Why are so many abused dogs so forgiving?


I was in my local shelter one day when a couple brought in two intact male bully-breed dogs. Both dogs were white, which made it easy to see how filthy they were – and to see their startling wounds. The larger, overweight dog had what may have started as a sunburn and developed into a dermatological condition. But the younger, smaller dog had truly ghastly wounds on his hind legs; it looked as if he had been tied up (or even hung) by ropes around his hind legs. Something had cut into his flesh all the way around each hind leg – but the wounds were not fresh. The wounds were partly scabbed, partly infected and raw, and the dog’s hair bore the traces of a purple over-the-counter “wound” spray. The legs were also swollen and the dog was limping on both legs.

I was discussing another matter with one of the shelter employees, and heard just bits of the conversation between the dogs’ owners and the counter staff. I heard the male owner say, “We were out of town for a day and he got caught in wire; he was caught when we got back.” My blood boiled; those wounds were neither fresh nor caused by a dog caught in wire.

Later, after the dogs were admitted to the shelter, I asked the front counter staff member about the dogs. She said that a county animal control officer received a tip about the dogs, investigated, and told the owners if they did not seek immediate veterinary attention, she was going to charge them with animal cruelty and neglect – or they could surrender the dogs. They said they couldn’t afford to treat the dogs, so they were surrendering them.

Abused Dogs

I borrowed a staffer’s camera so I could take pictures of the dogs. They kept trying to lick me through the cage bars, making it hard to get a good picture. With a kennel worker nearby to help me if need be, I entered the kennel – and both dogs gently bowled me over as they tried getting in my lap for petting and kisses. They were total sweethearts – which made me feel even worse for how poorly they had been treated.

Shelter workers see this again and again. Some of the sweetest, most patient, and overtly loving dogs come in with coats that are matted so severely, it’s as it they are wearing a suit of armor, or their skin full of birdshot pellets, or numerous broken bones.

Why is it that some of the nicest dogs are so badly treated by people? And how do they manage to stay friendly after such abuse and neglect?


  1. I think it’s because 99.9% of dogs are sweethearts. So almost any dog that gets mistreated is a nice dog. As for how they remain so forgiving and loving of humans, I can’t figure that one out. One of the greatest mysteries of life.

    • They recovered in the shelter and were adopted out again together after some time.

      Yes, the case of these two dogs happened some years ago. Was reminded of this during a visit to the shelter this week and witnessing several other sweet dogs who have been taken from their owners in neglect/cruelty cases (or found abandoned and efforts are being made to find the owners). Their investigations are ongoing and I could not take photos. Currently in my local shelter are three: a puppy who was being dragged by a person with apparent mental health issues, taken from the person by law enforcement; a large, emaciated dog; and a small dog who was brought in as a stray who was matted so severely that he could barely eliminate. Cruelty to animals takes many forms and it’s a wonder that its victims still have anything to do with humans, much less seek affection and kindness from them. — NK

  2. That story breaks my heart. My Alex is a rescue from the streets of Trenton, NJ. He was matted and not trusting when he was found. No idea how long he was on the streets. His rescuer trained him and it took him 3 months for ALex to trust him. I then adopted him. He would visit with me a few hours every day (each day longer) so he would get to know me (and me him). When he moved in, it took a few months for him to trust me and feel at home. We have been together nearly 11 years and he is a great little fellow.

  3. My rescue dog was thrown out of a speeding car. She had ptsd for almost a year. We couldn’t get her into a car without her pooping or throwing up. I couldn’t move my feet suddenly without her letting out the most heart rending screech. She’s doing great now and is the one friendliest, most affectionate dogs I’ve had.

  4. That photo of the poor dog’s legs breaks my heart. I hope that both of those boys get all the vet attention they will need to heal and then that the shelter can find them good homes where they will be loved.

