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« Winograd Interviews and more No Kill News | Main | "Boom-dog" finds his forever home »

June 01, 2010


PAMM - People Against Murdering Muttz

There seems to be two distinctly different views - those who think dogs dying in the shelters is acceptable, sometimes preferrable, and those that do not.


>Are most of the people in your training classes with seriously f-d up dogs really getting them from rescues?

To clarify ... The dogs aren't f-d up. Most of the dogs have been okay, if not very manageable. It's the people that are making the mistakes.

I don't know your shelters, but it could work out that an ambassador program gets the flow going, so staff can learn to trust their instincts (and the dogs!). Affirmative action, at its finest.


"And someone else who was denied from adopting a high-energy dog because she lived in condo in the city without a fenced in yard even though she loved to work out and wanted a dog as a running partner."

That is a perfect example of how arbitrary requirements like "must have fenced back yard" are. Does anyone really think a high-energy breed wouldn't be happier as the running partner of someone who lives in a condo than they would being tossed in someone's back yard every time they need to go to the bathroom? (Not saying everyone with a fenced back yard does that - heck, I have a fenced back yard and I walk my dogs twice a day - but I know a lot of nice people who are otherwise good dog owners who use their fenced back yard as a reason to be totally LAZY when it comes to walking their dog. As in they never do it.)

As for what would make me say no to someone who wants a high-energy puppy - the only thing I can think of is a history of bailing on a challenging animal, giving up an animal in the past because it "chewed stuff up" or because they "had a baby" or "moved into an apartment that didn't allow pets." On the flip side, a history of actually fulfilling a lifetime commitment to a previous animal would be a major, major plus on anyone's application. It's something far too few people do, and it should be commended and rewarded.

H Houlahan

I'm going to give an example of a "good dog, good home, bad adoption." I've changed names.

Asia was a ten-month-old, ninety pound, American bulldog, profoundly deaf.

She was adopted out as a young puppy by a local shelter to a family that apparently decided that deaf = ineducable. The only thing she learned in her six months or so at that home was a fun "game" that the teenagers played with her, in which she attacked and bit their feet while they ran and kicked at her. Good times. Returned to shelter because she was "too strong" and -- I am not making this up -- "wouldn't listen." That's all I know about that first adoption. (The "game" information is what we discovered when I came to work with her -- the shelter didn't know or didn't reveal this little habit of hers.)

The shelter featured her as a special needs pet, big sob story, front page of the website.

They adopted her out to the very first applicants who got down there to see her.

Mike, Dana, and their young daughter Tara had impeccable veterinary references. A beautiful fenced yard and large house. A track record of caring for special medical needs of their pets. They had recently lost a dog to old age, and were grieving deeply -- especially Dana.

This is where I came in -- a phone call from Mike's brother, a former client -- the family was in an uproar after 24 hours with this dog.

I spoke to Dana and got right out there, that day.

What I found was a near-literal bull in a China shop, a woman who broke into tears of pity over the dog's suffering at a moment's notice, and a man who was deeply worried about his daughter's safety.

Because a 90-pound-and-growing teenage dog who responds to the stimulus of a 70-pound little girl walking past by grabbing her feet and upending her is something to worry about.

The cat was on the bookcase, which the dog had attempted to climb for an appetizer.

The elderly schnauzer was hiding under the bed -- did not want to be a bulldog's football.

Cut to the chase: Yes, I was able to make progress with the dog in one long session, using an buzzer collar to teach her a tactile "name" and an appropriate training collar to begin some leash manners and "leave it."

But what I saw of her fixation on moving human feet bothered me a lot too -- not because it was vicious or unfixable -- it was "playful" and stupid, not ill-meant -- but because of the imminent danger it posed to the little girl. It was a learned behavior, a moronic one, one that could be fixed in time, but ...

Not by Dana. She had what Cesar Millan would have called a "weak energy." She was caught up in crippling pity for the dog. She did not have the strength, agility, or balance to physically handle a dog with that kind of power who moved heedless through space.

