Bad Humans, Good Dogs

I thought it might be interesting to see why rescuers often ended up hating humans, so I thought I’d share a few stories that explained why. I also thought it would be a nice holiday gift for those of you who enjoy feeling a little righteous anger and adolescent-level scorn now and then. You could even get a few good sneers in, if you are so inclined.

  • Our foster dog, Jackie, was an extremely shy Treeing Walker Coonhound. We advised prospective adopters that she needed an experienced family. Well, we had an applicant who begged us to let them adopt her. They argued that the father was a social worker who required patience and sensitivity for his job, and that the mother’s family had dogs for a long time and she was sure she could help this timid dog break out of  her shell. The girls were loving and enthusiastic. After a lot of back and forth, we gave in. Well, surprise, surprise, after nine months they returned her because she wasn’t warming up to them. (They had, however, purchased a Shih-Tzu who was doing just fine.) They dropped her off at her new foster’s home (we couldn’t take her back because we had another foster) and didn’t react or say goodbye when Jackie whined and cried as they left. Her new foster said that it was one of the most heartbreaking things she had ever seen.  They didn’t provide any of her vet records at drop-off, though, so I had to call them to get the name of their vet. They never called us back. We tried a few times but it finally dawned on me: they had never taken her to the vet — not once.
  • In October of 2011, rescues in the area received an email from a couple asking for a group to take their 13-year-old Sheltie. 9/11 had required them to do a lot of soul-searching, and they had decided that they wanted to get a beach house. Their senior dog would scratch up the floors.
  • We received a call from animal control asking us to take two purebred dogs — a Yorkie and a white standard poodle — whose human had died suddenly and without family. People in the local poodle community found out that the woman had died and contacted us, seemingly very concerned for the poodle’s welfare. One woman who claimed to have been a very good friend of the dog’s owner (there was no evidence of this) became threatening, saying that she knew the dog very well (she got the dog’s name slightly wrong and the gender entirely wrong) and that she knew that the two dogs would be miserable being separated from each other (in fact, we had quickly determined that the sensitive and reserved Yorkie loathed the high-strung standard poodle).  This woman eventually tried to get the breeder to weigh in on her behalf. When the breeder heard the news that the poodle had been diagnosed with Addison’s disease (a health problem common to Standard Poodles), we never heard from her or the other woman again (breeders are obligated to keep health records and share news like that with adopters, so the fact that she didn’t ask for more information is highly unethical).
  • There was the woman who was evicted from her apartment and whose possessions were left out on her lawn. That evening, she drove up in a friend’s truck and retrieved her television, leaving her two dogs, who were crated in the snow, behind. (We understand that evictions are life-rending events and that people often have limited resources, but even taking the dogs to the pound would have been preferable to leaving them to die, which they would have done if they had been left overnight.)
  • There was the woman who kept her four Shih-Tzu mixes in a utility closet, leaving one of them so matted he had to have most of his hair cut off. One of the mats had pushed his ear forward so it was bent in the wrong direction. (Once the mat was cut out, his ear eventually returned to its natural position.) Another of the dogs didn’t have a name. When she heard later that one of the dogs might be pregnant, she asked her rescuer if she could have a puppy.

See what I mean? Pile on enough stories like this and you see why rescuers can be bitter pessimists. (For example, if the owner of the two Shih-Tzu mixes had decided she didn’t want them mentioned in this story, I would just move on to one of the other closet dogs our rescue helped. Yeah. Not an isolated phenom.)

I suppose you are wondering what happened to all of these dogs. Well, aside from the Sheltie, who went into a well-respected Sheltie rescue, we found homes for all of these dogs.

  • Jackie stayed with her second foster home, two of the most doting, wonderful animal people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. I saw her at a volunteer picnic and she was afraid of me, probably because she thought I would take her away from her wonderful home and put her in an unsuitable one. (I don’t really blame her. Sorry, Jackie.)
Jackie in chair
Here’s Jackie doing what hounds love best. (Photo courtesy of author.)
  • The poodle stayed with her foster home, a veritable paradise for dogs.
  • The Yorkie was adopted by an active senior citizen where she lived a decorous life.
  • The lawn dogs were adopted — one by his foster, the other by a civilian who ended up becoming a valued volunteer (and a good friend) . They saw each other once at a volunteer picnic, where they were only mildly interested in each other.
Roxie is carefree these days. (Photo courtesy of author.)
  • Two of the Shih-Tzu mixes were placed with civilians. The other two were adopted by the volunteer who alerted us to them in the first place and engineered their rescue. I see them every day. (Hi Annabelle! Hi Doobie!)
Annabelle asleep under Christmas tree
Annabelle sleeps under the tree. (Photo courtesy of author)

So if you meet animal rescuers and they appear to be a bit misanthropic, this is why: they see humans at their worst, and animals at their best, far too often. Fortunately in these cases, we got to see humans at their best, too, when it counted most. This article also reminded of how lucky I am to know these people, so that’s a nice holiday gift for me, too.


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Moretta is a caring nurturer, a member of several 12-step programs, but not a licensed therapist. Her Twitter is

6 thoughts on “Bad Humans, Good Dogs”

  1. I have several friends who got animals at our local no-kill shelter only to find that the dogs had severe problems. Then were told that there was no room at the shelter and that the county pound would take them. Not pretty so it is imperative that people go into shelters with their eyes open.
    And I have a Chihuahua/Jack Russell Mix who ate my dental plate three years ago (can’t afford to replace it). Shortly after the ‘incident’ we were both in an obedience class. She was less than 6 months old. She was a handfull until 17 months and then it was like a light switch turned on: Maturity.
    She is a smart dog. She puts a foot on my leg, and I tell her to show me. She leads me to what she wants. She rings a bell at the back door so I get up and let her out. She has conditioned me well. When my friends tell me how smart she is, I simply smile. What I know is that I spend time with her. She was my first dog in 40 years. And I have a gap-toothed smile because I didn’t pay attention to her and her needs. Well I do now. We both live in a household with rules and expectations that are generally met on both sides.
    I am thankful for the trainer I had. Her first line was that we, owners, had most of the learning to do. And she was right. My little Reji is a social and happy girl (now almost 4). And she will do almost anything I ask of her. But only because she trusts me to do my part.
    I wish every pet owner and parent were required to take classes. Then we wouldn’t see so many people throw up their hands in disgust when their children or pets didn’t do the expected.

  2. I always hear stories about rescue orgs/ shelters giving adopters the 3rd degree and I completely understand why. But my experience was completely different. My shelter let me walk away with an (estimated) 6 month old Husky mix who was unsocialized and anxious, even though I’d never owned a dog before.
    In hindsight, I had no business adopting her. I took her to a trainer who told me that I had a lot of work ahead of me. I thought for a second about returning her (a thought that reoccurred when she ripped up my carpets, destroyed a couch, and jumped over a six foot fence), but I couldn’t do it. She trusted me. So I paid ungodly $ for lifetime training and buckled down.
    I wound up adopting a 6 year old Chow/Newfie mix with an even temperment who made an awesome companion for her (and me) and modeled good dog behavior. Between him, 3x a day walks, and constant training, I now have a neurotic dog that I love dearly but still can’t take many places or leave unattended around children.
    It blows my mind that the shelter just handed a dog like her over to someone who had no idea what she was getting into. Those first few months when I had no idea what I was doing could have gone so, so badly.

    1. It sounds like your dog was really lucky you stuck it out. I have seen some shelters and rescues do what you described — they give a nice, difficult dog to someone they think is likely to do the right thing and hope for the best. I get why they do it, but it’s terribly unethical because you really are saddling people with a dog they need to manage for years.

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