Thursday, January 15, 2009

American beauty

I believe Whitney is from the States. She's a classic beauty with great temperament, knows basic commands and is highly trainable.

She'll be easy to adopt out.

Here's a hypothetical question - and it is hypothetical. Let's say there are two families who want her. One family is two working parents with three young kids and lives in downtown Toronto. The parents are looking for a dog because they grew up with dogs and have always wanted one as part of their family but haven't had the time until now. They're still quite busy with the kids but know that now would be a great time to introduce a canine member to the household. It'll teach the kids love, respect and responsibility for animals. Of course, they'd like a dog that is child friendly, affectionate, etc. but most of all, "easy" because they'll be strained for time if they have to train out any problems the dog may have.

The other family who would like to adopt Whitney, is a recently retired couple with no kids and lives up north on a few acres of wooded land. They've had dogs all their lives. Their last dog died a year ago and they miss him terribly and would love to have another fill the empty dog beds in their home. They've got loads of property for the dog to run around in and will be able to spend pretty much 24/7 with the dog. The retired couple could very well be a thirty years older version of the first couple.

When an adoption is granted, ideally it's done for the individual dog's well being but it's also done for the collective well being of all the dogs in the facility present and future. So, for example, a big untrained highly exuberant dog wouldn't be adopted out to a dog inexperienced person with kids because that's just setting everyone up for failure and that gives the facility a bad name ("Oh, they only adopt out bad dogs.") and decreases the adoption possibilities for future dogs.

On the other hand, shouldn't good owners be rewarded with "easy" dogs - if that's what they're looking for? And isn't there some kind of karmic justice that a naturally well behaved, loving dog should be sent into a home where it can be loved with undivided attention by experienced and stable owners?

Where then should Whitney be sent in this hypothetical situation? Into a household where she will in all likelihood be loved but also somewhat abused by noisy kids, lack of attention and a life of relatively short walks along congested city streets and uncertain dog parks but also where, in this household, she may foster the next generation of responsible and caring dog owners?

Or should Whitney be sent up north to live in dog luxury with the retired couple who will dote on her and take her for long jaunts in the woods and countryside, free from traffic, fences and leashes because that is her just reward for being an "easy" dog?

In real life, the situation may be even more extreme. There are potential adopters out there who are borderline failures but may do okay with a dog like Whitney. Does she deserve to be given to a borderline adopter so that the next dog, a more "difficult" dog, can find a home with someone who is more experienced? In other words, should incompetent, inexperienced owners be rewarded with easier, much more in demand dogs or should the easier, much more in demand dogs be rewarded with the best owners?

I know the practice is to match the more difficult dogs with the more experienced owners. This gets more dogs out the door and that means more lives are saved. Still, it would be a shame if Whitney ended up with some minimally functioning knucklehead simply because she's the only dog well behaved enough for him to just barely be able to handle.


Lynda said...

You make a good argument for both sides of the story, Fred.

I was with you big time on the retired couple and then I switched over to the family. Now I'm sitting on the hypothetical fence.

I do not envy the job that Animal Services has.

p.s. Hypothetically, Whitney should go and live in the country. Just my humble opinion.

spotted dog farm said...

Really tough and thought-provoking question, Fred, especially since (as you say) these types of decisions affect how a facility is perceived by the public and future adoptions. My 2 cents is that it should depend less on the applicant and more on the type of facility doing the adopting.

In a pound where animals are euthanized for space, I think that dogs should be adopted to the first reasonably competent applicant. Now for an "easy" dog, or a highly sought-after dog, like a tiny purebred, perhaps the facility can get a little more picky, but devoting resources to making the best choice takes up space and time that can save other lives.

Also, respecting the timing of who attempted to adopt the dog first is usually good PR. People get very hung up on whether they were "first in line" for a dog, and rejecting the first applicant for an only arguably more qualified second applicant usually pisses people off beyond belief. How is this kind of thing handled at TAS?

