Tuesday, March 29, 2016

How Rescuing Made Me Leery of Rescuing

Hey, everyone!

This is part two in a two-part series. Read yesterday's post before preceding!

Today's post is about my experience with rescue dogs, and how they impacted me as a dog owner and as a trainer. Those two dogs, Roxie and Rule, taught me a very valuable lesson and made me realize just how far I'm willing to go for my dogs...and where my limits are.

These were difficult ones to write for several reasons. The first and foremost being that I am stubborn and don't do well with perceived failure. The second being that this is a very hot topic in the dog community, with "the opposing side" being the much louder and more prevalent voice. I welcome discussion and experiences shared on this post, but please keep it civil. This is solely my opinion and experience.

Growing up, we always had purebred dogs (a Lab, a Dalmatian, and several Mastiffs), and we always had them from puppyhood on. When I got my own first dog, it made perfect sense for me to get a purebred puppy from a breeder. When I was ready for dog #2, I went the same route.

By this time I was up to my eyeballs in the dog community, and the rescuers were the vast majority. To be perfectly blunt, it's the cool thing to do. It's trendy to rescue, and while I'm certain most go to a shelter or rescue for additional reasons (wanting to save a life, wanting an adult dog, whatever the case may be), there's definitely a sort of hero-worship around those that rescue. I always have been and always will be pro-breeder, so I stayed quiet when it came to anything relating to where my dogs were from. I never saw myself wanting a rescue, or a mutt for that matter.

Enter Roxie (if you don't know who that is, click here). I fell completely and utterly in love with that dog, even though I didn't originally plan to keep her. You all know how that ended. It was without a doubt one of the hardest things I've ever had to do.

Feeling a gaping hole left by Roxie, I wondered down to our local shelter to "just look". Not-long story short, I found a dog that seemed like a good match for all involved, and brought home Rule. For the first two weeks, everything was fine and dandy aside from some mild separation anxiety and resource guarding, something I was confident I could manage. I worked with her extensively, and within those two weeks she made dramatic improvements. Then one day while out in the yard, my worst fears, so fresh after Roxie, came to a terrifying head. Suffice it to say that there were several moderately deep punctures, and Rule had to be pried off.
I refused to even consider working with that. I contacted the shelter, and agreed to foster her and work on her problems until a more suitable home could be found. I put her new found owners in contact with an out of town behaviorist, and they're still working with her. I'm in contact with them still, and she's flourishing with her new family.

I've had two experiences with rescuing, and neither one has been pleasant. One could have been a dangerous situation, and one could have resulted in a dead dog. I know that not all shelter dogs will have these problems, and it may not be the majority. Despite that, I can't help being gun-shy.

I would be open to reducing again, even though I haven't had the best time with it.  Perhaps I'd be more willing to work with a dog that was in a foster home and they were upfront about any problems, rather than a county shelter without much info on their dogs.
I'm not saying that all rescues have issues, or that they can't be good dogs. They can be, as I'm sure you all know! I'd happily take in a puppy, or an older small dog. I'm not certain I'd get an adult dog larger than my small dogs, simply for safety's sake. I would be happy to foster, though!

First and foremost, my duty is to my own dogs. It is my job to keep them happy, healthy, and safe. Rescuing seriously worries me with them. The unknown of whether or not I'd be bringing in a dog with serious emotional baggage terrifies me. Not because I don't understand how to work with issues, or because I lack a heart. I'm able to deal with it, but I'm not willing. And that's okay. My life and my dogs don't mesh with a dog that needs constant management and extensive behavioral rehabilitation. I applaud those that are willing to do it. For me, I'd rather look for a dog that fits into my needs and lifestyle.

What are your thoughts? Have you had a dog experience that's made you leery of trying again?

- Dachshund Mommy


  1. I have had 2 dogs and both rescues. Daisy was 2 1/2 when we adopted her and we did not know a lot except she had been returned to the rescue twice by the same person. She was pretty much near perfect. It was hard because we didn't know anything about her really but it was like her life started we adopted her and she was wonderful. And Cocoa was 12 weeks old when we adopted her. We were not looking for a puppy but she picked us!! Since she was only 12 weeks old I do not think there is a lot of history so that is good. I fully respect your feelings and see why you feel the way you do. I have had wonderful rescue experiences and would want to rescue more but I want dogs to have loving homes. All dogs so anyone who provides love and care for their pups is a wonderful puppy parent.

  2. My rescue dogs were both older when I got them, however my brother in law got a puppy, born into a foster home after the biggest puppy mill bust in North America. All of her issues are ones she has been taught. I lived with 2 puppies before and know I am not going to ever have a puppy again. They are way to much work. I also won't get a dog described as crazy by her foster mom (even if she is the light of my life). I actually don't know if I will get another dog after these two. No because I don't love them but because I want to travel more and I feel bad leaving them!

