent DOG Gone It , thinking “Yeah, yeah, yeah, another sad failed dog adoption story.” You know, newlywed couple buys Labrador Retriever puppy, gets pregnant, doesn’t train the dog, dog is out of control, gets banished to the back yard when the baby comes, dog is miserable, owner gets pregnant again, blah, blah, blah…”

Then I got to the part where the owner said, “Norm threw the ball and Josie wandered toward it. I guess she got in the way, because all of a sudden Chance bolted towards Josie and very deliberately knocked her down the embankment.”

They ultimately contacted rescue and rehomed the dog, after concluding that they had adopted the wrong dog to start with, at the wrong time (“the Humane Society says to wait until children are 5 years old to adopt a dog”) and that Chance had purposely tried to harm their daughter.

I was so disturbed by this outrageous statement that I had linked to the article on my Facebook page. An interesting discussion ensued.

I started it off by saying, “First of all - they didn't pick the wrong dog. They forgot to train the dog they picked. Second - they didn't pick the wrong time - she wasn't pregnant when they got Chance - they failed to make good use of the first year to train their dog. Third - I doubt the dog "very deliberately" knocked the baby off the cliff. Dad threw ball. Dog chased ball. Baby was between dog and ball. Crash. Bad throw, Dad!”

Yep, I was critical of the owners for their poor choices, and the first few FB responses took a similar view.

“Sad... it happens all the time.”

“People need to do their homework before getting a dog.”

“That's exactly what I was thinking as I read the article.”

But then an interesting thing happened: some of my trainer friends started defending the writer of the article. At least, they said, the owners recognized they weren’t meeting the dog’s needs, and did the responsible thing by rehoming her.

“Chance's owners finally did act responsibly and intelligently when they realized they were not up to having a dog.”

“I liked this article and how she took responsibility for not doing right by the dog.”

“The article was redeemed for me by her understanding of Chance's misery and of the fact that her family had failed to meet the dog's behavioral needs. (When was the last time you read the phrase "behavioral needs" in an article by a layperson??) ”

“I'm betting she gets a lot of very hostile response to this piece, and I admire her for accepting responsibility for the human screw-up.”

So there you go. We who are so good at forgiving our dogs for making mistakes sometimes have to be reminded to forgive other humans for doing the same. We are all, after all, only human. I’ll try to be better about remembering that next time.

Comments (17)

I understand being human, and making mistakes, just dont think its fair to shrug things off like that. All my life growing up I watched neighbors have dogs in their backyard that they basically ignored attention wise, when all I ever wanted was to have my own. I trained many dogs as a young teen that owners had shrugged off as untrainable, dogs that chased cars, fought with other dogs, and owners made no attempt that I could see, to change the behavior. Someday I hope I can have my own dog. Someday my dream will be realized.

Posted by: Cheryl A. | March 2, 2011 1:11 AM    Report this comment

I wish people would understand the responsibility that comes with adopting an animal. When one adopts a pet, they are now responsible for that animals health (mental and physical) and well-being for the rest of that animal's life. Not doing this is just simply being irresponsible, and unfortunately society let's them get away with this.

Animals aren't disposable. They aren't accessories or furniture. You don't replace them when they get old. THey should be taken care of the same way you would take care of your children or an elderly adult.

Posted by: Heather G | February 24, 2011 6:57 PM    Report this comment

I hear this so often we couldn't keep the dog since we have a baby now, we need to move, we just don't have the time ....etc it really is just a bunch of excuses. I want to say to people but when your parents had another baby or moved they took you with them - right!? It's not that I think dogs are kids but they are a responsiblity you decided to take on.
As another person commented they are not furniture so when you get bored of it you just get to get rid of it. They are living things that are affected every time they are rehomed.
It saddens me but it is so common and when people say you did the right thing by placing the dog it helps people feel less guilty. I think people need to be better educated.
When someone comes to me to help train their dog as a last resort I tell them I am not here to help them make the decision to get rid of their dog.
I am only here to help you learn how to properly care for and train the dog. (which by the way is more people than dog training)
I'm glad the dog found a home since that is what is in the best interest of the dog but those people should be ashamed of getting one in the first place if it wasn't going to be for the dogs whole life.
People should make responsible decisions that include plans for the future.
I personally would never part with any of my dogs!!
(and have been in a situation where two of my dogs could not be together in the house but worked until I found a way to make it work)

Posted by: Michele | February 24, 2011 1:00 PM    Report this comment

Only human? Personally, I'm tired of this excuse for irresponsible people. They decided to rehome this animal because they couldn't meet its needs? So that was the responsible thing to do? NOPE. I don't accept that. The responsible thing to do would have been to meet the dog's needs. Period. I'm on the side of the animals. We bring them into our lives. They deserve so much more.

