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« Fatal Dog Attack in Chicago | Main | Sioux City Mayor about BSL: I would vote to recind it tomorrow »

January 19, 2010



The attitude problem that persists with animal welfare personnel is the 'us & them' culture. Rather like the problem with the cynical cop who's passed his use by date and considers all strangers to be criminals he hasn't busted yet.

Being at the coalface of animal welfare one can understand the level of mistrust but it is misguided once you take the reality check and see that by far the majority of pet owners are thoroughly decent people whose pets are adored members of the family.

Until animal welfare personnel alter their adversarial approach to the public nothing will change.


It's sad how accurately that guy's joke sums up the problem with the value system a lot of shelters have -- in other words, that death is better for an animal than a lifestyle that is less than perfect in every way. We need some more realists and fewer idealist 'my way or the highway'-types in the shelter world, it seems.


I adopted my little pit mix from a Foster who was working thru our local (now, No Kill) shelter. Altho the foster had been working w/ me and wanted to place her w/ me, the shelter turned me down. She then proceeded to turn down the next 2 people lined up with the pets they had chosen (a cat and dog).

I understand it's a tough job placing animals, esp w/o risking them being returned. But c'mon, 3 out of 3 prospective homes are not fit? That's a heckofa percentage.

Needless to say, this shelter person either left or was let go within a couple of months after my experience.

I was turned down off the bat because she 'resembled' dogs that are illegal in my city.


OOOPS! I forgot to comment on the comedian's video -- this was perfect, Brent! he sure hit THAT nail on the head and all the supportive laughter was awesome!

Sue Alexander CPDT CDBC

Marketing? You are blaming marketing? How about the fact that every dog being adopted out of any shelter or rescue program deserves as a minimum standard of care a veterinary examination and a behaviour evaluation by someone with training and qualifications in evaluating shelter dogs?

I am a Certified Dog Behaviour Consultant. Fully 2/3s of the clients who come in with dogs to my behaivour program have dogs from shelters. I see dogs who have caused serious bites to kids-adopted out to families with children. Dogs who have killed other dogs, adopted out to families looking for a companion to go to the park with. Dangerous dogs. Could they be fixed? Maybe, and in fact, some of them are. But frankly, these dogs are dogs who have been hit by a behavioural bus. Put them in foster? Sure. YOu could do that, but you cannot explain to the dog that he is only there temporarily and dogs who are recovering from serious behaviour problems should not be asked to pick up and move along again right after they have recovered from whatever problem they have. I think that fostering creates a whole other level of issues.

2%? Maybe we need to examine how to get the numbers down to a more reasonable number to begin with by encouraging everyone to purchase ONLY purpose bred dogs; dogs whose breeders have thought this out, and have carefully chosen good families for their pups. For my money...I am with the carefully bred dogs. I see so many fewer of them in my behaviour classes and I am of the opinion that the only way to solve the problem is to create a need for these dogs to begin with.

french mastiff

I think the most of the people were not very coincerned of the adoption procedures and rules there has been some strict guidlines laid don by the governingh bvody for the people who take the adoption and its by the mutal concern with the animal activists.



We can talk a lot on the need to educate the public on the best places to get pets, ways to improve the way most foster programs are used, and the need to promote low-cost spay/neuter programs that will prevent unintentional litters. All of those are great conversations. I'm sure all of them will get discussed over time here.

However, as long as there are dogs in people's homes (which I hope is for a long time), there will be a need for shelters as safety nets for animals that lose their homes.

And as long as there are shelters, there will be a need to addresss the public image problem that shelters/rescues have created in many cases by creating such a huge amount of red tape for people to go through in order to adopt -- and then denying people who's first choice is to adopt because of ridiculous reasons like the adopters having kids.

Puppy Training Classes

Great topic for conversation Brent! I appreciate your point of view on improving customer service and marketing. It can only help everyone regardless of whether of not it is THE solution.

It's been my experience that a combination of factors are usually at play and that all of these factors need to be addressed. Educating the public like you mention in your comment to Sue is in my opinion another major factor.

What's key is that we keep this conversation going.


Sue -- There is a middle ground between 'giving shelter animals out like candy without any screening' and 'denying good homes because they don't live up to an unrealistic standard'. The issue is, there is SO much difference in quality between one shelter and another, and they run the gamut from horrifically-run death row pounds where lifesaving and adopting are not even believed to be possible, to ones where the staff views the majority of human beings as 'not good enough' for their animals and prefers to hold onto them for even years waiting for that 'utopian home'. Neither extreme is good for the animals.