  3. The most important thing is you helped those dogs, not that you kept them. Roxie would most likely be dead if you had left her there, so you deserve a big pat on the back for all the time, money and effort you put in.
    When I was a teenager I found a bag of bones collapsed on the street which turned out to be a German Shepherd. I carried him home (he was light as a feather) and we gradually fed him up and back to health and my mother kept him. He was a lovely dog but had a ton of behavioural problems, including biting. My mum could do anything with him but for some reason he hated me and bit me several times. I often wonder if it was some girl who had made his life so miserable.
    Lynne x
    Lynne x

  4. We rescued BabyBelle and were very lucky. She is the sweetest. But I've heard so many horror stories....it does scare me. You never know what the dogs have been exposed to or how they were treated before you get them.

  5. Pocket is from a breeder, River is from a house and she needed another family. I hope I don't need to get another dog for a long time but I would lead to getting a dog from a breeder. There are no many Yorkies available through rescues and Griffons are even harder. Also I have had two bad experiences from rescues. One Rescues I helped pay for the medical expenses for a dog who was going to be made available. When the dog was healthy the person who ran the rescue kept the dog. The second time was with a dog named Jordan who had lived in a cage her whole life. She was at the end of her life. Whenever she was on the floor she hid in a corner and she would pee where she laid which was often on furniture. The poor thing really needed a home that was more experienced with rescued dogs. I know there are a lot of great rescues out there. But I would investigate the rescue and the dog before I made a commitment

  6. I totally get where you're coming from, and I'm so sorry to hear about what happened with Rule. That sounds terrifying. I would be gun-shy about rescuing again, too--especially, as you say, with a larger dog.

    I've been thinking about how you describe rescuing as "trendy" here, and I'm trying to decide how I feel about it! My off the cuff reaction is--yeah, maybe it is, and some significant things need to change in order for more people to see rescuing as a viable way to get a dog.

    I have so much to say about this that I should probably just write a blog about how I adopted Nala--who is, technically, a rescue--for a case study of how to make rescuing go well in our current system, and how our current system badly, badly needs to change in order for rescue to stop being a trend and to become accepted as an awesome way to get a dog whom you can rely on to be exactly what you need. Not because I'm anti-breeder--someday I want a puppy, and I will definitely be going to a breeder for that. But because if you (the general you, not you specifically!) DON'T want a puppy and you can't afford a major problem, I think that your best option is an adult rescue dog.

  7. Again, I don't blame you for not wanting a shelter dog or deal with major behavioral problems but I have to say this again, ANY dog can become a problem if some sort of trauma occurs. You can buy the best dog on Earth from a breeder, have that dog for years and then that dog gets attacked or some sort of scary thing happens and bam... behavioral problems galore. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees in life on anything. I've seen it happen all the time and I've been involved in the pet industry for over 16 years.

    I do think it's good to know your limits, that means you will absolutely do the best you can when you go looking for another dog. You already know what you want, what you don't want and what you can and can't handle. A lot of the times breeders offer excellent support throughout the dog's life if you've found a good one. I also highly, HIGHLY recommend contacting a breeder's references and talking to previous puppy buyers. I know it sounds like a crap ton of work but I honestly think it's worth it in the end.

    That being said, Zoe came home as the most perfect dog ever from the humane society. She WAS literally perfect. She knew some obedience, she was completely potty trained and has never had a single accident in my home. She WAS dog friendly. She had one mild resource guarding incident when my cats sniffed her bone, she just growled. We told her to knock it off and everything was fine from then on out.

    The behavioral issues that cropped up from Zoe were absolutely not her fault, the things that happened to her fall solely on my shoulders. I used to take her to the dog park all the time, she's been attacked, overwhelmed by dogs who wouldn't back off when she asked them to, she was hurt when her friends ganged up on her, dogs she trusted. All of these things combined made her dog selective and grumpy. Agitated when other dogs she does not know rush into her bubble. It also turned mild resource guarding into major resource guarding. None of these things are Zoe's fault. They are my fault and my mistakes to bear. She WAS a great shelter dog. I fucked up and turned her into an anxious mess with all of my beginner mistakes. Phoenix we knew had issues when we got her but her issues were also exacerbated by my stupid mistakes and obsession with going to the dog park. I definitely wonder if Phoenix would have the issues she has if I hadn't pushed her into doing stuff she was anxious about.

    We still have not decided on what we are going to do for our next dog. If we are going to try another shelter dog or go breeder. It's a tough choice because I am getting worn out on reactivity but Phoenix is so much more than her reactivity. She's an amazing dog as long as other dogs don't get into her face or space bubble. She's smart, she's funny, she's a fantastic house dog. She's a snuggle bug and she's great with dogs she knows.

    Anyways, sorry for the novel. Just my random thoughts on this tough subject.

  8. I think you kind of outlined the worst case scenarios for rescues. You did a wonderful thing for Roxie, but rescuing dogs off the street can come with lots of issues and you clearly encountered many of them.

