Sherry Davis

Friday, Feb 08 2013 08:00 PM

SHERRY DAVIS: When rescuing dogs goes wrong

By Sherry Davis

As a trainer who works with rescue dogs on a regular basis, I know that the majority of dogs given up to shelters and abandoned to life on the streets are not bad dogs, but rather victims of circumstance, an absence of training and their previous owner's lack of responsibility.

People who take on the burden of rescue work tirelessly to save these animals and I know only too well how much time and out-of-pocket money they spend trying to help these unfortunate creatures live a better life and get the forever homes they deserve.

Most operate in an never-ending cycle of throwing fundraisers, looking for new foster homes or negotiating rates for kennel space and veterinary care, all the while knowing that as soon as one dog is adopted, its space will be filled immediately with another just as needy.

On the other side of rescue are the kind people who open their hearts and homes to these dogs, and who do so with the realistic understanding that there will be a period of adjustment and training to integrate dogs who possess neither basic manners nor social skills into their family.

So with well-meaning people on both sides of the rescue coin all wanting the best for a dog, rescue should be as simple as placing a dog with someone wanting to adopt. Right?

Well, not always.Sometimes in their zeal to find a dog a new home, a rescue person becomes blinded by their fondness for a particular animal they have bonded with and taken a liking to, and that emotion prevents him/her from seeing one very important component in the equation. Is this potential home the right situation for this particular dog?

If it's not, it's like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, and no matter how much a well-intentioned new owner tries, it's not going to fit.

Then who loses? The new owners and their brokenhearted children? The rescue who now has to take a dog back and squeeze it into a place that has already been filled? Yes, they're both losers. But perhaps, and most sadly of all, the biggest loser is the poor dog who once again has drawn the short straw.

The following is a situation that happened last week, and one that I experience more often than I like.

I was contacted by a woman who had just acquired a new rescue dog and was concerned about its behavior. She told me that the dog was eliminating in the house (was told it was housebroken), attacking the cat (had been assured it liked cats), stealing food and attempting to escape out the door every time it was opened. When the woman inquired about these behaviors the rescue person assured her that the dog's two previous owners said he was a lovely pet. Although suspicious about why such a wonderful pet was going into his third home, I was about to tell her that these were all problems that we could address with training when she dropped the bomb. The second day the dog was there, it charged, growled and threatened her mother when she walked in the door. Because the woman has three young children, one of which is a toddler, I agreed to meet her ASAP.

Although I spent close to two hours in the home, it was apparent within minutes that despite the fact that this was a nice family, this was the wrong situation for this dog.

The home is a very active one with lots of coming and goings, the children are young, and although well-behaved, do what all children do -- move fast, squeal loudly and run through the house. The rescue person had advised the woman to keep the household low-key until the dog adjusted to the new environment (Yeah right! With three small children!) and that he had been a wonderful dog, even sleeping on her bed during his foster-time with her.

I initially just observed the dog, a Jack Russel terrier mix, noting that he demonstrated no interaction or social interest in the children until the boy ran across the room, which immediately shifted him into serious prey-mode. And the cat fared no better. If I had not blocked an attack, he would have grabbed her.

He strategically placed himself between everyone in the room and the woman he had singled out as "his own" territorially, and when I moved toward her, as one would, say to shake hands, he looked at me, lowered his head with direct eye contact and growled menacingly. On day four in this new home, he had already defined his status in the house. Knowing that when he did get comfortable and "adjusted to his new environment," and that even her children would not be able to approach her when this dog was in charge, I shuddered at the thought of the dog sleeping on the bed (which they'd already allowed) and the children running in to hug their parents in the morning.

I had the woman put a leash on the dog and when she handed him off to me, with no provocation he vaulted into the air and tried to bite me in the chest.

Now I have heard all the excuses offered for this dog, and others like him that display similar behavior, and while I am aware of the causes and unfortunate circumstances that lead to the development of their faulty temperament, the bottom line is this: NO dog that displays aggressive behavior should ever be placed in a home with small children.

Because of the dangerous potential and serious liability surrounding a situation such as this, rescues must be objective and unbiased by emotion when placing dogs.

And if they are not evaluating a dog's reactions in social situations and to all the normal stimuli the average dog is expected to come in contact with, how can they be honest and truthful in their assessment of the dog's personality when placing it?

Can this dog, who was returned to the rescue the same day, be trained and rehabilitated into a functional and loving pet for the right owner?

Yes, but all the training in the world won't make this rescue right if he's placed in a situation where he's doomed to fail.

-- Sherry Davis is a dog trainer/owner of CSI 4 K9s. Email her at csi4k9s@yahoo.com. These are her opinions, not necessarily The Californian's.

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