And this pup needed an hour or two of sustained aerobic exercise every single day. Mike worked long hours, and Dana just was not going to be jogging for two hours a day. Not. Gonna. Happen.

Could I have gotten them there? With enough time and sustained effort, probably. Meanwhile, they are living with a dog whose needs they are not able to meet, who is terrorizing their other pets and making a shambles of their home.

Mike made the executive decision that Asia had to go back to the shelter. This was based as much on his knowledge of his wife as it was on his leeriness about the dog. Who am I to judge that?

The shelter workers browbeat the family and did all they could to made them feel like shit for "dumping" the dog. Dana was in hysterics when I talked to her after they took Asia back. Nice. I doubt they read the written report I sent. They adopted her out to the next people on the list. Dunno how many adoptions before Dana found out that Asia was going to be sent to a rescue that specializes in deaf dogs. Would actually train and civilize the beastie before placing her in a screened and prepared home.

Yah think?!

I hope it's true, because this shelter kills a lot of pit bulls.

A few weeks later I called up Dana and arranged to come over and pick up Asia's training collar -- told them I'd buy it back, as I was out of that size and needed one right away. This was a lie.

I brought along my foster puppy, Zippy. A puppymill survivor, and the most optimistic, sunny, good-tempered animal I've ever known. Easy-going, easy to train, polite without training, fun-loving, kid-loving, good with little dogs and cats. Just a good dog who needed someone to love her, a kid to play with, a home for life.

I already had her vet and personal references -- we use the same vet, I know her in-laws. And of course, I'd done a "home visit" of sorts. Stealth reference check! She went home with them the next week.

Six years later and she's still that happy dog, and Dana still calls me up to thank me for bringing her "the most wonderful dog she has ever known."

Dana got to "save" a dog who had already been saved and who is immune to a "weak energy" human who doesn't always hold it together under stress -- nothing bothers her.

As for Asia, ANY dog person with the slightest modicum of discernment would have realized that this family was not a good match for that particular dog. ANYONE. An untrained teenage American bulldog needs a specific placement even if her hearing is perfect and she has not learned any dangerous bad habits.

That is not "looking for reasons to say no." That is doing right by the dog and the adopters. How many tries did it take before the shelter allowed Asia to get what she needed? (If they told the truth.) How much kennel space did she take up on a revolving door basis?

As for "What's the difference between a failed adoption and a stint in foster?"

Well, at least my organization expects the dog to become better after living with one of our foster volunteers. We actually screen them and support them so they can not only evaluate the dog for the best ultimate placement, but work on the issues that landed the beast in rescue in the first place, and provide basic training that makes the dog adoptable. The foster home's job is to provide structure and consistency that the dog may have never experienced in his life, or has missed during whatever disruption has preceded his transition into rescue.

That's a bit different from a string of unprepared ersatz owners who confuse the crap out of the pup and reinforce old bad habits while allowing him to discover new ones.



I wanted it to be noted that I never said that every home was a good fit for every dog.

But there is one extremely important part of the story that you didn't include:

Were Mike and Dana made aware of the dog's ankle-grabbing behavior before they took the dog home?

It sounds as if they were very surprised to find this out which means the shelter failed at letting them know the temperament/behaviors of the given dog. Would they have signed up for that dog if they knew? Who knows? But there is a huge difference between not telling owners what to expect and telling them, them deciding that's what they're up for, and declining them anyway. Sounds like if this family was aware of the particular challenge, they, themselves would have chosen a different dog (and in fact, made that decision after a short time with the dog).

Certainly there are reasons particular dogs won't work in particular homes -- but it just seems to me that rejecting adoption applications is becoming almost more commonplace than actually adopting animals out.



First, the more times a dog comes back from a failed adoption it's harder to adopt it out, and it's harder for the adoption to be successful.

Second, you assume that in the case of a failed adoption that the dog actually returns to the shelter.

I have seen more cases where it wasn't so- the dog with simply dumped on the road, picked up by AC or sent to a high-volume kill shelter.

I have also seen more than a few cases where in follow up phone calls the new owners said that "everything is fine", they never took advantage of free in-home dog training offered by the shelter, and then one night we get a SMS telling us to pick the dog up "NOW!" or they will dump it on the street that same night.

