Dog Myths: The Home in the Country and Other Fantasies

This world is no utopia for dogs. As abhorrent as the Michael Vick case is, I'm glad that at least the general public can finally see what is being done to dogs behind closed doors. Of course, most dogs aren't met with such a horrific fate. A certain portion live in luxury and receive training, good food, and regular veterinary care. Some live out their lives as "just dogs" and receive mediocre care at best. And some are cared for just fine until some circumstance in their home changes (moving, new baby, etc.)

What's stuck in my craw today is this particular dog myth: dogs need a home in the country where they can run. Do you know what happens to a lot of dogs "in the country?" They get hit by cars. They may live on a one-lane road where only three cars pass by each day, but those cars will be doing about 75.

I volunteer for Boxer Rescue. Three of our dogs have been hit and killed by cars after placement. All three deaths occurred in rural environments. Adopters sign an adoption agreement whereby they agree to keep the dog on leash, so it's definitely heartbreaking and frustrating when this sort of thing happens. Dogs need to be kept safe. It's not that hard. My Boxer, Gideon, is a sweet boy but he is not exactly working on his PhD in his spare time. He can't figure out how to push open a door that is already partially open. He falls off the bed regularly. It's not his job to worry about his safety - it's mine.

I'd much rather see people not get a dog at all than to get one and then surrender the dog to a shelter or rescue later on. Whenever someone tells me that they are purposely NOT getting a dog because they are too busy, the kids are too young, etc., I literally applaud. You see, as rescue volunteers we are on the receiving end and we see it day after day. "I don't have time" or "He's jealous of the kids" or "He needs more room to run."

So here is some random advice for anyone who is thinking of getting a dog or is thinking of surrendering one:
  • If you don't have a fenced yard, you should seriously think twice about getting a dog at all. And don't fool yourself into thinking that you are "going to put up a fence in the spring." We hear that one a lot. Nine times out of ten, people find out that a fence costs hundreds or thousands of dollars and then the whole project goes down the tubes. Oh, and a shrubbery border is not a fence. You'd be surprised how many people believe that it is.
  • Don't make the mistake of thinking that dogs understand property boundaries. They don't. It only takes one rabbit and your dog is off like a prom dress.
  • Research the breed! If you have kids (or are thinking of reproducing), there are a lot of breeds that are not going to work out for you. Toy breeds, for example, often have trouble tolerating little hands poking at them. And if you get a dog and then have kids, do your part to prepare your dog for the new arrival. Ideally, you should have set boundaries with your dog early on. If you let your dog have the run of the house for five years, don't be surprised that he isn't going to understand that his status is being reduced when the first kid comes along.
  • Before you blame your dog for his/her behavior, look at your own. How many classes did you complete with the dog? When a problem arose, did you seek out a trainer? A behaviorist? Did you seek advice from your veterinarian?
  • And speaking of training, don't make the mistake of thinking that you're a trainer (unless you are actually certified and can cite this as a source of income.) Our rescue has taken in nearly 500 dogs and I have yet to meet one who wouldn't benefit from some training (preferably positive reinforcement training). Plus, the classes are great for socialization. A lot of times dogs are surrendered to us for issues that could have been fixed through proper training. What, your dog forgot to train himself? Damn dog!
  • If you do get rid of your dog, please don't say that you are "doing what's best for him." You are doing what's best for yourself. If you asked your dog, he would say that he prefers to be with his family. While I have worked with some surrendering owners over the years who were legitimately in dire straits and had no choice but to surrender their dog, more often than not the dog has simply become an inconvenience in some way.
  • If your dog is a biter, don't get rid of your dog. Do the right thing and have your dog humanely euthanized. Trust me when I say that there is no home on the planet where a dog will never, ever, ever come into contact with a child. You don't want to unleash that kind of liability on someone else.
  • And finally, know that if you surrender your dog to a humane society, there is a very good chance that your dog is not going to be adopted (by a "home in the country" or any other type of home for that matter). Our local shelter has a 50% euthanasia rate. Say you surrender your dog to a no-kill shelter. Well, he may spend months or years sitting in a cage, pacing, until finally he loses his mind. I mean, *you* didn't want your dog - what makes you think everyone else is going to want him?

I am done with my rant now. I am not saying that I'm the world's best dog owner. What I am saying is that I've seen too much and it is getting worse. Much worse. Those of us who dedicate our time to animal welfare are drowning in homeless animals. We just want people to think twice before they get an animal. It's not that hard.


KleoPatra said…
Thank you for this post. It's hard to read, and i have been there... but thanks for saying what needs to be said... sometimes i really hate this world.

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