This is actually two pieces I have written. The first section was printed in the local paper in Oct 2015. I have expanded on it for this blog. The second part is a rant I did after a particularly bad situation. It was the type I would go home and choke up over. Some details have been changed for privacy. Now for those who are being responsible – be you an owner or rescue – I thank you. You are making the hard choices but doing so for the protection of others.
And no – I am adding no pictures to this entry…
I have to get serious right now. Over the years I have counseled and consoled too many people who ended up adopting or being given/sold dangerous animals. Some owners did the responsible thing. They recognized the danger. They knew it was wrong to pass the situation on to someone else. They also realized if the dog was returned to the source there was a chance the animal would be placed again – and the outcome for the new owners could be very bad. Others were willing to pass on the risk to new owners. There are a lot of ethical, moral and even legal problems when it comes to placing pets that could be or have been determined dangerous. First we need to look at how dangerous animals end up in the hands of the general pet owning public. It starts with whoever is placing the animal: owner, rescuer, breeder, etc.
If an animal is owner-surrendered to a shelter for serious behavioral concerns and the owner lies about the reason for surrender, a dangerous animal may be placed. Not all behaviors will show in a shelter situation. Sometimes behaviors that indicate issues are not recognized during evaluations. A wagging tail is not always a happy sign. A wagging tail can indicate stress. In other cases the behaviors were very apparent but the people placing the animal decided to place the critter and ignore the problems. In one case I worked for several weeks and many hours with, there was a three year, well documented bite history according to the surrendering owner. There were subsequent behavioral evaluations by trainers with the rescue indicating the dog was truly dangerous. An adoption counselor decided to ignore the huge warning signs. The adopters did not learn about the issues until after the dog was home and the full file was forwarded. Big block letters about the risk this dog posed and that he should not be placed crossed one of the documents in the packet. Sometimes it is owners who feel a dangerous animal may be safer in a different home – and ignoring reality, the animal should not be rehomed.
The reality is not all animals can or should be placed. Some are just too dangerous. Sadly many owners of dangerous animals are upset at the prospect at putting down a beloved pet – even if the pet has caused grievous injury. Some rescuers feel it is a badge of honor to place all animals because no animal can truly be dangerous – it is all humans’ fault. Therefore get the pet into a new home and all will be fixed. Yes, animals can truly be dangerous. I have seen the healing wounds, the scars to adults and children. I have advised on situations where there was a fatality to another animal in situations that should not have happened. Yes in some of these cases there was owner negligence. The owner or someone hired by the owner did not follow protocol.
For example, a dog that should never have been around other dogs was brought to a dog park where he seriously injured a puppy. The owners assumed better behaviors on walks meant the dog was now dog friendly and ignored the lessons and notes telling them NOT to assume this. All we had done was develop more appropriate behaviors while on walks.
Another case was the owners ignored a strict feeding protocol with a dog that had severe resource guarding issues. The dog was a foster dog. They fed the dog next to another dog. The other dog attempted to push the foster dog from his food. The foster dog was a much larger dog and fatally attacked the pet. The owners were told to keep the dogs physically separated during feedings and other times. Baby gates, crates, closed doors, etc. They ignored the management, admittedly. Could some dogs do better with a different environment and careful management for life? Yes. But is this all dogs with behavioral concerns? No.
When you knowingly place a pet with serious behavioral issues (dogs mainly fall under this category in my experience), you can be liable for damages. I have addressed many cases where documented bite histories were ignored. In some cases, the dogs had been deemed dangerous by other communities and allowed to move out of the city or county – only to be rehomed and the problems to happen again. One rescuer took it as an honor to “rehabilitate” and place dogs others said were dangerous dogs. There are some rescues who willingly try to find homes for the worst of the worst.
One rescuer I knew repeatedly bragged about how she pulled dangerous dogs insisting they could be excellent pets with just some love. One dog, as a puppy, had already killed a neighbor’s pet. The pup escaped the house, left the property, targeted the pet and trapped him under a porch. As the neighbor tried to save his pet, the pup (older pup) mauled him. I evaluated this pup shortly after and it was a terrifying evaluation. I then learned the rescuer would move every few years to keep pesky animal control off her back when someone complained about her misunderstood works of kindness. Animal control had been called in the past due to dog attacks and bites to neighbors and pets.
