Dog Doc Question 10: Should you always try to rescue a dog?
Who wouldn’t want an adorable dog like this? He is lovely and in the right home, can be a huge success. I have rescued dogs myself (twice, albeit from family members) so I know that it’s a great way to get a dog. But..
Sticking my neck out here, it’s not perfect. There are pros and cons to rescuing dogs. Let’s have a look at a few?
Pros for rescue dogs
- You are doing a great thing, saving a dog from a ‘horrible’ home.
- Sometimes dogs are in rescues for unavoidable reasons. People’s circumstances change – their job, their relationship, their home, their family. All of these can impact on someone’s ability to keep their dog. A dog may need a new home because the owner has died – clearly that is a good reason for a dog to go elsewhere.
- You can get the dog you want, straight away. If you look hard enough, most dog breeds can be found in rescue.
- You don’t need to have a puppy, so you don’t have to go through the challenges of house training, coping with chewing and everything else a puppy brings!
- It’s better to get an adult dog if you work, because it is easier to leave it.
Cons with rescue dogs
- Rescue centres have stringent vetting processes for people wanting a dog from them. Often they won’t allow a rescue dog to go to a family with young children, or to a home where the owners work full time. Or a home with cats.
- You don’t know what you are getting. Of course you can usually tell more or less what breed a dog is and how old it is, roughly, but you may not know much else. Rescue centres are great at providing a history of their dogs, but they may not have been told the full story. That’s because..
- People lie. That lovely young border collie, perfect for agility? Actually has a physical defect which is causing major pain and lameness. This might need surgery to correct, which is traumatic for you and the dog, not to mention expensive. You will then need months of rehabilitation and training to restore fitness and confidence.
- Dogs have issues. Dogs that have been mistreated are fearful, which in turn leads to aggression. This can be with other dogs, or with people, or just with children. Or with cars, or bikes, or loud noises…. All of these issues can be worked through and progress can be made, but dogs with issues can be irreparably damaged and it may take the patience of a saint to deal with these.
- Poor behaviour. Dogs belonging to ‘dog’ people who are familiar with dogs and have owned them for many years are not placed into rescues. Dogs in rescues have often belonged to people who don’t know what they are doing. Worse still, they don’t care about their dog enough to train it and manage it well. So you are taking on those problems and have to undo them before you can start training effectively. This might be something as simple as persistent barking (very persistent barking!) But re-training this behaviour can take years.
- Easy-going, confident, well-behaved dogs are not placed into rescue centres.
It’s difficult isn’t it? You want to do the right thing and feel that because it’s not the dog’s fault (it’s almost never the dog’s fault) they should be given a second chance. Still, there are a few keys points you must also bear in mind:
- If you rescue a dog, you are condoning its abandonment in the first place. You are effectively saying “It’s OK if you can’t be bothered to take care of your dog properly, I will do it for you.” You are accepting the fact that we live in a disposable society where people demand instant gratification and don’t care about the consequences. As long as rescue centres exist, people will think they can just get rid of their dogs.
- Yes of course I know that people get rid of dogs anyway and that rescue centres are run by saints and heroes. Yes I know that people make honest mistakes and circumstances change. However, in my experience, people who make honest mistakes are big enough to own up to them and do something positive about it (returning their dog to its breeder, for example) and people whose circumstances change work as hard as they can to find a solution from amongst friends and family.
- If ALL dogs were bought from responsible breeders, who were supported by a legislative body that monitored breeding and the welfare of dogs, then people would expect to wait for a suitable dog. Guidance would be given to buyers about the right kind of dog for their lifestyle. Breeders would provide good quality dogs of appropriate temperament and health, saving the owners money and psychological anguish.
The reason dogs are NOT all bought from responsible breeders is that demand far outstrips supply. Responsible breeders cannot breed sufficient dogs, without scaling up their breeding into a commercial enterprise which becomes, yes you’ve guessed it, a puppy farm.
What is the solution?
In my view, the solution is to education the public about dog ownership. Dogs are not toys. They might be soft, fluffy and cuddly, or have cute faces, but they are LIVING BEINGS. They have thoughts, emotions, feelings and opinions. They are sentient creatures, who deserve a good life. This means that if you let a dog into your life, you are responsible for its care. You will need to invest time and energy into managing it and caring for it.
“A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”
My opinion is that we can teach people to be more critical about the place they get their dog from. If they know what a great dog looks and behaves like, then there is a possibility that they won’t be satisfied with a dog that flinches every time you go near it, or barks constantly.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that this will happen naturally. We will probably need the ongoing support of that legislative body I mentioned, the good old Kennel Club. But I believe that we can do better for our dogs.
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