Friday, September 16, 2016

Dumping Your Dog

One of the worst parts about being the German Shepherd Dog Club president is that my information is out there for the world to see. People find my email and phone number on the website and contact me about all sorts of things. Sometimes they contact me about dumping dogs. My heart breaks every time. For some reason, it's harder to deal with this as Club president than it is as animal control officer. Maybe because when I'm in uniform I expect it. (Wow, how cynical is that?)

I hear you screaming "What? Why? Who would do that?!" I've discovered that people dump their dogs for various reasons.
  • Sometimes the dogs are the last of a litter. People contact the club hoping to find buyers here. Truth is, they're wasting their time. Dog club members get their dogs from two places: a reputable rescue or a reputable breeder. We are not going to buy a dog of questionable lineage from an unknown potential backyard breeder. (Yes, I know that sounds very arrogant.)

  • Sometimes these dogs were impulse buys and owners are having buyer's remorse. Adorable puppies quickly become challenging adolescents. German Shepherds are a breed that needs plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. I've said many times, German shepherds aren't for everybody.

  • Sometimes the dogs have health or behavioral issues that owners are unable or unwilling to deal with. Owners contact the club hoping to pass their problems on to somebody else.

  • Sometimes housing situations change. Whether people are moving by choice or not, it can be difficult to find landlords and HOAs that allow large dogs or specifically German shepherds.

  • And sometimes times, the owners' health changes. These are the most heartbreaking calls. Owners become ill or disabled and can't care for a large, active dog. Even worse, owners die and family members aren't able to take the dog.

I try to be non-judgmental and empathetic when people contact me about dumping their dogs. To be honest, I fail. In my head I call the dumper all kinds of obscenities. But then I take a deep breath and try to do what's best for everybody the dog. Here's some advice that I give to the dog dumpers that cross my path.

Call your breeder (if you have one). Your breeder put a lot of time and effort into creating that dog. She cares very much what happens to it. She probably has ideas and will most likely take the dog back. Also, this may be in your contract and failing to notify her could be a breech, making you subject to legal action.

Don't wait until the last minute. Doing what's best for the dog takes time. There is nothing more frustrating than people saying that they're moving and have to get rid of the dog by 5 PM. Very few GSD rescue/foster families or perfect-fit forever homes can be found in few hour window.

Don't make any rash decisions. Every dog owner has had a "If he does that one more time . . ." moment. Chewed items, potty training setbacks, barking or jumping combined with a stressful day can make anyone want to throw in the towel. Please, sleep on it. Remember why you got the dog in the first place. Chances are you'll feel better in the morning. Then there are the women (and it's always women) who call because they've been given a "me or the dog" ultimatum. I always ask "Are you sure you're making the right choice?" We both know she's not, but 80% of these women dump their dogs anyway.

Don't forget to look for other options. Bad things happen: people lose jobs, families get evicted, pets have to make a visit to the emergency vet. All of these can be devastating to an already strapped household. Crises make people feel that they have to get rid of the dog to survive. That's not always the case. There are groups and programs that will help with food, medical expenses or temporary boarding. A good shelter will be able to point you n the right direction. An overburdened, underfunded shelter will not. Since most shelters I know fall into the second category, I suggest you start a what-if list of resources now.

Don't think you're going to make your money back. Dogs are poor monetary investments. Regardless of what you paid for your dog, he's not going to have the fair market value that you want. It's best to expect to take a loss and focus on finding the right home for your dog instead.

Don't pass the problem on because you're uncomfortable making difficult decisions. It's too late for that. You promised your dog you would do what's best for him. That includes tough decisions. If your dog is sick, go to the vet. Yes, they're expensive, especially if you have a chronic problem. If your dog is a jerk, pay for a trainer. Intensive training can also be expensive, and time consuming. If your dog has severe medical or behavioral problems, the most humane thing may be euthanasia. Bindi's family had to make that choice. It's sucked, but it was the right thing to do.

Don't repeat your mistakes. Before you go out and get another dog, honestly assess what went wrong this time. Was it a lack of time? Money? Housing? Ability? Knowledge? Make sure you're prepared next time, and make sure you're getting a dog for the right reasons.

Don't beat yourself up too much. Sometimes, despite your best efforts, things go wrong. Sometimes a dog is just mentally unstable, or a bad fit for the family, or had a serious illness. Sometimes you suddenly have to care for an aging parent, battle cancer have to take a job across the country. If you've done everything possible and you still have to give up your pets, I'm truly sorry. I've been there and I know it hurts like crazy. Forgive yourself.

And if you do end up dropping your dog off at the shelter, go with a thick skin. Those who work there are most likely jaded and they will lump you in with all the jerks they've already dealt with. When I worked at the county shelter we took in 100+ animals a day. On a good day, we adopted out 20. Do the math. Even when you send everything you possibly can to rescues, there are still more coming in than going out. And when people are told "We are full, your animal will be euthanized" half of them just don't care. The excuses that come with the dogs are often frustrating. I've had people dump animals because:
  • "The dark fur clashes with the new furniture."
  • 'We're going on vacation and can't afford to board the pets."
  • "The landlord saw the dog and now he wants a pet deposit."
  • "We work 60 hours a week."
  • "We're having a baby next month (and yes, we adopted the dog 2 months ago)."
  • "I didn't think a lab mix would get this big."
  • "Mom is coming to visit and she's allergic."
Yeah . . . So even if you have a real emergency situation, there are 100 people before you that have already ripped the heart out of that shelter worker -- and it's only Monday. Maybe this dark-humored video will help you understand. (The premise: What if people discarded family members at the shelter like unwanted pets?)

OK, enough of the ranting. I'm going to log off and have a good cry. Then I'm going to take my dog for a walk and/or open a bottle of wine. Why? I received yet another dump request this morning. That's three this month. Apparently Dump Season came early this year. -- K

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