Really ready to rescue?
This post should probably start with an apology to the people I am about to offend but having annoyed more than one or two people over years involved in animal welfare work, I can honestly say that those who are really ready to take on a rescued animal will not be offended. For those who are considering it for all the wrong reasons.... read on at your own risk!
I have actually lost count of the number of fostered animals that have passed through my home over the decades, from bald cats and paranoid parrots, to ducks with no waterproofing, and several pregnant pooches.
After a break of several years, I have recently, had the privilege of adopting two more wonderful dogs, and fostering another five for varying amounts of time.
Our shortest term foster, a 24 hour transformation before heading to a wonderful new home
Involvement on the periphery of finding potential new owners for fosters has brought back a world of memories from the days when rescue and rehoming work was my full-time occupation.
It has been sad to realise that very little has changed in the intervening years: most people who want a rescue have caring hearts and good intentions but absolutely no idea of what it may really entail.
The majority will be keen to offer a great home (I am deliberately discounting those who think it is just a cheap way to get a dog) and may even have researched the breed.
The problem is that most will also have a 'saviour' mentality.... the feeling that whatever problem a dog may have, once we have decided we want it we always see ourselves as overcoming any issue with enough love, enough cuddles and treats, enough of ourselves to make everything okay in a dogs world. It is why we love dogs, and even experienced rescuers are guilty of falling into the trap of believing they are a better home than any other.
The image we all hold is of long walks with grateful canines, happy games, and fireside companionship, achieved because we had enough love to give.
Thats noŕmal. We all do it.
The reality is very different because the fact of taking a rescue dog is that every single one is going to arrive with issues.
All of them. Every one.
It may be that the dog is a perfect little angel with impeccable manners and behaviour, but it still arrives having lost all it has known and needing to adapt to a whole new way of life.
That is a big deal.
Time, patience and gentle care are needed to ensure the "perfect" dog makes a happy transition to a new life without becoming a nervous wreck.
But perfect little angels of behaviour, which just need time to settle, are very rare in the rescue world.
This little dog took over a year to gain enough trust to be stroked without fear and choose to sit happily with her wonderful new owner. She still needs a night light, after years shut in the dark
The vast majority of rescue dogs will have a known problem of some kind, ranging from the mildly worrying or destructive, to the potentially dangerous; from dogs who are poorly house-trained, to dogs who have never been inside a home.
In theory, a new owner will be aware of any issues when they take the dog and will be prepared for what lies ahead, although no rescue can be entirely sure that those surrending a dog have told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
The whispering "saviour" voice of potential new owners often drowns out many of the cautions, and we sometimes don't hear the truths we are told. Still, we ignore the warnings at our peril because to "just know we will cope" because we adore the idea of a particular dog and can love it better than anyone else, is to ignore reality.
Love alone is not enough.
So what happens next is all too frequent an occurence.
The "saviour" whisper falls silent, somewhere between the umpteenth pee on the carpet and the neighbours third complaint about incessant barking. The idea of using a behaviourist suddenly seems like a good idea.....and in some cases there is regret for telling that little white lie about just how long the dog would be left every day.
Thoughts of returning the dog start to creep in. Love was not supposed to be about constantly shampooing the carpet!
Or the pictured long happy walks have turned into a misery, because the dog lunges at everything it sees and will attack anything which moves if let off the lead. The rescue did talk about the dog being very reactive, but the message did not really stick and this is not turning out to be much fun. A call to say the adoption is not working out is the next thing on the jobs list.....because just love is not stopping the aggression.
Or the sad, abused and terrified dog that would be the recipient of so much love to make its world a happier place ....but still wants to sit under the table after two months, and never wants a cuddle. All it does is hide, and pee on the floor when the tumble drier goes on. Obviously it is rejecting all the kindness offered. This was not the dream of being a rescuer, and patience is starting to flag.
Not forgetting the dog who was left alone in a crate for 12 hours a day, slept in it at night for another 8, and has come into rescue because it is destructive. This was not going to be an issue at all because the dog won't be left alone in its new home......except that every trip to the supermarket with the dog along has resulted in torn chunks of car seats, so it was left at home but chewed the architrave when "only left for a couple of hours", and then destroyed the cupboard handles when shut in the kitchen....so, no, it is too late for the offered behaviourist because the house is wrecked and when can the dog be returned.
Perhaps worst are the dogs known to have bitten. The rescue were really thorough when they talked this through. The dog is known to be unreliable with children, but has been so very sweet natured since its adoption and has loved everybody, so how could biting your grandchild have been anticipated just because they came to stay overnight.
No, the dog was not shut away from the childre.
The really good rescue organisations make these scenarios more rare than routine, but only because they invest hours of time vetting potential new owners, and talking openly and honestly and forcefully about what new owners may face, in order to overcome that "saviour" complex.
As adopters, we need to listen. We need to understand that love alone cannot quickly overcome learned behaviours , and that unravelling canine issues and past experience can take months rather than days or weeks.
Our own expertise and experience may not be as helpful as a good dog behaviourists guidance, and we may need a great deal of patience to overcome past trauma or poor early training.
And we should not feel a sense of personal rejection if told we are not suitable for a particular dog (however cute!) but understand that we are just not the right home for its particular issues.
Above all, when we decide to look for a rescue dog, we need to silence the "I want" and "saviour" voices, and acknowledge the realities before deciding we are really ready.
For the dogs' sake.