Only "purpose" bred dogs? So I'm guessing if everyone did that you'd be out of the training business? Is your clientele 100% rescue dogs?

Oh, like French Bulldogs that were artfully bred to have deformed noses, health issues (including backs that break easily) and require cesarean sections?

Behind every jacked up dog is a person that made it that way...regardless of where it came from. I don't have a problem with responsible breeding but for you to post on here promoting the killing of shelter dogs essentially what you're doing and is pretty BS. And the ridiculous notion that fostering somehow hurts a dog - that's laughable. I would probably delete your post if I was Brent...


Good thing you're not Brent then, isn't it, Michelle?

This is a forum wherein varied and sometimes-conflicting views can be deposited for consideration by a discerning readership with a common interest in animal welfare. I think Sue's post is strange and misguided, but I'm pleased she decided to share her thoughts. Others can now seek clarity (not consensus, which is badly overrated) by presenting counterarguments, as you did, in fact, with every sentence of your post except the last one.

Sorry. Hot button.

Sue Alexander CPDT CDBC

Sorry my opinion is considered misguided, but there is a middle ground between the kill everything and the give out the dogs like candy shelters. The sad fact is that many dogs with behaviour problems go on to suffer for many years in homes and cause great suffering because they ought to have been euthanized. Behaviour is as serious a component of the dog as is medicine and yet, the vast majority of shelters and rescues do NOT have significant, realistic behaviour programs run by trained people. Veterinarians are considered essential to the care of a shelter dog, and they are usually paid for their services. Not so with behaviour. My experience is that untrained kennel staff and under educated volunteers are the most common people doing evaluations.

No one would ever disagree with euthanizing a dog who came into the shelter with a broken leg, a broken pelvis, six broken ribs, internal bleeding and a crushed skull from being hit by a bus. But when it comes to behaviour, you cannot touch it, and you cannot see it, and these dogs are often required to suffer on and on and on.

Thanks Brent for including my posts. I may not agree with everyone here, but I hope that I challenge you to think about what I write. I think that there will always need to be something, but I think it is time and beyond that we begin to think about our alternatives. And maybe...pat the client on the back who didn't fall for the sob story today but who instead chose to start fresh with a dog they have thought carefully about, and who will be in their home from eight weeks till the sad day many years later when that dog dies of old age.

I want to add that in the shelter in my town sit two dogs. These two dogs were part of my behaviour program and the families could not do it anymore, nor could they bring themselves to euthanize. These dogs are going to end up in homes. And these dogs have known bite histories, and known anxiety issues. One of the dogs has no restrictions on where it can be adopted; it is listed as suitable for homes with pets or children. And...these dogs may well end up in my program yet again. This is beyond tragic. This is reprehensible. What is even sadder is that one of the dogs went to the shelter with a four page behaviour report from me indicating that this dog needed some very careful handling. I shouldn't be surprised however; my shelter also never responded to my offer to help them to develop a program to do behaviour assessments on their dogs. This is the daily frustration I live with.

Twenty years ago, I thought rescue was such a good idea. I am so sorry that it has not come to what it might have been.



There is a lot of gray area between kill everything and giving them away like candy to strangers. If you look at the example I included, where the person was denied simply because she had a child, I think that is on the far side of the extreme.

I think there are a lot of things that many shelters could do a lot better in terms of rehabilitation of dogs with fairly minor issues (or even fairly major ones). I think that too many groups use foster homes for increased space vs using them to get dogs comfortable with being in homes. But the overall idea of rescue is far superior to not rescuing at all and the kill-everything approach.


I don't need a lecture Ted. Conflicting ideas are one thing advocating killing shelter animals is another. Some "ideas" don't deserve air time. I've never seen anyone advocate placing dangerous animals in homes but most deserve a chance to be rehabilitated just like a dog with a broken leg.

Are some dogs too vicious to place - yes, no doubt. I've temporarily fostered a dog that later had to be put down - we think he was permanently damaged living in a meth house. I've also rehabilitated a dog that a supposedly HIGHLY educated trainer said should be put down because he was possessive of rawhides. I'm not sure how your shelter can argue with a bite history but if you come off as anti-adoption to them as you do here I can see why they might not want to listen.

You make a great point about training in shelters but I do think that is changing. Foster families than just hold a dog for placement instead of giving it basic training is just plain wrong.