My heart goes out to Carol T and everyone involved in rescue. Animals are not furniture that can be tossed when you change your mind.

Posted by: GoVeg | February 23, 2011 3:50 PM    Report this comment

I'm on my way today to pick up a dog our rescue group placed about 8 months ago as a puppy. They say that they are going to take it to the local kill shelter (even though our contract requires that our adopted dogs return to us). The dog is jumping the fence and running at large. They leave it outside when they go to work (and it has been some of the worst and coldest weather we've seen here in a long time). We got an application, personal references, a vet reference, did a home visit. We require as a condition of our adoption contract that puppies must complete a basic obedience course starting around 6 months of age (though this apparently never happened). We stress that we are a continued source of help and assistance. Their application indicated the dog would be outside only over 2 hours per day if someone else was outside as well. They said they would crate the dog inside. They owned their house. Yard is fenced. Lost their previous dog at age 13 three-four years earlier. Kids were now grown (12 yr old twins). All they had to do was call us BEFORE this became such a horrible problem. And they were completely unwilling to work with a behaviorist/trainer on the issue, even though we offered to pay for any expense. This family isn't young. They should know better and they should do better by their dog. I'd feel better if they would have stepped up, understood they should do better, and worked with us to find the dog a new home. But the neglect that they have shown means we have to get the dog out of there immediately. So, unfortunately, we'll be squeezing the dog into a foster home with 7 other dogs already. It's that, or probably death at the local shelter (because "chronic escapers" aren't "adoptable"). I keep asking myself: What can we do or change to prevent this scenario? Or is it simply the nature of too many humans to see companion animals as inconvenient or disposable or replaceable?

Posted by: Carol T | February 23, 2011 2:41 PM    Report this comment

Natalie H. and Susan B. - There is yet another way to look at your decision to re-home your dogs, and it might help you feel better about your decision. Nearly 3 years ago, I had a reactive 4-yr old BC/lab mix, and a 12-yr old golden. The golden had been my 'chosen puppy' and was very special to me. At the time, he had been living with kidney disease since 9-1/2. In a sequence of events that is the very definition of serendipity, I was introduced to a 4-yr old golden looking for home #3. Previous attempts to foster dogs had taught us that our max is two dogs in this household, but we took a chance on this dog, who fit right in with our routine, got along with our reactive dog, and never felt like the '3rd wheel' our previous fosters had. This dog was a huge comfort to me as I watched my 'chosen puppy' age, and when I finally lost him 2-1/2 years later. I'll never know the whole story about this rescue golden and why he was banished to the back yard in not one, but two homes - but I don't care. He wound up where he was supposed to be, when he was supposed to be there - my home. I'll bet the dogs you gave up had the same purpose. Sometimes the mistake of one person turns into a blessing for another.

Posted by: ANN W | February 22, 2011 8:09 PM    Report this comment

I refused to downsize my household of 8 indoor/outdoor cats when I became pregnant with my first (and only) child. Thanks to a great nurse who taught our baby prep class at the hospital, we put a screen door on the nursery. (What a great idea!) We could hear, but the cats couldn't get in. That is, until my husband went in to rock the baby, left the door open, and my first, biggest tomcat came in and hid under the crib until he left. Then "Butler" made himself comfortable in the crib, protecting the baby! LOL! BTW, that was 30 years ago, and today all my pets are S/N and are indoor pets, going outside only on leash. How far we have come in understanding the proper care of our companion animals!


Posted by: ebottiggi | February 22, 2011 7:38 PM    Report this comment

Yes, we should be able to forgive this couple for their mistakes, but is rehoming Chance--who became a part of their home for a year, who no doubt loved them all very much and who was only acting like a dog--an intelligent and responsible action? I didn't see anything about training classes. It seems to me they are still blaming the dog rather than taking responsibility for their lack of knowledge about dogs. People in our society tend to take the easy way out too often. I just hope this couple truly learned from their experience; however, I'm afraid they didn't get the right message.

Posted by: Sheila G | February 22, 2011 3:19 PM    Report this comment

Susan B, 20 years ago I rehomed two dogs, as well. Just because they were "inconvenient" at the time. I have never gotten over the guilt ... and also waited many, many years to have dogs again. You're not the only one suffering with decades of pain over a decision made in younger years, and I'm glad that I'm not the only one, too! And, thanks to Henrietta L for telling us there is forgiveness.

