Mercy, compassion and empathy are some of our most special and delicate human values. So I have absolutely no intention of demeaning them in this post. But it is a fact that I have seen some huge mistakes take place throughout my short “career” in Animal Welfare, and I just need to make some things clear.
There are people willing to adopt the least fortunate ones – I am definitely one of them. As the number of unwanted animals grows bigger and charities keep campaigning against breeding and for adoption, the number of future dog owners willing to take in a shelter dog or cat grows bigger too. And that is a blessing.
There is however one big problem, that mainly affects our beloved rescues and their future as pets and members of a family. Mercy adoption is a fact, and when handled the wrong way, it can affect a rescue animal’s entire life.
As the number of unwanted animals grows bigger and charities keep campaigning against breeding and for adoption, the number of future dog owners willing to take in a shelter dog or cat grows bigger too.
Deciding to adopt a dog that has suffered in the past, that has been hungry, abused, and neglected is a choice worth applauding, but it still is a choice of a pet with which we’ll be spending many years – and those should be quality years, both for the owners and for the dog.
Humanizing dogs is one huge mistake, and when it comes to rescue animals, humanizing them mostly comes from mercy and pity. And a pitied dog is never a happy one.
Humanizing dogs is one huge mistake
Dogs will be dogs, no matter what. No matter how abused and hurt they have been in the past, they need to be treated as dogs, not as humans. Taking in a fearful dog, for example, can result into having an unhappy pet, when its fear is dealt with pity. Many dogs owners tend to deal with their dog’s behavioral problems based on human emotions.
A fearful person might need a hug or a kiss to feel better, but that’s not what a fearful dog needs. A person might need to spend time with you, but a dog might need time alone. It might need time alone in a crate – and, NO, a crate is not a cage. A crate is a nest, a warm place where the dog will feel safe – if he is introduced to the crate the right way. Petting a fearful dog while he’s trembling with fear will not make him feel better. On the contrary, petting in the wrong moment works as a confirmation for the dog, that it’s ok to act this way.
A fearful person might need a hug or a kiss to feel better, but that’s not what a fearful dog needs.
Rescue dogs that come from a shelter life to a life in a home have a million new things to absorb and get used to. It is all new to them. The human presence, all that free space around, the human voices, the attention, the smells, the noises. It’s all too much to absorb and they need time. They need to have time to themselves and a warm corner where to feel safe and calm, and that should be a priority.
Mercy adoption usually makes owners mistake a dog’s true needs with those of a human. Over petting a rescue dog, sleeping with him since day one, taking him to work, having friends and family visit every day to meet the new member, and trying to make up for all he missed in its past life will only make the animal even more confused and can possibly result to behavioral problems. And that affects the entire rescue and adoption system in general, because the word gets around and rumors start spreading that rescue dogs are problematic – which they are NOT.
Dogs are routine freaks. Shelter life might not be ideal, but it provides the dogs with a routine they need – and in that daily routine, they are in a way happy.
Dogs are routine freaks. Shelter life might not be ideal, but it provides the dogs with a routine they need – and in that daily routine, they are in a way happy. Taking one home is a huge shock, and those first days, while he makes the transition from the shelter routine to the home routine are crucial. And it’s when most mistakes are made.
Don’t treat your rescue dog the way you would like to be treated, treat him like a dog. Be an animal lover, but be it the right way.
So leave your rescue dog alone. Let him absorb all that new information. Don’t over pet him – that’s not what he needs. It might be what you need, but I am here to talk about a dog’s needs. It took me two months to touch Petra. I adored her, but petting was the last thing she needed. Talk to a professional dog trainer. And if what he or she has to say sounds cruel, remember that dogs are not humans. Don’t treat your rescue dog the way you would like to be treated, treat him like a dog, and a healthy, happy dog is what you’ll get. Be an animal lover, but be it the right way.