But I've seen this "argument" before by the breeding community trying to safe their own ass by vilifying shelter animals. "Shelter animals aren't safe! So you must buy from a responsible breeder!" They are afraid their ability to breed is going to be hindered by getting lumped in with puppy mills by the AR wackos. The rescue community often holds these breeders responsible for "overpopulation" and has spewed lots of hate their way which I don't agree with. But throwing the animals under the bus is unacceptable.


I don't doubt that you have seen and known more dogs than I have. But I want to question your percentages, because it's strange that I have never experienced this problem w/ shelter dogs, nor do I know anyone who has experienced this problem. And I have met 100s of these dogs.

I hope your PR on shelter dogs doesn't go too far, or there are too many lives -- human + canine-- whose lives will not be enriched.

You also said, 'No one would ever disagree with euthanizing a dog who came into the shelter with a broken leg, a broken pelvis, six broken ribs, internal bleeding and a crushed skull from being hit by a bus.'

Well, depending on the suffering and the hopelessness, there are, in fact, rescues who save dogs w/ serious medical issues, paying for their care out of their own pocket. I know at least 2 of them. They believe in saving lives when at all possible.

One of them, from whom I adopted one of my dogs, has kept dogs herself that were not adoptable, usually for behavior issues. Last count, she had 14 permanent dogs w/ behavior problems, and she's still standing.

Whether the truth lies somewhere closer to your scenarios or No Kill's visions, it is a fact that a lot more can be done to eliminate pointless killing.

Some of the happiest dog owners that I know, with dogs who have the best temperaments I've seen, have dogs that they picked up off the streets or found in the worst of circumstances.

ONe of the cases I witnessed at our shelter in which the family was turned down, was a lady and her daughter who fell in love w/ a husky at the shelter. They were sitting there w/ him on his leash and so excited. Then they were turned down because they lived in an apartment and 'huskies howl'.

The lady said she was aware of that because she already HAD a husky and that was not a problem. They left while I was there and I don't know if they ever tried again.

End result was unhappy family, one more unadoptable dog.


This is a great discussion! As a director in a foster-based rescue, and a foster myself, I have to vehemently disagree that foster care does more harm than good. We are faced with tough decisions all the time and we don't even have near the restrictions it sounds like some groups do (and we are a pit bull rescue!). Our major requirement is non-restrictive insurance and if applicable, a non-restrictive landlord and/or homeowners association. Beyond that, much of it is certainly case-by-case, we want the best match for each individual dog...which means there is no such thing as the "perfect home" because it is different for every dog. We also have a training requirement post-adoption and try very hard to have long-term contact with the families. Needless to say, these dogs and their success in life mean a LOT to us.

We also have tried to limit our outright denials; rather we ask questions regarding the application and often, upon questioning certain issues, we simply don't get any more contact. For all I know, those people may still be upset and feel denied, so I know it isn't the ideal either.

Sue's posts are interesting. I can't help but wonder though if she has considered that the vast majority of her clients being rescue dogs has less to do with the dogs and their qualities and more to do with the qualities of the owners? In my opinion, a lot of people inclined to look to a shelter or a rescue are also quite inclined toward training and seeking behavioral help if needed. That doesn't make them bad, if anything, I would give kudos to people who seek help rather than let their dog rum amok. I have a friend who only gets her dogs from a breeder...would you catch her in a training class with either of her dogs?! Never! And one of her dogs bit an elderly family member when he tried to pet him. So I would not say they are without behavioral issues.

I am not saying folks who go to a responsible breeder are not good people or don't attend training--going to my own training facility I know this is far from the truth. I am not against responsible breeding, nor people who have weighed their desires carefully and feel a purposefully bred dog is the best choice for them. I am just trying to bring up a point that the assumption seems to be that your clients are largely rescue dogs and that somehow indicates something negative about rescue/shelter dogs themselves. Having had 21 fosters through our home, all amazing dogs in their own right who lived peacefully with each other and our young son, I must say this assumption would be anecdotal at best.

THANKS Brent for letting people share and discuss!


On 'shelter dogs', this is a very strong belief of mine -- that the adopters need more education on basic dog behavior, etc:

I believe when families choose a dog from a rescue or shelter, they seem to expect that the dog is immediately grateful forever, and so happy w/ his 'luck', that if they provide the 'perfect' home, all will be fine.

First of all, dogs in shelters are under a lot of stress. I also believe that being put in a home causes a lot of additinal stress -- not that it's all negative.

