Humility

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We could all use a little more of it.

And my dogs make sure I have opportunities to drown in it.

I usually think I know my dogs pretty well, and I do. But making assumptions about a dog’s behavior when that behavior has not been proofed for a while, well, there in lies the rub. And the bruises. To both skin and ego.

I have fostered a few dogs in my time, I’ve taken in some of the most petrified, broken dogs I have ever met and brought them back to finding joy in life and trust in people. My dogs have helped in the process.

What I haven’t done is bring in an adult, self-assured, happy dog. Till this past weekend.

The older dogs were fine with her. Curious, a little pushy, but fine.

Hagar wanted blood. Hagar and this lovely girl took an instant and intense dislike towards one another, the kind that only escalates with time.

Did I screw up the introductions? Probably. I hadn’t been expecting to bring her home with me right away and I really hadn’t prepared. But I don’t think it would have made much difference to Hagar. If she hadn’t been so darned happy and self-assured, he might have been just fine. If I hadn’t brought her home in the crate that he probably considers his property… lots of ifs.

The bottom line is that I cannot currently trust Hagar with any ‘new’ dog in the house. That’s okay, at least for now. I’ll work with him to try to find out whether this was a one-off or an ingrained attitude. And I know who to ask about how to work through the problem.

But in the meantime, I am reminded that they are independent minds who will occasionally surprise me. And keep me from making too many assumptions.

I hope all of my mistakes will be bloodless.

First, educate

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Most rules and regulations are not created for the sake of being punitive, but rather to provide guidelines, minimums, basics of behavior and care. Very, very rarely are they put in place to simply to enable to seizure of assets or persecution of individuals.

As the world becomes more complicated, and our lives become more specialized, there are a lot of lessons we do not learn in childhood or at our grandparents’ knees – if we are fortunate enough to live within a few hundred miles of our grandparents. So there is a lot that might have been taken for granted as common knowledge fifty years ago that is largely lost from cultural memory today.

Hence the rules. It might not occur to some people that cages or crates or other living areas need frequent cleaning (ya think?!?), or that some animals need more room than others. Since people are not learning standards of care on the family farm, the AWA spells out bare minimums of care, required room and the like.

USDA inspectors have told me and others that they do not go on inspections looking for ways to punish breeders or dealers, but to ensure that the animals are receiving adequate care. AKC reps, representatives from law enforcement and from local humane societies have said the same thing.

If adequate care is not being provided, the FIRST thing to do, so long as the animals are not in immediate danger of severe injury or death, is to explain to the inspectee what is lacking and how it can be corrected – and why. Sometimes that’s all it takes to correct something that looked like it could have become a huge problem. Other times the ones being inspected nod and smile and ignore everything they hear.

If someone is trying to ‘do right’ by their dogs, then they should have the opportunity to learn how to do that. If the dogs are not put at risk in the process, why not leave them where they are and help provide them with better care? Dogs, cats and other animals seized and removed from the only homes they have ever know can be horribly stressed, and if the only human bond they have ever known is broken, how much harder will it be to build new bonds with people?

Those that ignore assistance, who thumb their noses at anyone else’s standards of care, who who sooner shoot the dogs than take them to the vet, well, those folks should have only limited opportunities to improve care.  Three strikes is likely too many.

These are living, sentient beings, and they deserve the best care we can give them. And if more people can be educated in how to provide that care, and they follow through, that’s a good thing.

Expectations of shelters

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I’ve seen a lot of grousing about local animal shelters the past year or so, and it’s getting on my nerves. Mostly because most of the grousing comes from the people most resistant to actually funding the shelters at a manageable level and/or making use of user fees to help with that funding.

First, let’s define what the shelters are there for – to provide a safe holding space for stray animals and/or sick or vicious animals until such time as either they can be returned home, found a new home, made healthy, or humanely euthanized. Shelters are in place to protect the public health and safety.

They are NOT intended as a convenient place to dump a pet you really should have thought about more *before* you got it. They are not intended as the place you go to get your pet treated for free, or, failing that, turning over the responsibility you should never have had in the first place.

So where do all of these stray or unwanted animals come from?

Some of them have simply wandered from a loving home when someone left a door or gate unlatched. Some got bored and wandered away, in spite of the owner being convinced that their dog would *never* leave the yard. Some of them may have spotted a deer or a rabbit or squirrel, gave chase and got lost. For those, the shelter can be a single place for owners to hopefully find their healthy pet instead of having to search the whole county. Presumably, the shelter will provide some education regarding responsible stewardship (and good fences) when the owner happily reunites with the animal.

Ah, but then there are the rest of the animals. The ones who are dumped for so many sad reasons.

I can’t housebreak him.

I didn’t know he would get so big.

She just won’t get along with the rest of the dogs.

She can’t tolerate the toddlers grabbing her ears and she nipped at one of them.

She keeps chasing my livestock.

I can’t afford the vaccinations.

