I have been helping to rehabilitate a very troubled, but in many ways, delightful dog recently. Her owner is extremely experienced in fostering and owning the breed and has herself been through an unbelievable number of difficulties in recent years. In a short space of time following a family tragedy with continuing consequences, she lost her cat and both dogs. Eventually, she contacted a breed rescue and was informed of a young dog recently imported from Eire.
The dog had apparently been intended as a breeding bitch but hadn’t come into season and was due to be shot when the original rescue organisation in Ireland took her in. Unfortunately, she eventually came into season as she was about to be re-homed so her spay had to be delayed. She was extremely small for her breed and afraid of pretty much everything apart from other dogs. Her noise phobia extended to anything unfamiliar (thus pretty much everything), regardless of volume, but she was beginning to show marked signs of improvement on copious amounts of scullcap and valerian and Zylkene and a behavioural programme.
Last weekend, she was spayed and went home to recuperate. By 5am she was dead.
The post mortem showed that, although her spay went well, she had no clotting capability and had bled to death, probably as a result of a damage caused by a massive lungworm infestation. This vital little spark who had bravely made huge strides in her new home and who should have had a promising future with a loving, committed and experienced owner, was snuffed out overnight.
With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, a dumped dog with such a background was almost inevitably storing up more than behavioural problems. Research into lungworm infestation and clotting disorders is limited, but suggests that multiple problems may inhibit clotting, some of which may be due to in-breeding and limited gene pools. My poor friend has yet another disaster to cope with and, in a short space of time, is again without a companion and grieving for the loss of the dog with which she had bonded. There was a chance that her extreme fears might have meant that she would never have been safe off lead and there was no way of telling how well-adjusted she could have become, although her rate of progress was promising. Now we will never know.
If even the most experienced of owners, trying to undo the damage done by other people, can suffer like this, perhaps it’s time to seriously reconsider what we are doing when we seek to help such dogs – to ourselves as well as the dogs.
On paper, rescuing dogs seems like a good thing to do, and vast amounts of money are paid into multiple charities, large and small, to facilitate it. Whereas in the past, dogs mostly needed re-homing because owners became ill or died, that is no longer the case. Dogs are big business and the illicit trade in imported dogs, bred in appalling conditions is augmented by austerity measures which lead to minimal checks at ports and borders and the willingness of owners to commodify dogs and expect them to be delivered on demand in the same way as they might order a pizza. The best breeders and rescues screen dogs and people to try to ensure a good match but success is limited.
There is a thriving supply chain creating a demand and a market for dogs that is fuelled by the ease of buying and selling dogs online in which both buyer and seller – and the middle man created by rescue organisations – are perpetrating puppy farming, the exporting of “problem” dogs from abroad and the boomerang dog syndrome. No kill policies mean that rescues cannot keep up with the number of dumped and returned dogs and also find themselves stuck in complex legal situations if they end up with a dog proscribed under the DDA.
Quite simply, online sales make it easy to buy a dog, often for it to be dumped or die shortly after purchase, and rescues make it easy for people to dump dogs. This would be bad enough if it were just a domestic problem, but the importing of dogs from abroad, often wrenched from living in feral communities in rural areas and then expected to adjust to being a fireside dog in an urban household, maybe spending most of their time with a dog walker or boarded has helped to turn this into a canine crisis. They are of course facilitating the spread of diseases such as parvo virus and leishmaniasis that affect the whole canine population.
Look online and you can find sob story after sob story about how guilty people feel when they dump a dog – not usually guilty enough for them not to go out and immediately get another dog without any effort to learn from their mistakes. Just not the right dog for them say the rescues – try another, we have plenty. In the meantime, another boomerang dog gets returned to kennels and the odds of it being re-homed diminish. If owners were obliged to have a dog euthanised or knew that most dogs taken in would be euthanised after a set period of time as used to happen, the supply might very well recede of its own accord.
No more radical or cruel than facilitating puppy farming, illegal imports, other countries’ canine rejects or condemning dogs to a life of confinement in kennels interposed by a series of inadequate homes.
It is time that we took a clear-headed, unsentimental look at the canine supply chain and recognised the elements for what they are. No matter that the intentions of puppy farmers, rescues and purchasers may differ, the effects are the same. Every dog taken from rescue, or a puppy farm or imported from an unending supply abroad leaves room for another to fill the gap. Owners who take on dogs, damaged or otherwise, with little or no ability to look after their needs are perpetrating the misery for themselves as well as the dogs.
Heart-warming stories of rescue dogs finding their “forever home” make good headlines: euthanising of the vast over-supply of dogs does not.
It might just be better for the majority of dogs that will never find a home and that will suffer untold distress in the meantime though. It might also mean that owners are forced to think before they act and rescues can spend the required amount of time supporting dogs and owners so that they stay together.