  5. “Dogs are wiser than men.
    They do not set great store upon things.
    They do not waste their days hoarding property.
    They do not ruin their sleep worrying about how to keep the objects they have
    and obtain the objects they have not.
    They have nothing of value to bequeath
    except their love and their faith.”
    (Eugene O’Neill)

  6. Until we start taking legal action against the Humans who commit such cruelty,
    this will never stop.
    What will prevent these people from getting other pets? Nothing. The cruelty continues.
    Spay and neuter should be a mandatory law, unless an individual has a license to responsibly breed.
    Fewer animals usually means they go to better homes.
    Animal abuser’s should be on a list where all have access to, to hopefully prevent the horrors which people can do to the innocent.

  7. I am in awe of shelter workers who deal with these cases day in day out. My heart breaks for these sweet pups and it enrages me to see the depth of cruelty people can sink to. All my dogs have been rescues, most pittie mixes and their ability to be loving after the abuses they have suffered are astounding.

  8. Many will disagree with me but temperament is genetic. Did you ever accidentally step on a dog’s toe and it started licking you and showing submissive behavior as if it was apologizing for being in your way? Why do you think beagles are the breed of choice for painful laboratory experiments? They are mellow, nonaggressive, and are just the right size for easy handling. Yes, behavior can be modified through proper training and positive reinforcement, but pets (and people, I believe) are born with a fixed temperament. These horribly abused Pit Bulls seem to have beautiful temperaments, and hopefully, they will be placed in homes they well deserve.

  9. Nancy,
    This breaks my heart ten ways from Sunday. I wish we could do to those people what they subject their dogs to. I don’t know why they are so forgiving, but we (humans in general, not good owners) aren’t worthy of that love and forgiveness they so readily give us, thats for sure!

  10. There should be “mandatory” safe and comfortable conditions inspection done and a consultation for a person or people who go to a shelter to adopt an animal, to make sure they are of sound mind, common sense and have a general kindness analyzed, before they are allowed to “adopt” !!! There should also be a contract legally written to ensure that, if for whatever reason, they do not or can not provide or afford vet care and proper living conditions for their adopted pet, they will be 100 percent able to return the pet, without any questions asked!

  11. Isn’t this true of humans as well? It’s the ones that don’t fight back that seem to be most abused. Easy prey for some humans who’s nature it is to abuse to feel empowered by what they do to others and animals.

  12. Of course I agree with the statements here about how difficult it is to see the suffering of abused animals, and it’s easy to be angry at people who abuse animals.
    I just feel a need to say that people shouldn’t be so quick to condmn others – I think in many cases there’s people who can’t care for animals because of their own disability, mental illness or maybe they are themselves victims of horrible abuse. So perperuating the cycle by dishing out or even wishing more harm to them isn’t helpful. The abusers also should be treated and helped to become better people – and that doesn’t happen through more punishment and abuse. They need help and should be referred for couneling and treatment for whatever is ailing them.

    • I have found that people who are cruel, usually display their cruelty to both animals and people. I had a husband who initially seemed like the most fun, loving, and helpful man I had ever dated. But a short time after we married, he became cruel, tried to control me, give me orders, became suspicious and even followed me at times. Told me that I smelled like men’s cologne after a church event. Said my clothing was provocative, etc., etc. One snowy night, as we were headed to a movie, he stopped the vehicle and demanded I get out and WALK HOME (8-10 miles)! It was “pitch dark” & cold with 4-5 inches of snow on the ground! I said “NO” to getting out of the vehicle.

      One of my dogs, a Golden Retriever/Shepherd mix, developed cardiac and renal problems, and accidentally P’ed in the house. Unfortunately, he saw it happen and KICKED her!!! I divorced this “AH,” evicted him, and lived happily after with my 3 dogs. And, by the way, I did NOT get out of the vehicle and walk home in the snow!
      We HAD been to several sessions with a profesional counselor, made little to no progress. The counselor was “flirty” with me, and I stopped going to sessions. Later saw a local news story about him, that reported he had been found guilty of inappropriate touching of & conversation with female clients. His license to practice was suspended & eventually terminated. There were criminal charges also. So pay attention to your instincts