my biggest fear in rescue is…

Posted: June 30, 2010 at 7:31 pm

innocently stupid people…i don’t mean people like me who are smart enough to know they are stupid sometimes…i mean the ones who honestly haven’t ever a clue.

this would be the home that was offered today to sammy, our tiny 14 yr old, 5 pound, toothless minpin with attitude. this home also happened to already include a 150 pound unneutered mastiff dog…….even if you ignore all the ethics surrounding placing animals in homes who do not fix their animals….why would anyone think this was the right home for a 5 pound incredibly vulnerable dog?

 
well of course they WANTED me … I am so cute!
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and this also would be the folks who visit here and think every animal they see is totally depressed and unhappy because they do not have a real home. some of these guys do better here and are happier here than they ever were in a home.  this would be because they do not have to fit into any humans perceptions or warm and fuzzy fantasies..they not only get to be who they are BUT they also get to be really seen for who they are…..or it could be because they are NEVER alone for more than a couple of hours a day…or it could be because we feed them tons of cookies every day….or it even could be like in larry’s or al’s cases, that they just happen to really like living here for some reason….to each his own, they are actually allowed to choose how they want to live not how we think they should want to live..

it is a sad fact of life that some humans can read and understand  animals and some people can not. the lack of ability in this regard can end up being quite dangerous for the animals…. ESPECIALLY homeless ones in shelters.

did i ever tell you the story of bear? bear was a young pitty cross in a shelter dealing with a huge outbreak of ringworm. bear was affected quite badly and it was spreading outward to everywhere, more and more animals affected every day….and it is sad to say that the spread was happening because of the volunteers not following the proceedures to keep it contained.

good and kind hearted people who did not really understand that it was critical between petting or touching every single animal, stop and thoroughly to wash their hands.

anyway…bear had some major dog aggression issues  going on when he was out for walks with the volunteers. they did not tell the staff this because with bear ringworm affected , they were afraid he would be euthanized with this second strike against him. so they called out here and told me about this absolutely lovely sweet 2 year old boy who might be put down because of ringworm. i called the staff and asked if he could come here as a foster dog until his ringworm cleared and then go back to the shelter for adoption and they agreed.

another of my very big mistakes.

bear jumped wally, an old stubborn bear hunting hound dog i had who happened to be dying of liver cancer…2 long term shelter staff and myself could not break up the fight..mostly because neither one of the dogs was backing down. i finally threw bear to the ground and straddled across his body while holding his neck pinned to the floor while the staff fought to pull off old wally who was totally enraged that this young upstart dared to jump him.

wally died 2 weeks later…his multiple bite wounds became infected and because of his liver cancer the antibiotics would not work to clear the infection…he suddenly went septic and we had to euthanize.

bear died too…the staff wanted to take him back to the shelter immediately to euthanize..i promised to take him myself into my vet for euthanization instead….(i did not want him to have to die at the shelter)

two dogs died because bear was totally and completely misunderstood. had any of us known about his aggression issues, maybe a more appropriate foster home could have been found and both wally and bear could have lived a while longer.

and then there is bibi…

bibi had an offer to go to another person who does rescue when i was so upset in the beginning about him…and again this was a totally nice and kind person who did not have a clue to what she was getting into with him. i said no..bibi needed to stay here and for lots of different reasons, and i know this was the right decision for him because i actually do understand bibi quite well…i keep him safe because i can read all of his emotional nuances like a book (i have invested and spent the time getting to know and love the REAL him well not some illusion that feels good)

i have rules surrounding bibi…and one of them is…he does not step out beyond the gate without me….that keeps him safe. i have rules for many of the other dogs too to keep them safe and well.

I am coming around … feeling confident, safe, and loved
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people think all homeless dogs are the same…sad and sweet animals who just need a break. this is only partially true..they may need a break but they need the right break cuz the wrong one can be devastating to them too…being nice to them and loving them does not fix or address all the problems/issues…if it did..phoebe after 5 years of kindness and understanding would be the perfect dog…what she is in fact is a mostly well managed dog.

