The importance of a plan
I have been thinking about this post for a while now, what I would say and how I would say it. The world of rescue is a double-edged sword. The highs are extremely high, but the lows....they are low. Today I lost a dog. I was put in the position of making a decision. I had to make that decision for everyone: the dog, my family, my community, myself.
Several years ago when I first started fostering dogs, one of my dogs got adopted and a few days later he was fatally hit by a car. The animal control officer called me because his chip was registered to me. Bo was with me for 9 long months. I gave my heart to that dog. I blamed myself for a long time after he died. I should've asked more questions. I should've known the adopter was too young. I should've counseled her more on the responsibility of having a pet. I grieved for him and punished myself. I am not sure I ever really let myself off the hook for Bo, but I have tried to help as many dogs as I can since he died. He was my first real foster, my trial dog. I messed up a lot and cried daily. I was pregnant with my daughter during that time and he and his brother were not easy dogs. That was hard, really hard. He opened my eyes to rescue and the level of commitment it takes. I do take comfort in the fact that his brother was adopted to a wonderful family and is living like the 1%.
So today, I know I made the right decision but it wasn't any easier.
On March 24th I got a message that there was a dog trapped for days in a trailer with no food or water after his owner was hospitalized. The owner was not expected to make it out of the hospital and his only relative was an elderly mother who could not care for the dog. I was asked to help get him out and transport him to the animal shelter where he was going to be surrendered. Of course I said yes. I armed myself with chicken strips from KFC, bottled water, and a leash. I had no idea if he was friendly or not. I knew he would be hungry and that would probably overtake his fear. When I got there, the mom and I waited on a locksmith. After the door was unlocked I cracked it open to find a terrified, 14month old boy. He was hesitant but happily took my chicken. After the 2nd piece I was able to get a leash connected to his collar. He ate the entire box of chicken strips and drank all my water. He was scared but so happy to be out.
It was clear from the first second he was not used to being on a leash. After talking with the property manager and the neighbors I found out he was rarely out of the trailer and not ever walked. There was a small pen outside where I assume he went potty. I drove him down to the shelter where he was given vaccinations and put on hold. I immediately took him home to foster. I didn't want to leave him at the shelter. At my house I have the luxury of space, so I have indoor/outdoor kennels. I can take dogs who aren't dog and house friendly. The kennels are in a quiet orchard instead of a crowded and loud shelter. As I cared for him I realized his behavioral problems started to surface. He was scared of closed in spaces, his anxiety was through the roof. He was very mouthy and when he got nervous he would produce mass amounts of spit. His entire body would lock up when he was anxious or nervous. I couldn't read him. I never knew if he was happy or if he was going to growl. I honestly don't believe he ever wanted to hurt anything. I think he was just never taught that new things were ok. In the beginning when he was in the car he was happy, his behavior would change. Then after time that made him nervous too. We developed a routine for me to go in and feed him. He would grab a toy and not let go before I'd come in with food. If he didn't have something in his mouth he was completely unpredictable. I tried to pet him, rub him, bathe him and had to abort when he would start growling. I tried. I really tried.
The shelter tried too. They signed him up for a program with UC Davis to have him neutered thinking that might help. They had multiple people try and work with him. They left the decision with me. I could've picked him back up. I could continue to foster him. In the last 2 months I have emailed every, single rescue I could find to take him. I emailed my contacts to see if I can get him into a rehabilitation program somewhere, anywhere. Here is the reality. I am putting every single person he comes into contact with at risk: myself, my kids, other dogs, other rescues. If I don't have a willing trainer/rescue/foster to knowingly put themselves in a potential dangerous situation, I am stuck with him. I don't have the time or the experience to rehabilitate him to the level he needs. Honestly, that could take years....or never happen. This is the problem we have when dogs are not properly socialized. They are not taught how to handle new situations or to overcome scary ones.
My question to you is, what is your plan? What do you have set up for your dogs if something unexpected happens to you? And what have you taught them? What are you teaching them?
I know I will battle with my decision for a long time. I will feel like I failed him. I will always feel like I could've done more. Today I am trying to honor his good times and use this experience to help others. Please, please have a plan. Please understand the level of commitment before getting an animal of any kind. Know the importance of socialization and that there are resources out there to help you. An animal is not a yard ornament, a security system, or a toy. They are a living, breathing reality that is only able to learn what you teach them. And if you don't teach them someone like me has to deal with the crushing decision to invest tears and heartbreak. Every homeless or surrendered dog takes countless people to open their doors, life, and hearts. If you don't do it, someone has to.
This was posted by the Utah Animal Advocacy Foundation today. They have helped me with several dogs from this area.
"Socialization isn’t: About letting your dog freely interact with dogs at the dog park, day care,
or with friends dogs. About allowing your dog to meet other dogs on-leash. About allowing all manner of people, in all manner of mental/emotional states
interact/pet/pressure your dog. About exposing your dog to the sights and sounds of cars, buses, motorcycles, bikes, skateboards, joggers...and allowing them to freak out, panic, aggress, hide, bark etc. About exposing your dog to the sights and sounds of dogs, cats, and other animals, and allowing them to freak out, aggress, lunge, bark, growl etc.
Socialization is: About teaching your dog the proper responses to dogs. What is and isn’t appropriate behavior, and correcting the unwanted when it appears. About teaching your dog to walk by the barking, lunging dog(s) on walks and ignore them, completely. Correcting if necessary to achieve this result. About advocating for your dog and ensuring people aren’t allowed to pressure your dog, by touching, crouching down, attempting “kisses” etc. That means being a big boy or girl, and stopping others from engaging in unwanted, uninvited interactions. About exposing your dog to all manner of daily life “things” and ensuring a proper response. If aggression/arousal is present, it’s corrected, if fear/arousal is present (and causes an overreaction/fleeing etc.) it’s corrected. Ask your dog to learn to ignore and not care about these “life” distractions/concerns/temptations. Teach them to listen to the training, not the world around them. About teaching your dog to leave other creatures alone. The cat, the bird, the cow, the goat, the other dog, is simply none of their business. If they decide those things are their business, it’s your job to correct and clarify what is and isn’t their business for them.
…. Yes exposure is critical, but exposure without 100% clear guidance, and corrections for poor choices, isn’t socialization, it’s chaos, and it’s not teaching your dog what’s right, what’s wrong, and that you’ll keep them safe, so they don’t have to. A well socialized dog isn’t fazed by the world around them. And that doesn’t come from simple exposure and interactions without guidance. Ironically, that’s precisely how you create anti-social dogs."
--Credit to Sean O'Shea