Before Sheltering

Before You Shelter Your GSD...

You’ve just had a new baby, and taking care of both baby and dog seems like too much for you;  you’re going through a divorce and can no longer afford to take care of your dog;  the dog barks too much, jumps on people, won’t obey;  the dog is getting old, and you want a puppy for the kids;  the dog is sick, and you can’t afford the bills;  you’re moving and can’t take the dog with you……

If you take your dog to a shelter, here is what most likely will happen to him. He suddenly finds himself torn from the home he loved and trusted, possibly since he was a baby.  He now finds himself among strangers who are too tired and overworked to give him the love and attention he needs. They evaluate him, test him, and put him in a cage. He is now surrounded by not only strange humans, but also strange dogs who are frantically barking.  Some of them may also be frantically biting, and he may be put into a cage with one of those desperate dogs, because the shelter is full. Your dog senses the confusion and fear around him.  He becomes equally anxious and begins to shake.  He does not eat, and when he is removed from his cage, he strains for the door, wanting out, wanting to find you. He may be lying in his own feces and urine in the cage, or hosed down to clean the cages, so that he is now wet in addition to being filthy. If you did not give him heartworm pills and regular vet care, he is probably already sick, in which case, unless an over-taxed rescue volunteers take him in, he has an automatic death sentence. If he is sick or contracts a disease in the shelter, the terror and sense of loss are compounded. If one of the dogs he’s caged with attacks him, he may have wounds now that become infected.  He may now even have a broken leg. Since he is unadoptable because he is so withdrawn, sick, or injured, your dog is dragged, pulled, or carried to a room where he is placed on a steel gurney, usually after only three days, sometimes less.  He is held down by those tired workers, and injected with an overdose of sedative to end his life, as he stares fearfully at these strangers and the needle. You may have thought your dog would be adopted by someone visiting the shelter, but unless he gets very lucky (statistically, his chances of adoption are slim) or it is a no-kill shelter (extremely rare), he will most likely die because he is not adopted in time, the shelter’s budget is too strained to treat his illness, or there is simply not enough room for him. And he shakes with fear.

Before you take your dog to a shelter, re-think the behavior:  maybe it is only temporary; maybe obedience training, therapy, or medication will help. In the rare case that the dog is aggressive to the point of viciousness, then why inflict him on others, including shelter workers, rescuers, and unsuspecting adopters? Make that decision for humane euthanization by your own clinic. If he is old, let him finish his days in the home he has loved all his life – you owe him that. If the dog simply needs a new home because you cannot keep him, perhaps a kind friend or family member would take him. If none of these are alternatives for you, try to find him a home yourself. He gave you his devotion.  The least you can do is spend a little time returning that devotion by trying to find him a good home (be honest about the dog and ask for a fee to insure a serious adoptive home and avoid his being used for medical experiments or attack training). Better still, call a rescue group. The volunteers will take him to the vet, treat him, foster him during his rehabilitation, and find him a loving home. Most city and county shelters do the best they can and are honorable institutions, but they cannot keep or take care of the millions of dogs who are brought into them across the city and the nation every year. Before you take your dog to a shelter, look into his eyes, put yourself in his place, then do what is right for this loving, living, feeling creature. Above all, don’t dump him on the street, thinking he will be better off fending for himself or getting picked up by some kind soul. He will go hungry and thirsty; he will develop heartworms and other parasites; he may be shot, kicked, chased; and in his confusion he may be hit by a car to die alone and terrified on the side of a road.  Find him a home–or call rescue workers.

Before you take your dog to a shelter, please get help for your dog that might save his life and allow him the future he deserves.

"How Could You?"

Copyright Jim Willis 2001

When I was a puppy, I entertained you with my antics and made you laugh. You called me your child, and despite a number of chewed shoes and a couple of murdered throw pillows, I became your best friend. Whenever I was “bad,” you’d shake your finger at me and ask “How could you?” – but then you’d relent, and roll me over for a belly rub.

My housebreaking took a little longer than expected, because you were terribly busy, but we worked on that together. I remember those nights of nuzzling you in bed and listening to your confidences and secret dreams, and I believed that life could not be any more perfect. We went for long walks and runs in the park, car rides, stops for ice cream (I only got the cone because “ice cream is bad for dogs,” you said), and I took long naps in the sun waiting for you to come home at the end of the day.

Gradually, you began spending more time at work and on your career, and more time searching for a human mate. I waited for you patiently, comforted you through heartbreaks and disappointments, never chided you about bad decisions, and romped with glee at your homecomings, and when you fell in love.