Oh yeah, well I think I manage YOU well so there …
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i don’t think you can teach people to really see and understand dogs if it is not something natural to them..and it has nothing to do with how much you love or care about animals..it has to do with the ability to really “see” them and most people just can’t.

people see a very stressed dog and think because their mouth is open and they are gently panting…that they are smiling. people see a tail wag and think that means for sure they are friendly, people see a dog in a shelter and assume he must be unhappy because he just rolled over with his ears down (for some dogs this is in fact a very effective positive attention ploy, it has worked a hundred times before.)

anyway…when folks think a shelter dog must be sad…what do they say and do?

“oh, you poor old thing” and their body language says to the dog…oh, my goodness there is something wrong here with you… (like…this is just so utterly sad and horrible that you are without a home.)

and the dog who reads body language like a superstar, thinks…’oh, there is something wrong here with me because this human says that there is” and the dog suddenly feels upset and sad because that is what the human just told him he should feel.

take the same dog and joke and goof with him and tell him you are happy…and gee whiz the dog feels his own happiness…every thing is a-ok in his world because the humans just said so.

humans do not understand not only what dogs are doing and saying but also what we say right back to them too.

and there in lies the danger..misunderstand the very worst thing and something really bad can happen.

gawd…do you know how many well meaning folk  take their brand new rescue dog for a walk in the park? that is just insanity…keep them safely at home til they settle and bond with you….dogs in the midst of great change can and do panic and run away….just like bibi did to us a few weeks ago. folks do not understand why i will not let him go for walks…it is not safe. he can run on our well fenced property and get his exercise around the pond which is familiar and predictable and feels comfortable for him…it is way more free and fun for him than a walk on leash anyway.

 
i know people think i am too anal about the dogs and i worry too much about what could happen but then i actually know what can happen because noy only have i seen it over the years but come on here… i LIVE with these animals, of course i know them better than anyone else.

i have seen everything from a panicked dog in a new home, bolting out an open door and running  til a car smoked her 4 blocks from home….to a dog running in fear from her very own family… uncatchable by anyone for 3 solid weeks because a visiting relative decided to take her for a ride to the store..oh gee that was a fun outing for the dog…(haha..i finally outsmarted and caught that dog but it took a very long time and a ton of failures before i got my hands on her…and then when her actual owners came to pick her up…sigh…i realized they were totally dog stupid but in a nice way…i never would have placed a rescued and sketchy dog with them..they were way out of their element with her…they needed a calm lassie who could effectively problem solve not ditsy dog who sometimes lost her brain.)

at best humans can mistakenly tell a dog who is coping….something is sad here and his coping was a mistake…. or a settled dog put in the wrong circumstance can get totally stressed, or a arthritic dog taken for too long a walk could suddenly be in unredeemable and life ending pain, or a cardiac dog could have a heart attack and never fully recover their strength…at worst a dog gets loose or hurt or dies….and all these things can happen simply because a human did not understand that each dog is a person..not a human person…but an individual dog person and they each have specific and individual needs and personalities and medical/behavioral or emotional  issues.

 our job is not to meet OUR needs thru our interactions with them while providing them shelter and care but to meet THEIR needs and that means being able to understand what those incredibly unique needs are….not make them up or sometimes ignore them in our heads because it does not fit with what we think they should want.

i have fired more than my fair share of really nice and kind  folks who put the animals at physical or emotional risk because not only could they not learn to read the animals effectively but they also refused to listen too.

that is a really dangerous combo in rescue.

2 Comments on "my biggest fear in rescue is…"

  • Mauro Salles says

    This is a brilliant summary:

    “i don’t think you can teach people to really see and understand dogs if it is not something natural to them..and it has nothing to do with how much you love or care about animals..it has to do with the ability to really “see” them and most people just can’t.”

  • Colleen Donnelly says

    Soooo very true about how the animals read us. If we think *oh you poor poor dog*, they will react to that emotion we give off.

    They read us very very well. Better than we read ourselves I think.

    And yup, this is definitely Al’s home. He would stress and crumble if he left here….no matter how well intentioned and great doggy home it would be. That dog smiles ALL day long, tripping along doing his own thing, or doing it with a crowd. He’s more than happy, he’s delighted with his life!!

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