Posted by: Natalie H. | February 22, 2011 2:58 PM    Report this comment

Yees, I am glad they did rehome the dog and I do agree people make mistakes.
But i guess since as humans we have the ability to prepare by reading, listening and talking to others in order to make informed decisions.
The dog doesn't have that capability. Now we need to rehome another dog who hopefully will find a forever home and not be moved around by humans who hold the dogs future in their hands.
I really would like to see someone think about the dog first instead of themselves for the dog's sake since they don't get much of a say it.
I do agree as humans we are not perfect but slow down and think when it comes to making a decision for another living thing to give this living thing an opportunity to have a chance at a happy life.
Judy H

Posted by: JUDY H | February 22, 2011 2:35 PM    Report this comment

Yees, I am glad they did rehome the dog and I do agree people make mistakes.
But i guess since as humans we have the ability to prepare by reading, listening and talking to others in order to make informed decisions.
The dog doesn't have that capability. Now we need to rehome another dog who hopefully will find a forever home and not be moved around by humans who hold the dogs future in their hands.
I really would like to see someone think about the dog first instead of themselves for the dog's sake since they don't get much of a say it.
I do agree as humans we are not perfect but slow down and think when it comes to making a decision for another living thing to give this living thing an opportunity to have a chance at a happy life.
Judy H

Posted by: JUDY H | February 22, 2011 2:35 PM    Report this comment

Just this morning I read an ad in Craigslist for a couple who want to rehome their 9 yr. old Maine Coon Cat they've had since it was a kitten. The wife is pregnant and due in 4 weeks. They want to rehome the cat because it won't stay out of the (empty) crib! My response to them was "train your cat to stay out of the crib!" "And you can always close the door!" Why people don't train their pets is beyond me. I appreciated your piece, Pat.

Posted by: Cheyenne's Mom | February 22, 2011 1:17 PM    Report this comment

I would like to respond to Susan B. Your comments and your heartache brought tears to my eyes. There is forgiveness. Sleep well. There will be a place in Heaven for you and your Golden/Aussie to share the love you still feel for her.

Posted by: HENRIETTA L | February 22, 2011 12:40 PM    Report this comment

Excellent points! I am the owner of a dog from this exact situation - a Boxer who comes from a home where almost the exact sequence of events occurred, and I often point out the mindfulness of the owners who realized that he could lead a much more fulfilling life in a different home. As a trainer, I've also published articles in magazines, local parenting guides and have prepared course material for various prenatal classes in my area. As canine professionals, we can't prevent people from getting dogs pre-baby and facing a similar situation as this story, but we can use local resources to help prepare new parents for the challenges of managing dog and baby before the baby arrives.

Posted by: Erica G | February 22, 2011 12:05 PM    Report this comment

Thanks Pat. To tell the truth, I live in torment because 27 years ago, I was that dog owner. It eats me up inside. I made all the same mistakes, got a puppy (high drive Golden/Aussie mix) one month before my first child was born. Dog got kicked outside, ignored and eventually placed with the humane society. If I think about it too much, I can't sleep. Sweetest dog in the world. I am paying penance with my current dog. She is in class weekly, (still at 5 years old), and we do several performance dog sports together. Now that I know and understand dogs, I am SICKENED by what I did (or didn't do)with our first dog. I don't share this with anyone because I know how I react to people in that situation and it isn't kindly. Yet, I was her.

To my credit, I did what I did because I didn't know what else to do. I placed her in the best situation I could find for her. I didn't get another dog for 20 years, until I had the time and resources to properly care for a dog.

It is nice to know that there is forgiveness.

Posted by: SUSAN B | February 22, 2011 11:35 AM    Report this comment

Excellent piece, Pat. We don't always know what we don't know until we learn it the hard way. Is it right to guilt people into keeping pets they've realized they can't do right by? I don't think so. I used to. I think we professionals have the potential to create neglect and even abuse when we guilt people into keeping pets they can't care for properly.

Posted by: Kellie | February 22, 2011 11:19 AM    Report this comment

Yes it is true, we are only human and prone to mistakes. We also, many times, fail to look ahead. Newly married? Going to have children? Figure the dog into your plan, or don't get a dog. Most people are ignorant about animal behavior. They don't take the time to learn what makes a dog tick. Even many long time dog guardians don't have a clue about why their dog acts the way it does, and often they use negative reinforcement which only makes matters worse. There should be a required school for people who want dogs.

Posted by: Harold H | February 22, 2011 11:03 AM    Report this comment

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