Sunday, January 09, 2011

Responsibility and Failure

I've been thinking a lot about one of the main phrases of dog training/management that I believe in and preach: "set your dog up for success." It is kind of a universal one that applies from simple things like potty training- dog owners can use a crate to prevent un-trained dogs from having access to areas that they might pee in to help potty train- to more complicated behavioral issues- working under threshold allows dogs to build up tolerance/confidence and overcome their issues at their own pace. It also applies in general dog ownership, and is part of responsible ownership. I hear a lot of excuses that involve blaming some other human or blaming the dog, and it results in the dog failing. Really, it's the humans failing the dogs, but the dogs are the ones that suffer. Sure, the human suffers- they might lose their dog or have to pay fees, but at the end of the day, the dog suffers.

One of the criticisms leveled at animal shelters by No-Kill advocates is that they are too quick to blame animal owners for needless killing. There is, they argue, no pet overpopulation problem. There are homes for all the companion animals, and shelters are responsible for killing them. "Excess" animals are a myth.

This may be, but I'd like to qualify "homes" for companion animals as "responsible" homes, ones that will set their pets up for success. I can already here the arguments, and I'm not going to address them right now. There are a couple: one is that you can't assume a home is a bad home, people deserve the benefit of the doubt. Another is that a home is better than a shelter, or a death sentence. Another is that shelters and animal welfare people in general bear the onus of educating pet owners. I agree with some of this. My issue is that animals are the ones who get the short end of the irresponsible owners, and they DO end up in shelters, and they DO end up being euthanized. No-Kill believer or not, it's not ok to pass the buck off the pet owner and onto the animal shelter.

Some examples that have been bugging me lately. A few months ago, some people left their dogs with some other people. There was an incident between the dogs, resulting in dead dogs. The visiting dogs were impounded due to the the owners of the property calling the police. The dog visiting dog owners knew where their dogs were from the day they were impounded. They did not come in to see their dogs or to ask about reclaiming them. They did not come in until I called them over a week later. One dog owner came in promptly after I gave her instructions. She paid the fees, found an alternative housing situation for her dog, and redeemed her dog a few days later. The other dog was still sitting a month later. The owner never came to visit his dog and was never proactive about coming in or even calling to see about reclaiming his dog. When he was called about redeeming it, he acted like redeeming the dog was a priority, but would fail to come in and meet his deadline. The dog paid the price for the man's irresponsible actions: leaving his dog in an inappropriate place and then failing to get him out of the shelter when given ample opportunity. He did not set his dog up for success.

Another thing that comes up frequently is dog owners threatening, or actually acting on, to surrender their dogs rather than correct a licensing fix-it ticket. We are required to issue these tickets when we're at any kind of call and the dog owner does not have a city required dog license. Say what you will about dog licensing, but it's a pretty basic thing: it proves to the city that you own your dog, that he's current on rabies vaccinations, and where I live, that he has a microchip. Where I work, it's substantially cheaper to license your dog if he's neutered than if he's intact, but it's not a requirement. When I issue fix-it tickets and the dog is intact, I always explain this and offer locations where the neutering can be done cheaply. The ticket gives ample time to get the dog neutered prior to fixing the ticket. I have had people practically throw the dog at me in the field because they either don't want a fix-it ticket, or don't want to license their dog. Many people surrender their dog in the shelter because they have waited well over the limit for fixing the ticket and now don't have to money to pay BOTH the license fee and the fee that was assessed for not getting a minor fix-it infraction ticket fixed. Really. This is basic dog ownership. And it fails the dog, because it ends up putting him into the system. I don't think we should stop requiring dog licenses.

Then there's the dogs that get out frequently. Dogs get out, it happens. It doesn't happen because they're bad. It happens because their humans fail to confine them adequately. And when they get out, they do things that dogs do. They might kill cats or injure other dogs, they might snap at people or bite people. I had a man argue with me that his dog who was picked up at a school after snapping and growling at multiple teachers and children would never do such a thing because he was a docile breed. He would not take no for an answer. At least he redeemed his dog. I have had many people surrender their dogs because they will not fix their fences, or because their dogs have killed animals when they get out of their fences, for the second or third time. I do not expect everyone to keep their dog indoors (in my recent post I talked about a dog who lived in a dog run. I didn't like that situation, but it is legal, and what many people consider appropriate for dogs.), but if your dog lives outdoors, I expect him to be appropriately contained. This will be different for each dog, but it needs to be appropriate for your dog. Wrought iron fence, which is the fence of choice both where I live and where I work, may work for a giant dog with a giant head who can neither get through the fence, over the fence, or put his head through the fence to bite anyone. (Note: this is true of exactly 2 dogs in the entire world.) It is not, however, appropriate for the 8 million small dogs running the streets who can and do slip right through wrought iron thereby becoming food for larger dogs, roadkill, ankle-biters, and baby momma's and daddy's all day, every day. Set your dog up for success.

We fail our pets every day. It's so easy, at least it seems to be, to blame other people for our failings:

"Someone stole my dog out of my [unfenced] front yard!" [Or maybe even my fenced yard.]

"They're going to kill my dog! [because he got out and killed a dog and I'm refusing to pay them!]"

"They're going to kill my dog! [because he got out and wasn't licensed so he needs to be neutered, so I'm surrendering him and he's never been socialized and can't be touched.]"

"My puppies all died, WTF?" [I never vaccinated them, or the mom.]"

"My landlord was supposed to fix my fence six years ago. He won't do shit. [and even though my dog has gotten out a bunch of times since then, I didn't buy any plywood for 20 bucks and make a temporary but sturdy fix.]"

etc, etc, etc. I could go on. I believe in people, and I believe in the benefit of the doubt, and I believe in education. I do all of this, daily. I also believe in responsibility, and think it starts with setting our animals and ourselves up for success. A lot of these are quick fixes, that just take a little thinking- what would work best for the dog? How can I keep my dog? How can I keep my dog safe? What do dogs do? What does my dog do? How can I prevent this from becoming a problem, or a situation where he suffers, and I suffer financially, or worse, from losing my pet?

And yes, I was lying awake this morning, thinking about this. The dorkiness continues. More nice photos, later.


Jennie said...

True story. I think many of the no-kill advocates who have an online presence are unwilling or unable to compromise or see that there might be another side to the story. I dislike this, as it helps no one. Shelters aren't the only ones to blame, the public isn't solely to blame. Sometimes shelters do stupid things and have bad policies, but a lot of people are guilty of being irresponsible.

I also often see no-kill advocates failing to recognize that while there are more homes who claim to want to adopt a pet than there are pets in shelters, at least some of these homes do not want to adopt the dogs they typically see in shelters, and there are some dogs who simply will not do well in a typical pet home. What do we do with those dogs?

I would qualify myself as a believer in no kill. I agree
with education, with second chances, with holding shelters responsible, but I also think that we can't let people off the hook that easily.

Joni said...

Good article. We all could do better for our pets and with each other. There are people that do a lot of things right by their dog and there are people that do not. Wish we lived in the land of perfect, but we have a LONG way to go.

I hope that a lot of people read this and ask themselves about what actions they could take that would be in the best interest of their pets.

I think we will always have people that do stupid things that put their dog in danger. But it would be nice if most of the shelters would make some changes and put a little more effort at giving these poor dogs a change at finding a new home with a person that works a little harder to keep them safe.