At What Cost Caution?

Sad looking puppy behind bars

At what cost caution?

I am often at odds with myself when asked to give advice to people who are adopting their first dog. On one hand I am a person who strongly believes that bringing a dog into your home is not a casual matter. It should be done with forethought given to the financial, physical, and emotional responsibility we undertake for the life of this animal. I liken it to having a two year old child in your home for a dozen or (hopefully) more years.

On the other hand, I see the plight of so many dogs that are out there in the shelter system. Would they be better off in even a marginal home as compared to their current situation? Does my responsibility first stance prevent dogs from getting a good home because of an overabundance of caution?

I try to frame my advice so that perspective owners see that best outcome for both them and the dog is achieved by responsibility and not by chance. Still, I wonder if I’ve ever prevented an adoption that may have worked out for the best.

How many of you have dealt with these same feelings? Has it changed the way you counsel prospective adopters?



9 thoughts on “At What Cost Caution?

  1. My current foster puppy, Teddy, looks a lot like the one in your photo above. I like the fact that you are thinking deeply on this matter. It is hard to know who would make a good home for a pet. Some people seem all wrong but end up being great pet parents. I hope for the best because you just never know for sure.

  2. It’s tough because I think … What *if* we simply got more families to take dogs into their homes? Would that change the dynamic in our communities and our shelters?

    At the same time, some people are simply not cut out for dogs in their lives, including someone I know who referred to bigger dogs as “outside dogs.” Clearly, not something in which I believe … that dogs can / should live outside exclusively. Personally, I think … Why have a dog, then?

    Maybe we should set up some sort of first-time dog owner mentoring program. :o)

    • I’ve often thought of this as a good way for trainers to get involved Roxanne. Perhaps a once a month class where owners of newly adopted dogs can come to a free seminar where they are presented with some good information about what to expect and how to deal with their new charges. I am sure there are trainers and organizations out there that do this type of thing, but I would like to see more of it.

  3. Hi Kevin,
    Glad you brought this up. I do believe that some agencies have unrealistic requirements for adopters, considering we’ve got so many dogs languishing in shelters nationwide.

    Most dogs would be happy in a home over a shelter even if they didn’t get top-of-the-line food and three walks a day. Heck, there are even some dogs that would be okay with being in a back yard, especially if they DID get regular walks and attention. Over the years I’ve learned that there is a dog out there that fits nearly every (non-abusive) situation.

    When I council shelter staff and volunteers I always remind them, just because the potential adopters may not do things YOUR way, doesn’t mean that they won’t be able to provide a decent home. Certainly nearly any home is better than a long-term stay in a shelter.

    That said, most agencies are trying to educate people about responsible dog ownership and husbandry and no one wants to set a situation up for failure. I do believe that some screening definitely is essential to making a good match.

    On the flip side, while I do think the potential adopter screening process may by too rigorous, I also believe that most shelters could be more cautious about the dogs they adopt out to the general public.

    My part of the country is very heavy on rescue groups and shelters, and adopting a *rescue* (how I despise that word, a story for another day) is very *sexy* here so I see a lot of mismatches and tragically irresponsible placements. These types of situations could be avoided if agencies were more honest (more knowledgeable?) about what they are seeing, behaviorally, in their resident dogs.

    Too many families here adopt a young pups or adolescent dogs that are wholly unsuitable for their lifestyle and family dynamic, and in some cases are even quite serious, potentially dangerous dogs.

    • Thanks for commenting Kelly. There are many sides to this coin and many opinions on each side. I too have seen some very ill-informed adoptions where a dog was placed in an inappropriate home. In fact there was a post on FB the other day talking about this very scenario that plays out for trainers everywhere. Often when this adoption turns out for the better, we only hear of it through personal anecdotes. But if that adoption turns out to be one with serious consequences, we will hear about it on the 6 o’clock news.

  4. Good thought. In case of kill shelters, even a home that can’t afford more than the basic (affection and care) may be better than sure death, at least it gives the animal another chance. No kill shelters (how I wish all shelters will be able to go this way) have a better chance to match a pet to its best home.

    What I found when I checked in at the local shelters, is that many wanted to see a yard (at least years back). Strangely, dogs in yards in exactly this area are often confined to the yard (some never can go into the house, and forget about walks – which makes them really frustrated).

    Now, we live in a townhouse and we still haven’t put up a fence in front of our house. But ask our dogs when they wake up from their afternoon nap – they get out for long walks twice every single day – if they miss the yard. As far as I understand them, they are happy as is.

    When they come in, they have their feet washed and have a good time indoors with free access to a safe balcony. On our walks they meet fellow canines and other humans, and even a few neighbor cats. I think they are more happy without yard (where they also could be poisoned by unbalanced people), so I don’t understand this particular yard requirement by some shelters.

    I’d rather encourage a training and quizzing class for people who want to adopt pets from a shelter. They should be provided with the basic care information and scanned for their ability to deal with different day-to-day and stress situations they may encounter with their pet (example, “Who is going to be the main care taker in the family?” “How long will the pet be alone during the day” “What do you do if your dog pulls” “What would you do with your pet if you’d go on vacation/if you’d have to move”, “What would you do if your pet started chewing/scratching up your property/urinating in your house” “What would you do if your pet’s nails get too long” “What would you do if the pet barks or screams (birds) excessively”….) and you/or neighbors start complaining”

    This way shelters could get an idea if one of their animals would be a good fit for the person before the pet leaves the shelter. There should *always” given the option to return the pet should things go wrong. And ideally, adopting parties should be encouraged to contact the shelter as soon as problems arise and when they might need help. This might prevent abandonment, abuse, neglect, and the turning of a pet to an ‘unadoptable pet.’

    If somebody would like to adopt a puppy, the shelter should educate the interested party that a puppy surely is cute but a lot of work and should list the usual things one encounters with puppy rearing.

    • Heidi, I think you’re exactly right that kill shelter or no-kill shelter/rescue organization makes a big difference in what the “standard” should be.

      I also think the focus on caution doesn’t have to mean talking people out of adopting, and more about getting them to think about the kind of pet that would fit with their life and be ready for the changes and work that’s involved.

      • Good point Kelly. Lifestyle fit is a crucial piece of the puzzle and often ignored. Things like encouraging an elderly couple to get an energetic dog to encourage them to become more active just don’t fit with reality and often times can mean a trip back to the shelter for the dog or worse.

Comments are closed.