I've also found that adoption counselors regularly impose their own biases on applicants. I've known people in that position who negatively reviewed any applicant with children, or who did not want their dogs to sleep in the bed with them, even people with dreadlocks, in mixed-race marriages, etc. etc. One counselor always asked anyone who looked vaguely Asian if they were going to eat the dog they wanted to adopt.

Who is to say what lifestyle choices actually impact pet ownership positively or negatively? We know so little, really, and it's so easy to assume that a dog will not get much time in a young family, or kids will abuse a dog. Perhaps the older couple is retired from serial killing? Or more likely, so old school that they "teach" through physical correction. Who's to say? We just have to do the best we can in terms of stewarding animals into homes.

And doing the best we can in this situation, assuming that euthanasia is not a likely outcome for any "adoptable" animal, I think would mean adopting Whitney to the retired couple. It *seems* to be a better match for the dog. And surely the facility can identify another suitable companion for the younger family.

Fred said...

You've definitely worked with the best.

"I've also found that adoption counselors regularly impose their own biases on applicants. I've known people in that position who negatively reviewed any applicant with children, or who did not want their dogs to sleep in the bed with them, even people with dreadlocks, in mixed-race marriages, etc. etc. One counselor always asked anyone who looked vaguely Asian if they were going to eat the dog they wanted to adopt"

I'm laughing only because it hurts. I'm vaguely Asian and I can say for a fact that every Asian I know keeps at least 2 if not 3 complete dog carcasses in their freezers at all times in case hordes of their relatives show up and want to have a banquet.

I don't think the people who do adoptions at TAS are as colourful in their opinions but I'm sure everyone has their personal preferences. The official policy is first come first served but even within official policy, there is leeway, as you know.

One concern is always with puppies. So many people want the puppies and doing a strict first come first served protocol may not work as some of those people are impulse adopting and don't know what they're getting into. It's disheartening when a puppy gets adopted out and then returned months later, wild, big and unwanted.

I usually take those ones home and make a broth.

Caveat said...

What I would do is

a) see which one the dog likes best after an hour or so with them, including a walk


b) maybe hold a lottery if there are more than one or two qualified.

While it sounds great to send a dog to the country, dogs in rural situations often live shorter and less safe lives than urban dogs.

Country dogs can have the advantage of relative quiet, more freedom and in this case, people around all the time. They can also get lost, shot by farmers, injured by predators, cars, poisons, etc if they aren't supervised.

Urban dogs get super-socialized to noise, different sights and sounds, mostly leash walks. They are also visible to more people so if they look unwell it will be noticed.

Children can be easily trained to handle animals properly and it must be a rule that the dog is not a toy, a punching bag, a hobby horse, etc. He's a dog, with feelings and teeth. If they are too young to get that, they're too young for a dog - especially a strange adult dog.

A dog one person thinks is easy might drive someone else nuts. We've all heard of supposed problem dogs who are fine in the right hands and we've heard the opposite too.

An inexperienced person can do fine with a dog. We all got our first dogs as adults once and most of us probably adopted them from shelters willing to take a chance on us. I'm glad I got my first adopted dog from the SPCA - and my second and my third, who I still have 12 years later.

Regarding the latter, my Wiener dog, we were his fourth home at age two. He drove people nuckin' futz, they couldn't control him. Funny, he and I hit it off immediately (a fistful of ham always works) and have got along fine all these years. Two peas in a pod, as it were.


Fred said...

Yes, even inexperienced dog owners deserve a chance, no question, and better they get that opportunity from a rescue or shelter than a pet store.

I suppose this question is for the most part just splitting hairs as I think/I hope 99% of the dogs TAS adopts out do just fine. At least TAS doesn't hear about them anymore.

But I do think about the failures - maybe too much - like just last week when I heard about the funny little terrier who got euthanized by its owner within a few months after leaving TAS because it nipped when it played.

