Earlier this week, there was an interesting post on Dog Star Daily entitled "Who Killed these Dogs?" The premise of the post was debunking the old mantra of "If you breed or buy, you are responsible for this" -- along with a picture of dead animals that were killed at a local animal shelter due to 'pet overpopulation'.
First of all, I will admit that I agree with the author, that the old mantra is tired and not accurate. However, I disagree with many of her other assertions -- and worse, think in an effort to assess blame created such a bad image of shelter pets that she is making the problem worse, rather than better.
The author goes on to blame several causes:
1) Failure of dog owners to educate themselves before they get a puppy
2) Veterinarians who tell owners to keep puppies at home until they're 16 weeks of age that cause pups to be poorly socialized
3) Dog trainers for not emphasizing the importance of puppy training and actively educate dog owers they see.
She then notes:
So those of us working in rescue are faced with a constant barrage of untrained, ill-mannered and sometimes downright dangerous dogs who are unwanted and unadoptable. We know they didn’t start out this way and we know they didn’t have to end this way. On a daily basis we are faced with punishing the innocent dog with death while the guilty parties who created this mess walk away. We can’t help but think that someone, besides this dog, must pay.
We think, and rightly so, that it is unfair that this dog was created only to be destroyed by no fault of his own. We blame the breeder......With each newly relinquished, returned or euthanized dog our anger and resentment grows. We start to resent dog owners in general and tell ourselves that this whole problem exists because people are just stupid. They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t care. They cannot be trusted. They are not like us.
Now, there is a lot in these couple of paragraphs that I think give you an idea of the 'flavor" for the article and I think encompasses a whole lot of what I find to be wrong with it.
First off, let's make no mistake, for a dog to end up euthanized in a shelter, a whole host of things have to fail: whoever sells (or adopts) a dog has failed to educate the dog owner, the dog owner has failed to educate themselves, the dog owner has failed to put an identifyer on the dog so it can be brough back home, and probably most importantly, the shelter where the dog ended up failed to find it a new home.
Regardless of everything we do; education, training classes, etc, dogs will find their way to a shelter -- and shelters have a responsibility to find homes for those animals if they are able to be rehomed (Most are). Often, I feel like because of the resentment toward the dog owners the author describes, I think many shelters/rescuers fail to find as many homes for dogs as they could because they lose the trust in the public, they shun the public, and it is the public who is mostly likely to help them through the adoption process.
Here's the truth: there are 78 million owned dogs in this country. Each year, only about 4 million find their way into a shelter at all. That means about 95% of dog owners are actually doing right by their dog every year. There is little reason for such massive distrust in the public.
But here's another issue I have with the article: since when did every dog that ends up in a shelter become untrained, ill-mannered and/or downright dangerous?
While it's true that shelters see dangerous, ill mannered and untrained dogs -- the majority are just simply lost and unable to be reunited with their owners. And many of the ill-mannered and untrained are completely able to be rehabbed with a fairly small amount of training work on the part of the shelter or rescue. And isn't this our job as rescuers to provide the dog the resources it needs to be rehomed?
I'm deeply disturbed by someone who claims to be involved in rescue to paint such a bleak picture of shelter dogs. Here's her quip:
If you adopt an aggressive, fearful or otherwise damaged dog without understanding what that means for your future as a dog owner, you have been duped by the rescue/shelter because you walked in there uneducated and not knowing what you wanted. No different than what happens every day on used car lots. Buyer beware and be educated!
From my experience, the majority of the dogs we see in rescue and at the shelter are gentle, loving pets. Or sure, some are high-energy and need to burn off a little steam due to the stress (and lack of exercise) that comes from shelter life -- but nothing like the image painted by the author. Meanwhile, I'm also disturbed that such a focus would be on the proper training of puppies when most homes would actually benefit from starting out with an older dog so they can avoid the struggles of handling puppies or adolescent dogs (which are far more work than most adult dogs). Or, that more shelters/rescues can't sell the value of pet dogs -- and that the vast majority of people don't need purebred dogs -- of course that might be difficult if the rescuer shares the same image of shelter dogs as damaged goods.
So, if we want to solve the problem of dogs dying in our shelters, we must put the focus on solutions that will work.
-- Yes, educating dog owners on proper channels for getting a dog would help (and this does include when and why buying a specific breed puppy makes sense -- and it does for some people)
-- Yes, providing training classes and proper dog training will help
-- And yes, blaming people who indiscriminately breed will also help
-- But more importantly, it means understanding that there are many catch points in the process -- and the final catch point is at the shelter. And it is the shelter and rescue community's responsibility to help find homes for the dogs that make their way to the shelter. It means not treating these dogs as "damaged goods", but giving them the proper training they need to be rehomed, or doing a better job of marketing these dogs so people realize what great pets most shelter animals can (and will) become. It also means not deamonizing "the public" -- most of who are responsible -- because of the actions of a small percentage of them. And it means not becoming resentful of this public that is also the same group that you will hope will come to adopt a dog from your shelter.
Unfortunately, I believe this author does more harm than good in her quest to lay blame, and casts a very innaccurately bleak picture of shelter dogs in the process.