Being involved with dog rescue can be a rewarding experience, but it can also be extremely frustrating.
On the one hand, when each part of the rescue chain works well together, it enables rescues to pull dogs from kill shelters or from bad situations, place them into foster homes, and eventually adopt them into what’s commonly called a “forever home” (the dog’s new owners). This process involves a lot of people: those who monitor the local shelter or let the rescue know about dogs that need help; people who do temperament evaluations and get more information about the dog from the shelter or the current owner: things such as health, bite history, socialization, training, etc.; folks who pick up and transport the dog; the vet staff who sees and treats them; the folks who provide foster homes where the dogs live (and are cared for) in their family environment; and, ultimately, the people who adopt the dog.
On the other hand, when there’s an issue along the rescue chain, the entire undertaking can be difficult and frustrating for everyone involved, though it’s usually the dog who winds up on the losing side. One such road block often happens right at the beginning of the rescue chain: it happens when the shelter or the dog’s current owner is not honest about the dog’s health, bite history, behavior issues, and prior training.
It’s almost understandable why dog owners are often reluctant to be honest about their dog’s issue when giving him up to a rescue or a shelter. If they told the truth – for example, that the dog has now bitten three members of their own family and they just can’t manage his aggressive behavior – then the dog would be likely put to sleep at a kill shelter, and a rescue might refuse to take him into a foster home. (Keep in mind that foster homes are volunteers. They’re everyday people who have their own animals and their own families to consider when they take in a foster pet.) Though understandable, it’s not right – it can put people in danger.
What’s really not understandable, however, is when shelters lie to rescues.
Sadly, that’s something we’ve seen happen first-hand. At the time, Brian and I were involved in many of the different aspects of dog rescue: we did temperament evaluations at the shelter, pulled and transported dogs, fostered dogs, did home visits with potential adopters, and participated in rescue events, from adoption days to reunions. So when we saw a senior German Shepherd show up in one of our local kill shelters, we didn’t waste time to evaluate her and pass her information on to German Shepherd rescue, in hopes that she could either be placed into a foster home or that one of the approved adopters on the rescue’s waiting list might be interested.
When we went to evaluate the dog, shelter staff were very nice and helpful. They allowed us to take her to an outside pen for evaluation and answered the many questions we had. The staff members told us she had been left at a local groomer’s by her prior owner because she was “too expensive.” The owner had left no additional information, so they didn’t know if the dog was current on vaccines, but she had been having diarrhea, tested heartworm negative, and was otherwise in good health. They also made it clear that if nobody pulled her, she would likely be put to sleep on Friday.
After passing the information along to our rescue, the rescue followed up with the shelter separately because some confusion had arisen in regards to who would actually pick the dog up: the shelter thought it would be either Brian or me, but we were both working that morning, so it would be another person from the rescue. It was during this phone call that the shelter staff person they spoke to mentioned how surprised she was any rescue would take a senior dog with such serious health issues.
As it turns out, the staff members who’d been so helpful in answering our questions a few days before, had been lying to us: although they’d told us they didn’t know anything about the dog’s health history, the shelter actually had her entire vet file. Approximately a year earlier, the dog started having diarrhea which became chronic. Although the vet had recommended both an endoscopy and a biopsy to test for cancer and other possible causes, the owner had elected not to treat the dog. After a year of on and off diarrhea, the owner decided to dump the dog at the shelter instead of either seeking treatment or putting the dog to sleep.
This brings me back to the matter of honesty: what the shelter did was, essentially, trying to saddle the rescue with providing the medical testing and treatment this dog needed, or (alternatively) with the cost of her euthanasia, by telling us that there was nothing wrong with her when she was obviously very sick. In a world where rescues have very limited resources that need to be used prudently to help as many dogs as possible, that’s a pretty rotten thing to do. This clearly hurt the working relationship the rescue had with this particular shelter, but at the same time, it also brings up another question: what if someone entirely unaffiliated with a rescue had come simply to adopt this dog. Would they have lied to that person and told them that there’s nothing wrong with the dog? The shelter would have made $40 in adoption fees for the dog, and the new owner would have been saddled with the impending medical bills that the shelter knew the dog would incur.
That’s a pretty rotten thing, if you ask me!