The shelter I volunteer for doesn't have a "strict checklist" that adopters need to pass- basically, the only "ground rules" are that the adopters will be legally adults, that the dogs will be S/N if not altered already by the shelter, will not be "yard dogs" (although I have seen one or two exceptions made on that), that the adopters pay the adoption fee (which is low, and include the S/N and all the vaccines the dog got) and that they agree to contact us if there are any problem or if they need to re-home the dog again.

Other than that, the decision is made based on an open-ended conversation with the adopters (we don't do house checks), trying to see that they are reasonable people that are committed to what it takes to have a dog, and to see which dog best matches them.

While this system does allow for adoptions that a strict check list would not, it also has the issue of inconsistency. We are 4-5 people in the shelter that do the screening, and while we do consult each other, I'm sure that there can be (and possibly have been) cases where if a person comes out with a dog or not depends on who that person talked to.

I must give kudos to the current manager of this shelter- since she came in the rate of adoptions went up considerably, and as far as I know the vast majority of them have been successful.

Since this is a no-kill shelter, obviously the kill rate at the shelter didn't change, this higher adoption rate has allowed the shelter to pull more animals out of some high kill rate animal pounds.

She has been very good in utilizing the community around- working with schools around, having teens come in to walk and play with the animals, taking dogs out to schools and educating children about dogs, regular offsite adoption events, working with dog trainers to work with the dogs in the shelter and with the adopters after adoption, working with a network of foster homes (I am one of them) etc.


Lord.... it is this kind of attitude that continues the killing of perfectly adoptable dogs that have the misfortune of being in a kill shelter. IMO, if the rescues REALLY want to help save lives, they need to get rid of their blanket adoption policies, and actually get those dogs into homes. The more dogs in rescue that are given homes, means the rescues can pull more dogs from the kill facilities. It is not brain surgery, it is common sense. I volunteer at the kill facility in KCMO, and everyday I see dogs go "urgent", who are perfectly adoptable, and loving. Some of these dogs are skin and bones- yet they still wag their tails, and appreciate the walks I take them on, and the treats I give them. While I do not think there is any excuse to killing a dog, unless the dog is suffering and near death, or extremely aggressive and a harm to society, ( granted, who decides that the dog is extremely aggressive and why could be largely debated) the rescues need to step up to the plate here. I have 2 large 60 plus pound dogs. I do not have a fenced in yard. I walk them, and they go to doggy day camp. They are social, well behaved, and happy. If I would have tried to adopt from a rescue, I would have been denied due to this.I adopted from the city's kill shelter instead, and love my former death row pups, who never deserved to almost die. People are not all evil, and everyone deserves a chance to own a dog. Rescues, and no kill shelters have to come together and work with the kill facilities if they want the killing to stop. The kill shelters need to do a lot more themselves, but this would be a step in the right direction.....


Several commenters aboved said that the Meet Your Match "color" program is used to select people by never allowing them to see dogs that do not match their color. While this may be the case at other shelters, that was not how the program was designed to be used and it is not the way it is used at Animal Allies the shelter that was mentioned in the above article. I volunteer to walk dogs at Animal Allies and know that there are only 2 dog areas - 1 for toy sized dogs and 1 or all the rest of the dogs. Visitors from the public are allowed to walk around and view all the dogs. While Animal Allies encourages people to select dogs within their color code they do not force them to do so and will not refuse to adopt an animal based on color. The animals are given one of three colors: purple, orange, or green. Purple dogs are quiet and easy to handle while green dogs are hyper and more difficult. Orange dogs are somewhere in between. The Meet Your Match color program is used to help people narrow down their choice of dogs because from an outsiders point of view it can be extremely difficult to select a dog based on just looking at it in the kennel. Once the dog is outside of the kennel it may behave entirely differently when it is away from the noise and chaos of other dogs. While it may be true that some shelters use the color program to force potential adopters to take certain dogs that was not the reason the program was designed and that is not how Animal Allies uses it.

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