I didn’t know they shed so much.

They keep bringing mud in the house.

They bark at everyone walking by.

He hates my boyfriend.

I refuse to pay for a $5 license, take the dog.

She just won’t obey me.

He keeps chewing the furniture.

She doesn’t go with the decor.

The claws are scratching the floor.

My new apartment won’t take pets.

She’s getting big and I don’t know whether she’s fat or pregnant.

I thought I would get over my alergies if I got a dog.

Well, you get the idea.

Some would say that those weren’t homeless pets. They might have been better off if they had been.

To expect shelters to clean up after our idiocy while operating on a shoestring is ridiculous. And people wonder why animal control officers and shelter workers get cynical or burn out.

I haven’t even mentioned the breeders (so-to-speak) who sold or wholesaled those animals in the first place with little concern for whether they were going to good homes – as long as the check cleared. Where is their responsibility to the shelters?

I doubt that I’m changing any minds here, but it does help to vent. At least I know I can stop by my local shelter, drop off some supplies or some cash, and know that it is clean, well-managed, and even many of the local breeders recognize that they have an obligation to fund the place. And to help find homes for the dogs who have been abandoned for what is really no good reason other than an irresponsible seller and an irresponsible buyer.

Please, please, support your local shelter. If you don’t like the way it looks, help paint some weekend, or fix walls, or buy some light bulbs or some bleach. If you’re supposed to be licensing your dogs, do it. The shelter often depends on licensing fees for its operating fund.

Instead of griping what a horrible place it is, give an hour or two a month and help make it a better place. Help socialize shy dogs, bathe them or feed them or walk them. Whether you like the dog catcher or not, maybe you can at least come to understand each other better.

This isn’t a perfect world and shelters are not an ideal place for any animal to end up. Often they are scared, confused, abandoned, sometimes even injured. A shelter can be a waystation, a bridge between abandonment and home. Help make that shelter a good place rather than a place you just keep kicking while you keep it from being properly funded.

Are you part of the problem, or part of the solution?

Mill rescue dogs

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There has been a lot of discussion recently about placement of rescues from puppy mills and whether those dogs can be placed without extensive rehab as well as training of the adopting family.

It would be so nice if there were easy answers for this.

While evaluation of the dogs by experienced foster homes or rescuers is crucial, there is also a lot of benefit to getting a dog into a new permanent home as soon as possible. If a rescued dog bonds too closely to the foster, it can be harder for the dog to adjust to the permanent home. But we also want to be sure that both the dog and the new home are ready for each other and that there aren’t any issues that will pop up as soon as the dog develops some level of comfort.

I have had dogs that have been with me only a short time become so dependent on me for direction that it was tough for them to learn to look to anyone else for that direction. Yet those dogs are easier to work with than the dogs who refuse to bond at all — you always wonder whether any but the most experienced homes will be able to cut through the layers of defense in order to make that dog a part of the family.

Everything about mill rescues should be expected to come in small steps – house training, trust, obedience, leash comfort, car travel. Some mill dogs take weeks or months before they are comfortable going through doors. Some hate to be groomed, either because of painful associations with bathing and grooming, others because it is too close an invasion of their space, others because the interaction between them and the individual person is just too intense. It can take time to desensitize the dog to specific activities and actions.

The worst thing an evaluator, foster, or permanent home can do is baby the dog. You don’t want to reinforce their fear response. It is important to be as positive and matter-of-fact as possible, to show the dog that some things are just plain normal, that some things are expected, that some things are simply part of their new life and it’s all going to be just fine. If the person working with the dog is confident, that helps the dog build confidence as well.

Some dogs are so fearful that they will snap or growl at anything new or different. They present another series of challenges, but still should not be coddled NOR rewarded for their behavior. You do need to be certain though, NOT to train them not to growl – a growl is an early warning system, the dog is telling you they are worried and feel threatened and are prepared to escalate. Redirect their attention and energy but, again, don’t baby them and don’t teach them not to growl, or you may find yourself with a dog who goes straight from mild discomfort into snapping or biting, and that’s not a good thing for either you or the dog.

Working with mill dogs takes patience, confidence, and a lot of optimism. There are very few dogs that cannot be rehabbed, but each will adjust in their own time and their own way. Some may always show some signs of damage, and may always be fearful in some situations. It is up to the fosters and the new homes to identify those situations and find ways to constructively desenstize the dog. Sometimes making something into a game or into a job for the dog will encourage the dog to be more confident in the face of other fears, too.

The most important thing is to love the dogs AS THEY ARE AT THAT MOMENT. Dogs have no concept of future or what might be possible sometime down the road if…. They need companionship and direction and care *now* and they only know whether they trust you *now.* There will be plenty of time later to love the dog they might become, but it is important to value the dog that’s right in front of you right now. This is the moment they live in, this is the moment and the relationship to cherish and to build upon.

Enjoy the dog you have. Even if they are a challenge. Maybe even more so because they are.