Now the fall out… When you place a dangerous animal and something happens, you can be held as liable as the owner. The owner can lose their homeowner’s insurance, be sued, evicted if they rent. They can lose the trust of friends and family. They are the ones who live with the guilt if their new and already beloved pet causes severe damage or even death. They are the ones left to make the hardest choices.
I wish anyone who willingly places risky pets could sit in on sessions where veterinarians, trainers, behaviorists and clients as we deal with the fallout. The anger, the tears, the pain… I wish you could see the physical and emotional scars, the sleepless nights…
Many dog owners have told me they cannot adopt again – they have no trust in rescues. This means future unwanted animals have lost a potential home. Others were afraid to upset the person giving them the dangerous animal (friend or relative). I have had a few clients call me, tearful, telling me they knew what had to be done but the rescuers were being emotional bullies. Some said if they returned the animal or put the animal down they would blacklisted and never be allowed to adopt again. Their names would be passed to regional rescues and never again could they adopt anywhere.
It is not fair to push the hard choices and liability on those who seek a good pet. It is not fair to strap others with such risk, liability or heartache because you could not be responsible.
To see some examples of cases and news stories, please read the following links. Warning – there may be graphic images on some.
Dog Bites 3-year-old (yet I know people who would try to adopt this dog even with the history).
Part 2 – this was written fast and hard, lots of tears and sick feelings. This was cathartic for me – I had to do it.
Client of mine decided to return his dog to a rescue. We worked for weeks to try and make this work. We would get a step forward. Something small would happen and the dog would take three steps back. There was no way to control the dog’s environment enough to prevent even the little things. As was, the environment was very quiet, no children in the community, no through traffic (this was a gated retirement community with very little traffic and very low speed limits – I have had many clients in this community). There are ample areas to move way off the sidewalks and increase distance between dogs and stimuli. This community is great for working with dogs who need a quieter environment at first. This owner lived near the back of the community, by the golf course and woods, meaning it was even quieter!
Now by small things causing setbacks I mean anything that a dog living in this area should be able to manage in small doses would trigger a major explosion. People walking on the other side of the street, vehicles, heaven forbid another animal was seen even many yards away! Over the weeks, we used careful counter conditioning and desensitizing. I created easy exercises for the owner. The owner had lots of time to dedicate to working with the dog. He was already a knowledgeable owner. He had exceptional family support. His grown children would assist in sessions and with setting up training scenarios. His neighbors would come out and help. It was just not enough.
One slow car passing would be tolerated, the second car would send the dog barking, the third, well the dog would be emotionally done. Now cars were well spaced and rarely close together. The poor dog could not handle cars even many minutes apart. Forget bikes. Forget golf carts. He would have serious aggressive outbursts in his responses and people would be injured. The dog was very strong, if he panicked, bad things happened. Even with using harnesses that help redirect the pull, the owner could not safely manage outbursts. The owner was injured several times as he was pulled over during frenzied panics. His vet put the dog on a calming supplement. Weeks later there was no improvement. We had ruled out other medical things but the vet was loathe to put the dog on anxiety reducing medication. The next step would have to be a veterinary behaviorist. This can be very expensive and one of the two in my region often takes three to four months to get in – yes that busy. Also, both are an hour away at least. (Added Sept 2016 – since writing this I have two new vet behaviorists in my area now – much closer!)
One step forward, three or more back. Don’t get me started on the “this dog is good with dogs.” The rescue insisted he would be great with dogs. That is not what the evaluation video showed. When I was able to get my hands on the video, the dog was terrified of other dogs as in spread out, frozen on the floor, and being dragged past calm dogs. The rescue representative would later tell us they assumed that this meant instead of attacking he would opt to move away from another dog and not cause a conflict. Then place the dog in a home with an elderly dog (who liked other dogs – he had lived wonderfully with other dogs for years). The new dog began to immediately attack the existing dog. Of course he did – he could not escape other dogs now. He was forced to live with one!
