The other day I was at a business networking event and I ran into a woman who volunteers in dog rescue in addition to owning her own business. She told me that she had read my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner and also bought a copy for the rescue organization with which she volunteers. I was delighted to hear this and we chatted for a bit.
As we discussed my book and dogs in general she mentioned that Chapter 4: Are You Ready for a Dog? REALLY Ready? was very intense and might actually scare away some potential first time dog owners. She was not being critical, just sharing her thoughts on the book. For the last several days I have thought about her input and wondered if I should have toned down that chapter a bit. I mean, I am from a long line of outspoken women from New Jersey, but I also do not want to risk any dog not having a home because I scared the owner away from life with a dog with my book!
Was the chapter too intense? Was it too much to talk about the hair, the mud, the slobber, the gross things in which they scent themselves, the dead animals that some bring to you like children bringing home a trophy? Was it too much to talk about house training, obedience training, to share that my dog care bill for a 10 day vacation is $500 and that’s on the inexpensive side in our area? Was it too much to share the reality of having a senior citizen dog, that when we had three senior dogs at once my entire paycheck seemed to go straight to the vet every payday and we had a drawer full of medicines like a canine nursing home? Is it fair to tell them all of the harsh realities that can happen with dog ownership to try to desperately avoid the owner surrenders that happen as a result of unprepared humans getting dogs on a whim?
I mean, of course I follow-up those negative things, the sharing all of those downsides, with the beautiful relationship that we create with our dogs, the miracle of having a best friend and constant companion who is more loyal than any human could ever be. I share that I would die of a broken heart without a wet nose waking me at 6 a.m. every single day of my life, without Labrador hair to vacuum every few days, without a 70 pound Tinkerbell stretched across my lap daily.
I was not offended by her critique; getting feedback is part of being a writer and putting your ideas and words out for the world to consume. When you put strong opinions out into the world, you must have a thick skin to go along with those opinions. But I really, honestly worried that perhaps I had been too honest.
Then I came across a post about a German Shepherd puppy on Facebook from another blogger who shared that the reason of the owner surrender was that “they just didn’t want her anymore.” Now, we all know that everything you read online or on Facebook is subject to being completely wrong or made up, but the reality is that I have no reason to doubt that blogger because this is a reason dogs are surrendered all the time.
For some dogs their crime against humanity (insert frustrated sarcastic tone) is that they shed too much, that they got too big, they had too much energy, that they ate too much. One poor dog pooped too much for his owner and ended up being abandoned at a shelter, wondering when his family was ever coming back.
I don’t know what these owners expected; if they wanted a big stuffed animal, they have realistic versions at Amazon that won’t eat, shed or poop and are perfectly huggable. And that is not a joke, I would recommend a snuggly fake dog to them. Any living breathing creature is going to do these things. We humans do, too! My husband snaking the drain of our shower every few months is testament to how much we shed! It is absurd to adopt a dog and think that she will not shed, poop, grow, or want to play and release their energy.
For the dogs who get adopted into happy homes, their owner surrender was probably the best thing that could have happened to them when it is all said and done. For the ones who are euthanized, though, the people who gave up on them for absurd and preventable reasons killed them as if they had murdered them in cold blood. Unfortunately when someone surrenders a dog to a shelter, there is no way to guarantee which fate the dog is going to meet, the happy ending or the tragic loss of life.
I shared the post about the German Shepherd puppy on my personal Facebook page and a friend of mine who I met while volunteering at a rescue group commented immediately. She works at an animal clinic and she replied, “Your chapter is 100% spot on and I couldn’t agree more. Believe me, I’ve actually wanted to throw your book at people and tell them to read it. Around March/April I start getting calls at the clinic asking if I know a rescue that will take their puppy because they had no idea.”
When you follow as many dog related organizations, businesses and dog lover friends as I do, you end up seeing horrific stories about animal abuse. Sometimes I cannot bear to read another and I have to take a break. In fact that was one of the most beautiful things about watching April the Giraffe for all of those weeks; the wait for “Baby G” was a nice respite from political news and tragic stories that make up social media and the regular TV news.
It is extremely important to point out that there are sometimes valid reasons to re-home a dog. My late Babe came to me because her owners, who were not extremely old when they got her, both suddenly declined in health at the same time with extremely serious and debilitating issues. In the blink of an eye they went from recently retired and looking forward to ten or twelve more years with their beloved young Lab to being completely unable to care for her. I am in no way shape or form talking about situations like that, or extremely dire financial circumstances or life threatening allergies in a child. I am not commenting on situations in under-served communities with extreme poverty. My disgust is directed at people who simply didn’t bother to prepare themselves or look for a solution.
There is a solution to a dog who has “too much energy” in the form of training, walks, exercise, dog games, interaction with the humans.
There is a solution to shedding, in the form of frequent brushing, good quality food, regular grooming appointments.
There is a solution to “being too big” at least in terms of what I can imagine would be the issue with size, like leash pulling or accidentally knocking things and people over, again in the form of obedience training, walks, exercise, dog games, structured playtime. When trained correctly a huge dog should be as easy to walk as a small dog. A big tired dog will curl up to nap just like a small tired dog after a mentally and physically engaging activity with his owner.
There is even a solution to pooping too much, in the form of finding a better quality food. If you feed a dog a 600 Kcal/cup food you feed half the amount as if you feed your dog a 300 Kcal/cup, which equals less poop with which to contend.
At the end of the day, I stand by Chapter 4 of my book. Someone who wants a dog badly enough is going to say “Ok, dog hair, no problem, vet bills, I’m signing up for pet insurance, puking at 3 am, geez I hope not, but I’ve got my cleaning supplies!” I can only hope that someone who is iffy and perhaps at risk of making a decision about a dog on a whim will read those things and think, “Whoa, I had no idea it was like that!” and either prepare themselves or decide not to get a dog at that time.
If I can help even one dog be saved from going through an owner surrender, then it will make a difference for that dog and for the one who will be saved by the opening at the shelter that the first one did not fill. As I write in my book,
“I had to lay out the negatives, every last one of them. It would be unfair to dogs to do any less. Those cute puppy dog eyes are a blessing and a curse for many dogs, like the dogs who are bought on a whim because the owner is caught up in the cuteness and novelty of a dog, but not ready for the reality of one and then casts the dog aside without any regard for the fact that it is a living, breathing feeling creature whose heart will break once he or she is abandoned in a shelter to fend for him or herself.
If you are ok with the negatives, if you go into dog ownership prepared for all of them, the cost, the mess, the inconvenience, the responsibility of another life, then you are ready for the positives, because when you are ready to be a dog owner the positives make up for any amount of dog hair and early morning potty breaks.”