I read a blog post recently about a very unfortunate situation involving the (in my opinion) necessary euthanasia of an aggressive pet dog. It’s been rolling around in my head for days, not because of the story per se, which was very sad, but pretty clear cut from my third party perspective, but because of the response to it.
I was surprised to see a few comments from shelter and rescue volunteers and workers as well as vets who said they were increasingly less tolerant toward aggressive dogs. After all, there are plenty of “nice” dogs who need homes without getting all tangled up with the “not nice” ones.
Woah, woah – slow down. The comments made me feel like my own “not nice” dogs are a detriment to society, a plague and I an irresponsible denizen of this great community because I choose not to immediately pack my two into the Jeep, drive to the vet and calmly ask the receptionist for two doses of pentobarbital please, “Why? Are they sick?”
“No, no, this one is anxious and that one was abused.”
“Oh well then yes, we must certainly euthanize. Two shots of pink juice coming right up.”
Admittedly, this is a bit macabre. It’s also extreme, but that’s what those comments made me feel, and I don’t think that they were on point with what the author was trying to say anyway. The point seemed to be (to me at least) that there is a difference between aggressive-we’re-working-on-it and aggressive-we’re-not-getting-better-and-my-dog-is-a-danger-to-not-only-society-but-me.
Of course, I am taking these comments all too personally, but I live with aggressive dogs that I love, even when maybe no one else would, so I’m inclined to take it personally. From a training standpoint, I always beat myself up – why aren’t my dogs getting better quicker? What am I doing wrong? Am I not working with them enough? Do they need more exercise? Is my frustration making it worse? From a health standpoint, I never feel like I know enough. Brain tumor? Chemical imbalance? Thyroid problem? Pain? What, what, what?
From a rescue standpoint though, what message are we sending to the public when we say things like “I’m not tolerant of aggressive dogs”? It sounds to me like we’re saying dogs are disposable.
Dogs are “dumped” by “irresponsible” owners in shelters every day. Thousands of them. We in the shelter/rescue community try to educate the public about this problem in various ways. Some cry spay and neuter, others say to shut down puppy mills, and I would agree with these but my most important soap box speech would be this – don’t give up. Find a positive reinforcement trainer, work with your dog, seek a qualified vet for a work-up, give it some time, think hard. Aggressive dogs are tough, I know all too well, and some cannot be fixed, but many of them can. When we say in any public forum that we are not tolerant of “aggressive” dogs we are saying that some dogs are disposable, which is exactly what we accuse the public of doing – disposing of their dogs. We are giving owners who might have kept working at it if only they had the right guidance the go ahead to give up, which is how so many dogs end up in our shelters to begin with.
There are varying levels of aggression, after all. Shelters are scary, many dogs lived in deplorable conditions before being rescued, some were dumped, others were simply not socialized properly. Aggressive dogs can be managed and trained given the appropriate circumstances. Admittedly, not every family is up to this (not many actually), but there are plenty who are. Not every shelter has the resources or the capacity to accommodate dogs like this, I know, I get the problems, but call a spade a spade, don’t blame it on the dog by saying you’re intolerant of them, say you’re intolerant of the lack of funding available or the community outreach.
Does that mean I’m saying that genuinely dangerous dogs should be adopted out? Of course not. But our standards for euthanasia should be high and thoroughly thoughtful and if they’re not, we shouldn’t use “aggressive” as a label to make us feel better when we have to euthanize a dog that we, in all actuality, don’t have the funds to work with or the space to home. We, more than any, should be showing the public that no dog is disposable.