She, now your wife, is not a “dog person” – still I welcomed her into our home, tried to show her affection, and obeyed her. I was happy because you were happy. Then the human babies came along and I shared your excitement. I was fascinated by their pinkness, how they smelled, and I wanted to mother them, too. Only she and you worried that I might hurt them, and I spent most of my time banished to another room, or to a dog crate. Oh, how I wanted to love them, but I became a “prisoner of love.”

As they began to grow, I became their friend. They clung to my fur and pulled themselves up on wobbly legs, poked fingers in my eyes, investigated my ears, and gave me kisses on my nose. I loved everything about them and their touch – because your touch was now so infrequent – and I would have defended them with my life if need be.

I would sneak into their beds and listen to their worries and secret dreams, and together we waited for the sound of your car in the driveway. There had been a time, when others asked you if you had a dog, that you produced a photo of me from your wallet and told them stories about me. These past few years, you just answered “yes” and changed the subject. I had gone from being “your dog” to “just a dog,” and you resented every expenditure on my behalf.

Now, you have a new career opportunity in another city, and you and they will be moving to an apartment that does not allow pets. You’ve made the right decision for your “family,” but there was a time when I was your only family.

I was excited about the car ride until we arrived at the animal shelter. It smelled of dogs and cats, of fear, of hopelessness. You filled out the paperwork and said “I know you will find a good home for her.” They shrugged and gave you a pained look. They understand the realities facing a middle-aged dog, even one with “papers.” You had to pry your son’s fingers loose from my collar as he screamed “No, Daddy! Please don’t let them take my dog!” And I worried for him, and what lessons you had just taught him about friendship and loyalty, about love and responsibility, and about respect for all life. You gave me a goodbye pat on the head, avoided my eyes, and politely refused to take my collar and leash with you. You had a deadline to meet and now I have one, too.

After you left, the two nice ladies said you probably knew about your upcoming move months ago and made no attempt to find me another good home. They shook their heads and asked “How could you?”

They are as attentive to us here in the shelter as their busy schedules allow. They feed us, of course, but I lost my appetite days ago. At first, whenever anyone passed my pen, I rushed to the front, hoping it was you – that you had changed your mind – that this was all a bad dream…or I hoped it would at least be someone who cared, anyone who might save me. When I realized I could not compete with the frolicking for attention of happy puppies, oblivious to their own fate, I retreated to a far corner and waited.

I heard her footsteps as she came for me at the end of the day, and I padded along the aisle after her to a separate room. A blissfully quiet room. She placed me on the table and rubbed my ears, and told me not to worry. My heart pounded in anticipation of what was to come, but there was also a sense of relief. The prisoner of love had run out of days. As is my nature, I was more concerned about her. The burden which she bears weighs heavily on her, and I know that, the same way I knew your every mood.

She gently placed a tourniquet around my foreleg as a tear ran down her cheek. I licked her hand in the same way I used to comfort you so many years ago. She expertly slid the hypodermic needle into my vein. As I felt the sting and the cool liquid coursing through my body, I lay down sleepily, looked into her kind eyes and murmured “How could you?”

Perhaps because she understood my dogspeak, she said “I’m so sorry.” She hugged me, and hurriedly explained it was her job to make sure I went to a better place, where I wouldn’t be ignored or abused or abandoned, or have to fend for myself – a place of love and light so very different from this earthly place. And with my last bit of energy, I tried to convey to her with a thump of my tail that my “How could you?” was not directed at her. It was you, My Beloved Master, I was thinking of. I will think of you and wait for you forever.

May everyone in your life continue to show you so much loyalty.

The End

A note from the author:

If “How Could You?” brought tears to your eyes as you read it, as it did to mine as I wrote it, it is because it is the composite story of the millions of formerly owned pets who die each year in America’s shelters.

Anyone is welcome to distribute the essay for a non-commercial purpose, as long as it is properly attributed with the copyright notice.

Please use it to help educate, on your websites, in newsletters, on animal shelter and vet office bulletin boards. I appreciate receiving copies of newsletters which reprint “How Could You?” or “The Animals’ Savior,” sent to me at the last postal address below.

Tell the public that the decision to add a pet to the family is an important one for life, that animals deserve our love and sensible care, that finding another appropriate home for your animal is your responsibility and any local humane society or animal welfare league can offer you good advice, and that all life is precious. Please do your part to stop the killing, and encourage all spay & neuter campaigns in order to prevent unwanted animals.

Thank you,

Jim Willis

Director, The Tiergarten Sanctuary Trust, accredited member of The American Sanctuary Association, and Program Coordinator, International Society for Animal Rights