Now the house was a fortress. Gates, closed doors, crates, lots of work and we were barely able to get the new dog able to be in the same house as another dog. The old guy was at high risk. If the new dog got around a barrier and to him, the old dog would most likely be killed. The new dog was methodically working to tear through doors, moving exercise pens through the house towards where the old dog was now being kept in a back room (for his safety – then swap the two dogs so each got house time), etc. He was pulling down baby gates.
The owner called me after extensive work: he said he just could not do it anymore. He and his old dog were not safe. The community was not safe. He had been injured again. A neighbor on a quiet, electric scooter passed, they were across a wide street. The dog freaked out. Then a bike passed on the other side and the dog went after the cyclist. The owner had managed to get the dog further away from the road after the scooter but it was not far enough for the bike. The owner was pulled over. The dog got loose. Thankfully no one was injured – well no one but the owner.
The dog’s behaviors were completely set back. The owner reviewed the body language and stress information again. The dog was unable to relax. He paced until he passed out. He was always on alert. He was miserable. He had to go back and I supported the decision. Now, the reason he was not put down is the rescue demanded the dog back if it did not work. And this rescue would bully the owner. I wrote a letter outlining what had been done and my recommendations. The dog was not a candidate for adoption. If the rescue wanted to adopt him out even with the information they had, they must have him evaluated by a veterinarian behaviorist (I provided contact info for two that were in another state but not far from here AND they would consult with others) and follow whatever recommendations were made.
Armed with his notes and my letter, the owner returned the dog. The rescue group of course treated him like he was evil. They insisted the dog was perfectly fine. What did the owner do? He must have done something to this dog in the months they were together. No… Two and a half plus years at the rescue, at least two former homes – no idea why the dog was surrendered or returned, no information was made known to the adopter. Oh but no, this dog was fine… Treat owner like a leper… This dog was not fine. I saw the evaluation video. I saw the dog in the real world. DOG NOT FINE! Well, this was not my first rodeo with this rescue. Though it will most likely be my last as they will no longer knowingly refer to me – and I suspect the sudden bad reviews that popped up within a short time after this dog was returned – asking how many rescue dogs did I kill – are from one of their disgruntled volunteers – the person states she was never a client of mine but I was a dog killer.
Years ago I had the gall to tell a volunteer with this rescue that two dogs were not viable candidates for adoption. She insisted they were. The dogs were insane messes. They were nothing, absolutely nothing that should be placed without intense work with a vet behaviorist and full disclosure – and even then I would not consider them for the average person who wants a GOOD PET and not a behavior project.
One dog was almost dead in regards to her behaviors she was so stressed. She spent a lot of time frozen. The other dog was a mauling waiting to happen. The volunteer is still there and pretty high up in the group from what it sounds like. Bet I am now blacklisted. This is a pretty big rescue too. I have had many clients who have adopted from them over the years. I have had several clients decide to return the pets to this rescue. These were not pet dogs but behavioral projects.
As a VERY small business in a very big pond with a huge amount of competition now, I cannot afford this crap. I cannot afford to have rescues bad mouth me but … It is part of the game…
Ethically, morally, I cannot allow this to go on either. People are at risk. Animals are at risk. Owners end up emotionally devastated. If a breeder or pet store did this stuff, they would be crucified. Add “rescue” though and we – adopters and trainers – are the bad guys when something goes wrong. We support the owner with returning the dog or even putting the dog down after a serious incident and we are evil, heartless… I ask… Are you the ones sitting with an owner, tough, military man, as he cries? No. We are.
Yeah, one group placed a dog who wanted to kill people “Just a little love is needed.” Dog went back. Director called and tried to rip me a new one. Then she saw my notes and the liability she now knew. If this dog was placed again and mauled (this would not be a bite but an all out mauling based on what I experienced and witnessed over two hours) the rescue could no state they had no idea. It was in writing. This dog was doing all in his power to get to me. Trying rip out of a crate, trying to pull away from the adopter (who was also having issues with him), etc… Yeah I would die. He was a huge dog. Oh, no fenced yard either and a densely populated neighborhood with loads of little kids. I was called in because the dog was trying to attack people and would if given the chance.
