While I know that we can't even think about the possibility of getting another dog until November, I keep sneaking peeks at various adoption places anyway. I cannot help but notice that there are significant differences between the ways the various types of shelters and rescues advertise their dogs.
1. County Animal Control, i.e. The Pound:
"Here are a whole bunch of dogs, with some intake notes from staff and volunteers. If you're 18 and breathing and have the fee, you can take one. (PLEASE GOD TAKE SIX WE DON'T WANT TO KILL THEM ANY MORE THAN YOU DO.")
2. Larger private shelters:
"Here is a fine selection of dogs, most of them with a cutesy short bio. Please answer these basic questions to prove you're a responsible pet owner, bring in any resident dogs you have for a meet and greet, and if all goes well, here's your dog, for like three hundred dollars more than the pound charges."
3. Smaller private shelters and breed-specific rescues:
"These dogs are our PRECIOUS CHILDREN. We don't give them to just anyone! Fill out this extensive questionnaire, agree to a home inspection, put down a non-refundable application fee, and maybe, just MAYBE, we will let you take one of our dogs on a six-month probational basis. What? There is DEBRIS on your back porch? DISQUALIFIED! Good day to you, sir! I SAID GOOD DAY!"
The =other= thing I've noticed about looking for a dog is that there are these accounts on Facebook and Twitter that post dogs which are coming to the end of the line at kill shelters, and try to get someone to adopt them. Invariably these accounts post something like "Snookums was cruelly abandoned by her family after years of selfless love! She's a perfect innocent angel, and she'll DIE if you don't adopt her RIGHT NOW! Yes, YOU!" If you click through to the actual notes from the shelter on Snookums, you find out that Snookums is a fear-aggressive resource guarder who eats the couch if left alone in the house, the reason her family turned her in is that she bit their kid's face, and she growls and snaps at all the shelter workers.
Many years ago, we'd adopted a cat from... I think it was the Humane Society. We had gotten a free vet check up at their clinic with the adoption, and we were taking advantage of it. There was a woman ahead of us who'd adopted a dog, some kind of chihuahua mix, I think, and she was explaining to the vet that it had bitten her. The vet suggested that she exchange it for a better-tempered dog, and she said she couldn't do that because then it would be euthanized. The vet gave her this exhausted look, and told her that he saw dozens of sweet, friendly, wonderful dogs get euthanized because there wasn't room to keep them. And he had no sympathy left for bad-tempered, bitey dogs that got rescued in their place out of misplaced sentiment.
That vet's words have always stuck with me. I consider myself a moderately experienced dog owner. I am no stranger to problem dogs. Sam always had to be muzzled at the vet, and I was always duly cautious when handling him myself, because when you poked him in a way he didn't want to be poked, he sometimes snapped. He never bit anyone, because I and my vet managed him so that he wouldn't have the chance. Sinji was fear aggressive with strange men – she was fine once she knew them, but she had to be introduced. We were always aware of their limitations, and what we needed to do to keep them and the people around them safe. I would never have let little kids pet Sam or Sinji the way I let them pet Bo, for example.
But given the choice, I would much rather have a dog who doesn't need special handling. Much less one needing extensive behavior modification, possibly involving expensive trainers. I would not want to take on a dog like Snookums, because I know that she would need far more training and supervision than I have the time, energy, or money to give her. The number of potential owners who could handle a dog like Snookums is, alas, much smaller than the number of dogs like Snookums. When rescuing dogs, perhaps it's better to pick your battles.
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