I learned recently about a dog which had been adopted from a local shelter and which the family was trying to re-home. It wasn't clear to me at first how long the family had had the dog; the shelter said the family had had “Hannah” for years. The family said she had been adopted in June. Regardless of timing, a man had adopted Hannah and problems developed between her and another dog in the home. The man's daughter was trying to re-home the dog, having been told that if the dog was returned to the shelter, she would be destroyed.
I had not heard from my rescue contacts, so I called the shelter to check out the story. The shelter was full of animals due to a law enforcement seizure and yes, if Hannah was returned to the shelter and reported as being aggressive, she would be destroyed. While I was still hoping to hear from a rescue contact, I received a follow-up message that Hannah had been destroyed. The message said that while the adopter was sleeping, Hannah “got into the house” and attacked the other dog; the adopter woke up to the dogs fighting on top of him. I tried not to focus on the words. No dog just “gets into a house” without a means to do so. Why was she outside? How was she contained? So many questions.
I don't presume to know that happened between the time Hannah was adopted and when she was destroyed on September 18, 2018. I cannot help but to feel that she was failed by process because she is dead. Did the family get adoption counseling about bringing a new dog into a home with an existing dog? Did they know anything about how to introduce the two dogs to each other? Does the shelter usually have a mechanism by which it can take back animals when an adoption doesn't work out? Are adopters referred to resources for training and to resources to help resolve behavioral issues?
- Please do adoption counseling to set up adopters and animals for success. Do not assume that every person who adopts an animal from you is well versed in the behavior of the new pet and has planned properly to let the animal decompress. Do face-to-face counseling in which you cover decompression of adopted pets and give people documents to refer to like this one on Dog Decompression and this one on Cat Decompression. Let them know you are available to talk to them if they have problems.
- Please develop a means by which you can either bring animals back into the shelter or rescue if an issue develops or provide pet retention counseling to keep the adopted pet in the new home by referring the adopter to resources for training, veterinary care or even free food. The focus should be on keeping the animal in the new home whenever possible, but be prepared to have a certain percentage of animals come back to you. An adopter should never be told that if the animal comes back to your shelter or rescue, he or she will be destroyed for lack of space. You cannot be expected to take an animal back with no notice; you should be able to take animals back on a managed basis within short period of time.
- Please develop a disaster plan to relocate some of your animals with other shelters or rescue groups in the event of a mass-intake event from a criminal case, collector, puppy mill or dog fighting operation so that you are not over capacity. If your state has a law that provides for housing of "evidence animals" which is paid for by an offender so that the animals do not stay in your shelter, take advantage of that law. Your shelter or rescue operation should never be so strained that you cannot take back pets whose placements do not work or that if you do take those animals back, you destroy them.
- Please do some planning to be prepared for the decision to bring a new animal into your home. Feel free to use the decompression documents for dogs and for cats I have prepared to help you get ready. Bringing a new animal into your life involves setting that animal up for success for the benefit of your family and the animal. For dogs, you may find that this command list from Hard Knocks Rescue and Training, Inc. helps you.
- If you do develop problems in spite of planning, don't assume those problems will go away on their own. They will not and they will continue to get worse. Do not let the situation get so out of control that you believe the only recourse you have is to have your newly adopted pet destroyed. I would like to think that ethical veterinarians do not destroy healthy and treatable animals just because an owner asks them to. Other than in cases when animals have serious cognitive problems which made them aggressive, there are always options to re-home pets with family, friends, co-workers or rescue groups to keep those animals alive. There are also training experts and behaviorists who can help you overcome problems you are having with your new pet.
- Have a solid plan in place to re-home all of your pets in the event of your death or your inability to care for them for some reason so that your pets do not end up in a shelter.