Why “free to good home” can be a death sentence for your dog

This image, of a dog given way in Boston on Craigslist, is making the rounds on Facebook.

 This image is making the rounds on Facebook. I have a difficult time looking at things like this, partly because I’m sent these kinds of pictures daily. It can be overwhelming and, after time, desensitize you.

But for some reason, this one caught my eye. Maybe it’s because I’m sympathetic to the “need to rehome” situation. We were there a few years ago, when I brought home a little pup to foster, decided to keep her, and then started having major behavior problems with her. In short, new dog didn’t like other dogs, and since we had two dogs already things were getting more and more difficult to manage.

It’s a long story, complete with dog fights, blood and one dog dying from terminal cancer, but suffice it to say that it was difficult, expensive and emotional. And the general consensus was that if we could rehome the new dog, things would be fine.

This was a “code red” situation, but the reality is that a dog that has issues with other dogs can’t just be sent to any old home, and any dog lover with experience dealing with a special dog probably already has at least one dog.

Sure, we could have put the dog on Craigslist or in the paper with a “free to good home” pitch and solved the problem in our house. But I knew that would be her death sentence. Even if she went to a good home (and not a torture chamber, like the poor dog in the image above), it was only a matter of time before someone tried to pet her back end she snapped (at six months old she already had hip dysplasia), got tired of her barking (she’s reactive to noise and surprises, and has a lot to say about almost everything) or just got tired of catering to her issues with other dogs (as in, don’t take her any place where she might see another dog).

Our solution: Failulre is not an option. We worked with trainers – positive method trainers only. We worked to eliminate the triggers that would set off her reactive issues. We kept the dogs separated 24/7. We zigged and zagged and spent time, money and energy to make the situation work as best as it could for us and the dogs. We lost one dog to cancer; we adjusted our schedules; we reconfigured the house so the dogs would be happy but separated; we figured it out.

Two years later – yup, two years – we’ve got two great dogs. Yes, generally they are separated, but they do have some “treat and train” times together in the house. They can walk nicely together in their favorite (low key, low trigger) cemetery. The problem pup has no more problems at at this point than any other dog we’ve ever owned.

The reason I’m sharing this (abbreviated) story is because I want you to understand that what happened to the dog in this image above was preventable. If more dog owners started approaching their relationships with their pets with a “failure is not an option” mentality, and instead determined to understand their dog’s problems and then meet their needs, not only would we have happier dogs and less animal abuse, we’d be better people.

We live in a society of instant gratification; if we don’t get what we want right now or fix the problem yesterday, then we discard the problem and move on. But dogs (or cats or rabbits or hamsters or whatever pet is the fad du jour) are not disposable. They’re living, breathing, feeling creatures, not robots. When you take on the responsibility for an animal, you are responsible for it for life, regardless of its quirks or issues. Yes, you sacrifice – time, money, a clean house, energy, a few shoes. But in return you learn love, patience, understanding. You can become a better person because of a dog.

If you find yourself in a situation where you think you need to rehome a dog, I suggest that you don’t even consider that possibility until:

1) You’ve taken your dog a a vet to rule out medical issues fore behavioral problems

2) Worked wtih (not just called on the phone) a positive methods dog trainer

3) Considered ALL possible living situations. So your new apartment doesn’t take dogs? Find a new apartment

4) Contacted national groups, like Best Friends Animal Society, for tips on how to work with your situation so your dog can stay with your family.

If you still need to rehome, make sure you talk to trusted family and friends about taking your dog, and then call every single repuatable dog rescue in your area. Never, ever, ever put your dog on Craigslist or in the paper.

And I say all of this from experience. And I’m a better person for it.

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