Another group ignored a three year bite history and two scary evaluations by behaviorists and then stated “Dog will be fine with love.” Not according to the trainers and behaviorists who worked with him before me. And the information the surrendering owner gave about the dog biting a trainer and attacking – prompting the surrender when he had to move overseas – was in the file.
These dogs are some of many we trainers see… The stories, the histories, the talks, what is seen, worked with, what has to happen… Who has to be the bad guy? The Adopter? The Trainer? Those who work for many hours and spend hundreds of dollars just to see if any reasonable resolution can happen… A resolution that the owner can sanely do for the next 10 or more years? What if the adopter has a child down the road or has to move an ailing relative in? What if someone, in a momentary rush, forgets a small step in management and disaster happens? Nope, instead we are evil… We made the dog come back or die. Forget there may have been a serious bite. Forget there may have been injury. Forget you may have been told NOT to adopt out that dog by your group’s preferred trainers.
One of these days, someone will sue a rescue for hiding a bad past and expose things. It is the dirty – not – so – little – rescue secret. Refusal to see not all dogs can or should be adopted is a moral crime in my opinion. Then you put the gut wrenching decisions to the adopters.
Owners call you, the rescuers – distraught. This animal is dangerous. They cannot make it work. There have been bites or really risky things that are precursors to a bite. You hassle them. You say they will never adopt again from any rescue – word will get out. The worst words – “You failed the dog.”
Yes these people may never adopt again because they were so burned. That hope of a good dog, not perfect but good, is gone. No they will never adopt again. In every case I personally had, every home would have been a great home for a truly adoptable dog. So all dogs lose. Many good homes have been lost to future needy dogs.
To those great rescuers who are making the tough choices and working to prevent this – thank you! It is a hard job. Thankless but you know sometimes the decision to give a dog a good meal, a game of fetch and a final hug on his way towards the Rainbow Bridge is far more humane than adoption. That final act of kindness could save a person from so much hurt – physically and emotionally.
End note – for the person who has publicly demanded to know how many dogs I have condemned to death because I feel not all dogs can be safely rehomed and I had the gall to recommend a dog with a SERIOUS bite history be returned and never adopted out or put down – here you go. Less than ten dogs in close to 18 years in business a the time of editing this have I even put the possibility of euthanasia on the table. In each case I suggested an evaluation with a vet or vet behaviorist as well and gave contact information to people I recommended. In each case there had been either a known bite history, maulings to humans and animals, fatalities to animals, neurological concerns raised by vets, evaluations by others stating the dog was not suited for adoption but the reports ignored (or the reports stating avoid the type of environment the dog was adopted into – then there was a bite or behaviors indicating a bite was imminent). Trust me there had been work ups and such recommended before the decision was made. Insurance and even legal consultants spoken with. If there is an incident, no matter how much work is done, the law can always override what we would like to do – owners must be aware of this. Yes there are some dogs that will do better in a different home (and with continuing behavior work). For those I recommend a different environment but we must do so before there is a bite and the law may step in and take our choice. Oh, in a few of the less than 10 cases in close to two decades – the law was involved. The law was already working towards forcing the owners’ hands. At that point there is not much anyone can do when the law can override.
There are liabilities for everyone involved with a dog that is risky and dangerous, read this from Dog Bite Law.
I have seen personally the damage some of these dogs have done. I have seen wounds, a few days past bite, with drains and stitches. I have entered homes as a fight was being broken up to find blood on walls and ceilings – because owners decided not to follow protocol and pushed things too fast. I have read adoption evaluations stating “Do not place this dog with XYZ” and the dog was placed with XY&Z. In 34 years of dog work and almost 18 years now in my own business, I have seriously discussed euthanasia in less than ten cases since opening my business in 2000. (This was updated in 2017 and the number is still less than ten dogs).