Throughout my years as an animal communicator, I have always reached out to help rescue dogs and their families. I have met so many wonderful dogs whose people had amazing patience and undying love to help them acclimate to their new lives. Sometimes when I speak to the dogs and cats, all they need is for their voices to be heard, to be understood, and the bond between them and their new families grows in new and beautiful ways.
Recently, I worked with a dog who had traveled all the way from Georgia to find a new life here in New York. He was transported in a truck with many other stressed-out and sick dogs. The trip took over twenty-four hours and a lot of gasoline. The rescue person here in New York, who I will call Mandy, had good intentions, but she was overwhelmed by all of the Georgia rescue dogs now living in her home. Mandy was in over her head, and her good intentions had gone very bad.
The dog, who I will call Arnie, didn’t know which way was up when he arrived in New York. He had never been socialized around people and had tons of energy. Mandy knew she had to find him a home as soon as possible. She was drowning in a never-ending flow of rescue dogs.
Marla and her son Bill had heard about Mandy from a mutual friend. They wanted a dog with whom they could share their lives, a rescue dog they could give a second chance. They were not experienced “dog people,” but when they met Arnie, it was love at first sight.
Mandy did not interview Marla and Bill. There was no adoption fee, no advice on what Arnie needed for a fresh start. She simply gave Arnie to them. Marla and Bill thought they had the dog of their dreams. They had no way of knowing how much this dog would require from them, but they soon found out.
Marla’s family is a blended family. Her husband works from home; they have three kids who go to college and live at home, as well as Marla’s brother and his two daughters. Everyone in the family wanted badly for this adoption to work out for Arnie. They were all rooting for him.
Arnie had stolen their hearts, but things were not going as well as they had hoped. They soon realized that he had tons of nervous energy. He was reactive to daily activities around the house. He had never been exposed to vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, plastic shopping bags–they were all terrifying to him. He would bark and bare his teeth if someone surprised him.
They knew he needed a lot of exercise, so they threw the ball endlessly for him, walked him, and did their best to wear him out. They hired a dog trainer to help teach Arnie some manners. But he had no socialization skills. Living inside a house with people was new to Arnie, and his stress was building. He was starting to react aggressively towards three members of the household. He was becoming very protective of Marla and Bill. He didn’t like people getting too close to them.
As in all large families, personalities clash from time to time, and when this happened it was way too much for poor Arnie. He had never learned his canine ABC’s. It was clearly becoming a very dangerous situation. Marla and Bill knew that they were in way over their heads and that someone could get hurt. Even though Arnie was in training, they could not get him to calm down. They could get him into a crate but he would bark, growl and snap at the three family members if they even looked at him.
Marla reached out to Mandy, his rescuer, who said, “He’s your dog, you haven’t tried everything. I will not take him back.” Their hearts were broken. Mandy stopped returning their calls. They didn’t know what to do.
Marla spared no expense trying to help Arnie. She had him tested for Lyme disease and made sure he was up to date with all his vaccinations. She paid for a trainer and then brought him to me. None of us could wave a magic wand over Arnie’s head and give him the immediate socialization he needed to live among so many humans.
Out of desperation, Marla called rescues all over the state. No one would take Arnie. He was aggressive and no one would take a chance on him. In reality, he was a huge liability. Finally, Arnie was put to sleep in the arms of the people who loved him the most. He died with love and dignity.
This family is heartbroken; all of them, even the ones Arnie had been aggressive towards are saddened beyond words. The family feels they failed him. I have tried to tell them that it wasn’t their fault. It was the system Arnie came through that had failed him.
In New York State, good dogs die in shelters every day. When we rescue dogs from out of state, we have very little knowledge of who they are and what they’ve been through. They are hauled in trucks with many other animals, at great expense to the families waiting for them. Often they are sick with kennel cough or coccidia, and these diseases can spread to other animals in the home.
I have worked with dogs so shaken and sick after arriving from the trip down south that their personalities were very hard to read. One dog had ridden in a crate that had slipped during transport. He traveled with his right front leg braced against the side of the crate to keep his balance. Once he arrived in New York, he earned a trip to a behaviorist when a six-year-old accidentally rolled into him. He reacted by nipping her head. No skin was broken, yet the behaviorist suggested that they euthanize the young dog. I found that the poor guy was so body sore that he reacted out of pain. Once his pain was addressed, he became a solid citizen. He is now the dog of his family’s dreams. Unfortunately, this was not Arnie’s fate.
When out of state adoptions fail, the dogs end up back into the rescue system. This time they are in the state of New York taking away funds that can be used to help our strays and surrendered dogs, causing a financial strain on our state’s resources–or these dogs get euthanized. There are thousands of dogs born and raised in New York State that are waiting for their forever homes. Many of these dogs have had behavior evaluations, and some have received basic obedience. Potential families can visit these dogs as many times as they like before they choose to adopt. If there is a problem after adoption, families can go back to the rescue for help.
I urge all of my readers to help our local shelter dogs. There are many purebred rescues here in New York or any state that you are currently living in, if it’s a purebred you desire. Dogs that are flown across country are terrified by the journey. Being stowed under the plane is very loud and terrifying. I couldn’t see myself traveling in the belly of a plane or imagine a timid dog in a crate all alone with none to comfort him, a dog that could have possibly never lived inside a building, let alone the cargo compartment of a plane. It breaks my heart for them. Can you imagine how they process turbulence? Please adopt local.
Note: I am not against responsible breeding. I am against breeding so that the kids can experience the miracle of life. I’m against backyard breeders that teeter dangerously on the edge of becoming hoarders. I am against puppy mills. I am against breeding dogs that will be used for fighting or other vicious sports.
I am all for finding the dog of your dreams locally, for so many good reasons. When it comes to adopting from shelters from out of state, the odds are sometimes not in your or the dog’s favor as you can see from this story.
I am not totally against adopting out of state, especially if you can take the time to drive and pick them up. Transports are very stressful for the pets that are rescued from out of state. I am simply asking, I am actually begging for you to look locally first. The dog of your dreams could be ten minutes away. There are dogs out there that live out their lives in shelters because no one wants them, suffering the life of an imprisoned animal. It’s hard for them to remain sane in a shelter system. Even no-kill shelters sometimes have to make a tough decision of whether a dog can live or not. Sometimes there is no choice. Dogs are dying in shelters in the State of New York. Dogs are dying in your home state. Healthy dogs that enter the shelter system often catch kennel cough, and when a healthy dog becomes sick they most often are euthanized.
The best way to prevent dogs from ending up in kill shelters anywhere is to support spay-neuter programs. There are such programs all over the country, and they need your financial support. Call your local shelters and donate to their spay and neuter programs. You will help save so many dogs and cats from a life of suffering. You can donate money or volunteer at local shelters and get to know the pets before you adopt them, while helping to ease the burden of a system that is much stressed.
I am stepping down from my soap box and dedicate this blog to Arnie. I am keeping a promise I made as an eleven year old when volunteering at our local SPCA. The things I witnessed are etched in my mind. I made a promise to the dogs, cats and to myself that I would do something to make a difference for homeless animals. May Arnie’s life not have been lived in vain, and may his story save other dogs from suffering. Peace and love to all strays and homeless animals everywhere. Please adopt local and save a dog’s life.