That's a rarity, of course, and when handing over a dog to its new owner, one has to see what's best in people and not try to pick out every possible fault but I know from talking to the TAS staff there are some days when things look pretty gray and grim.

Whitney, however, won't have to worry herself about any of that because she's already been adopted out to a vet in training (at the clinic I bring my dogs to, coincidentally). Whitney's brown furred brother, who came up from the States at the same time, has also been adopted out. He's probably already nicely settled into his new mansion up north.

Mutts Up said...

Vets should not kill dogs or cats just because their owner wants to . They should have to recommend alternatives and only euthanize anemals that meet the true meaning.

Steve Bartlett said...

Two working parents with three small children should adopt a plastic plant, not a dog.

I was a single working person, totally inexperienced with dogs, when I got a puppy three years ago. She took far more of my time than I imagined; luckily I had the time available and she's turned into a great little dog.

That gave me the confidence to adopt a "difficult" dog about 18 months ago from a private rescue group; a black Lab mix who had been neglected and abused and was very aggressive with strangers (especially men). For some unknown reason he latched onto me straight away, but I was warned to keep him on leash and possibly muzzled around other people. From day one he was great with kids, small dogs (including my #1) and cats (I foster for a cat rescue group) but he did have "issues" with any adult who tried to pet him.

It took me six months to socialize him to the point where he would accept a strange adult's touch. He's still shy around strangers, especially if he's in an unfamiliar setting, but he no longer shows any aggressive reactions.

Was I the "best home" for this once-difficult dog? I'm not sure. I knew I had the patience and desire to teach him to fit in with human company, but that's something the rescue group couldn't really know. Maybe they were just glad that a reasonably normal looking person wanted one of their more difficult dogs.

I'd place Whitney with the retired couple and suggest to the other family that their lifestyle just isn't suitable for a dog. As for getting a dog to "teach" children anything (especially responsibility), forget it. Any parent who believes that should be denied any pet hands down.

House of the Discarded said...

I agree with Steve on this one. I think Whitney should go to the retired couple - with one requirement: The couple needs to prove they have a "Plan B" in the event that Whitney outlives them.

My parents just adopted a 2 year old Rat Terrier from a rescue. They're 73 years old. Guess who's on deck if they pass away before the dog? Me. Nobody asked me if that's ok. But of course, I'll do it.

I love adopting to seniors, but they DO have limited incomes and have a tendency to balk at high veterinary expenses. Perhaps it's not fair to generalize...but it's been my experience to date.

Caveat said...

I agree with Steve and he's descrbed by aforementioned Wiener dog, who came out as a release, not an adoption because of his snappiness.

Incidentally, at the SPCA I mentioned, you used to sign a contract on adoption - that if for any reason you couldn't keep the dog, he was to be returned to them -not given to anyone else, sold, or killed.

I always found that clause a little extra incentive to not give the dog up :>)

Ian said...

[quote]The couple needs to prove they have a "Plan B" in the event that Whitney outlives them. [/quote]

Shouldn`t everyone have a plan B for their pets regardless of their age.
I know everyone likes to think they`re going to live to a grand old age but that`s not how life works.

People can and do die at every age and thinking that family members are going to take Scruffy home and love it for the rest of it`s life might not be the best plan.
I personally know of a lot of beloved pets that have been dumped shortly after the casket was lowered into the ground despite promises made.
Don`t promise that you will take care of someone`s pet if you don`t mean it.

Steve Bartlett said...

I have to confess I didn't think about the older couple's age: that's actually a very good point. A couple of years ago one of my brothers had to leave his cat with our parents (who are now 85 and 87). There's a good chance the cat will outlive them; I'll probably end up with him. He's a great cat with people, but he doesn't like other cats at all (should be fun). He's beaten up both my dogs already so they're suitably wary of him. If this happens, I'll probably have to buy a bigger house :)