    The situation with Rule is one of my pet peeves with some shelters in that they don't do enough screening and sharing of information with potential adopters and it can lead to bad adoptions. You had yours with Rule. My Mom has a situation with a dog she just got from a local shelter after having gotten her dogs as puppies for years from breeders. She thought she was doing the right thing going to the shelter to get a dog and they sent her home with a dog with all kinds of behavioral and medical issues they failed to disclose. She wants to do what is best the dog, but she's overwhelmed by it's problems. As you stated in your previous article she wanted a problem free dog that she would walk and care for in her senior years. I'm sure the shelter actually did have some that would have worked for her. Instead they stuck her with one that is making her life miserable.

    We have the breeder/rescue discussions thousands of times and I don't have a preference of how people get their dogs. I don't feel I'm "better" having gone with rescue, it just has worked for us.

    My husband had never had a dog so we wanted a young dog when we got Bailey. I was thrilled when they had a puppy to adopt. It is a rare event. Having done the puppy experience, I'm good. Therefore, rescue is a more realistic option than approaching breeders for dogs that are available. Katy was three when we got her and that was perfect. It is possible the next one might be older. If he fits with the family, I'm OK with that. Again what works for me is what is important. I believe others need the freedom to make those choices as well.

    I do believe your stories are examples of things that need to change about rescues. Not every dog is a fit for every family. It is OK to admit that and one of the reasons why I've waited this long to deal with the Sheltie Rescue I do is that they have a great track record with fostering that gives them the info they need to make placements. They have been honest with us about the needs of the dogs and we've been asked to be honest with them about what we are willing to do and want to do as well.

  9. I think that adopting a dog is a huge deal emotionally for the not only the animal but the human as well. In my opinion, if you want to adopt, you should do just as much research on shelters as you would breeders. I'm not saying that you didn't but just as a general rule of thumb,you should do a lot of research on where your animal is coming from regardless if it is a purebred puppy from the most reputable breeder in your area or a mutt from a shelter. Some people don't feel comfortable turning down a shelter during research because they want every dog to get a chance and as much as that is true, if you are adopting, it doesn't matter where because in the end, a dog is getting a second chance at life and that was the original goal. As what happened with Rule and Roxie, that just means that you might want to try a better shelter. The pound or local county shelter may not always be the best choice because the bulk of dogs and cats are usually from the streets. It's okay to be shy of adopting considering what happened to you but don't be afraid to get back in the game at some point!

    1. This is something DH and I are going through as we look at our 3rd rescue. We knew we were going to have a longer wait with Sheltie Rescue. Along the way I looked at other purebred Shelties offered through other rescues and shelters and something has always made me feel uncomfortable about the situation and while the dogs looked beautiful, we've waited until we could work with a group we trusted.

  10. I'm pro-breeder. If you buy a puppy or a rescue from a breeder then you know what your are getting. With a shelter or so-called rescue dog you have no idea what you are getting. If you are dog knowledgeable then you might be able to deal with the unknown.

    But most importantly, I think there is a lot of untruth being circulated by the pro-rescue groups about breeder dogs. It's your choice! As a responsible dog owner you must decide what's best for you. You must be familiar with the canine species regardless of where you get your dog!

    1. I would honestly say it depends on the rescue. My experience with breed rescue has shown me that if the dogs spend time with knowledgeable honest foster hosts much information can be given to perspective new owners which help all parties make informed decisions about the best option for the dog. Too often the dogs aren't screened appropriately and time and numbers work against the process happening.

      As I stated above I have no issue with people using breeders to get the dogs they want. However, I do think you have to do much the same research when finding a good place to rescue a dog from that you have to use when finding an appropriate breeder. You want to be able to trust the information that is given you is accurate, reliable, and honest. If you aren't comfortable with the situation at a breeder, you likely aren't going to do business. In the same way, many people aren't comfortable with the information, revelations, etc. at a shelter and then wonder why they walk away with a dog that isn't right for them.

  11. I couldn't agree more that your first responsibility is to your current dogs. I feel exactly the same way, and I'd never bring in any dog, rescue or from a breeder, who upset or hurt my current dogs. Indeed, we don't even dog-sit for friends anymore because most of their dogs are either too much for Shyla's psyche or too much for R's elbow.

    In the future, we'd consider a rescue for sure. However, because we don't have a fenced yard, we can't go the traditional shelter or rescue route. Almost all require a fenced yard. It feels odd that I think we'd be a really good owners for a dog but the rescues won't let us have one ;)

    Who knows? Maybe someone will send us a surprise dog like happened with Shyla when the time comes.

  12. Totally understand ... how you feel. Sugar was the run of a litter. She was not a "competitive" dog but it's our luck. She's been a blessings to us especially to my health (I was able to walk again - long story).
    We fostered and it was hard especially witnessing interesting emotional issues ... but made us want to rescue our next dog.
    Do what's best for you and your dog. Golden Woofs


Thank you for commenting!