I just don't think most people give this to the dog. They don't take this into consideration. They expect the dog to be happy, even tho he probably has no idea what is going on and is very stressed and often very frightened. He may not even know what a child is.

Going thru all that separation anxiety and tearing stuff up indicates that to me, not that the dog is a bad dog.

Families w/ children need to be made to understand that even the best dog from the shelter is going to be somewhat stressed out and a lot of care and attention and supervision is needed.

Do we understand the dog's language in a few days? So why would we expect the dog to understand ours? Or our ways? or our rules?

Do we understand our dogs' language in a few weeks? Why do we expect more from our dogs?

In my opinion, too much is expected of the rescued dog. Sure, he is happy to have a home, but that does not mean that he is automatically comfortable w/ this or de-stressed or understands anything about it.

I believe that Brent and Michelle know this more than most anybody.


Sue - your attitude toward rescued dogs is so negative and judgmental. "Sob story?" = rescue. "Start fresh?" = getting dog from a breeder. Wow.

You know, I feel sorry for you. Opening up one's home and heart to a rescue dog is a wonderful experience, for both human and canine. It has been one of the best experiences I've had in life.

If we're going to go all anecdotal here, the only person I know of who has had to euthanize for behavior issues (her dog almost killed another dog) is a very smart woman I know who spent months looking for the perfect, best, most responsible breeder for her purebred dog. She was heartbroken when her dog turned out to have serious aggression issues.

I have two shelter dogs. One is the sweetest, friendliest dog you'd ever want to meet. Everyone comments on how wonderful she is. The other has some behavior issues - and I'm really glad someone like you didn't get their clutches on him to do a "professional" behavioral evaluation before we got him. We absolutely adore him and have worked with him on his issues and consider him an important, much-loved part of the family. I'm sure glad someone like you wasn't in charge of determining his fate.

Also, I wonder if your clients know about your extreme prejudice against and bad attitude toward rescue dogs. I can't imagine why so many people with rescued dogs patronize your business. There are enough animal behaviorists out there that it doesn't seem it would be hard to find one with a positive attitude toward the dogs they work with.

Elsa McSherley

I just went through hell trying to adopt a dog from a shelter. I had two cocker spaniels that died at age 12 after being treated like royalty. I then adopted from a shelter two abused dogs. One was a female that lived in a cage and had one litter of puppies after another till she was too old. She had sores on her pelvic area from living in a cage. The other Cocker was skin and bones and abused and had major aggression issues. He bit my grandson, myself, and my husband at least once. I could tell he was upset when he did it. We were going to bring him back but decided to keep him. They were walked 4 times daily, socialized with everyone in the neighborhood, and all the dogs. Everyone grew to love them. Mr. Sam the aggressive one, turned into the most lovable dog anyone could every have. He died two weeks ago from cancer. Everyone that knew him was just heartbroken.
Well, when I tried to adopt again, I did not qualify for an adoption. So I too had to get a new cocker from a breeder. I felt like I should be on America's most wanted for not being fit to have a dog.
Something should be done to let the right people, who want to adopt, be able to adopt a dog. I feel guilty getting one from a breeder, but I have a big empty spot in my heart for my Sammy.


I am a long time rescuer and active volunteer at my local animal shelter. Many animals have been fostered in my care over the years that were deemed "unadoptable" and put on DEATH row. Pets, not unlike children, need structure and guidance. If they are in a home where that does not occur, then nothing will improve for the potential outcome of that animal! Ultimately the proper training and education of shelter workers, volunteers and the future pet owners is crucial. The main point overlooked far to often is the ratio of pets to homes!! The ONLY solution to this is to decrease the population numbers. This cannot ever be achieved by continued euthanization, it can only be reached by controlling numbers by spay/neutering and educating the public of the importance. I am physically ill everytime I read the local paper and see 4 pages FULL of breeders!! My state has no puppy mill laws/regulations so they are EVERYWHERE!! I am ashamed of these breeders and the states that do nothing to stop the hemmorhaging of pets that will NEVER have a loving home, good bad or otherwise! We are really addressing issues that do not cure the disease... the epidemic disease is pet overpopulation>> the cure is spay/neuter not breeder specific placement. This is not rocket science... end of argument!


Nic -- I agree that spay/neuter and education are important, however, the reality is that there ARE enough homes -- however, for a variety of reasons (including poor customer service) shelters and rescues are not getting as much of the new pet "market share" as they need to in order to get all the pets out. But there are enough homes...we're just not reaching them right now.

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