What I’m about to write is not going to be popular. It will probably make some people mad. I may even lose a few readers. But it’s something that needs to be said.
We can’t save them all.
A Facebook friend linked to a story about 800 war dogs in Britain who were euthanized. Her thoughts echoed many of the comments on the story: this was an awful thing. Which it is. The prevailing belief was that surely these dogs could be rehabilitated. Which they probably could have been. But who was going to do it? And at what cost?
In this blog, I have documented Maisy’s journey from reactive and anxious to functional and basically normal. I absolutely believe that the combination of training, management, and appropriate medical care can help dogs live more normal lives. However, it takes a significant investment.
Don’t get me wrong- it’s been worth it- but it’s taken a lot of time. I worked with Maisy diligently for several years, and the sum total has been hundreds of hours of work. This also came with a cost; trainers, veterinary behaviorists, supplements, medications, books, seminars- it’s all expensive. I’ve spent thousands of dollars in my quest to help my dog. And it has taken its toll emotionally, as well. It is not easy to have a “crazy” dog.
What’s more, Maisy wasn’t that crazy. She was reactive, yes. She was anxious, yes. But she was not aggressive, and she does not have a bite history. We’ve had some close calls, but thankfully she’s never made physical contact with another dog or a person. She also responded beautifully to training and medication, something that does not happen for every dog. Taken together, Maisy has been a relatively easy dog for one with issues.
And it still took years. And lots of money. And a fair amount of heartache along the way. I love Maisy, and if I’d known then what I know now... well, if I'm honest, I’d do it again. She is worth it. But I would also think twice before purposely adopting another dog with issues like hers, and I can’t imagine choosing to take on a dog with even more severe behavioral concerns.
Yes, some of those dogs in the article probably could have been saved. But by whom? How do you find 800 homes that have the skills, the time, the money, the patience, and the desire to rehabilitate them? Especially when there are thousands of physically and behaviorally healthy dogs dying in shelters every day?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work with dogs with issues. I believe that when we take on responsibility for a dog, we owe him our time and money and patience. But we don’t all have the skills, time, or money to “fix” them. For those who fit this description, there is no shame in finding a better situation for that dog. Unfortunately, while some of these dogs can be rehomed, some cannot. In my state, if a person rehomes a dog with a bite history and the dog bites again, the original owner can be sued, even if they disclosed this information to the new owner, and even if the new owner takes on full responsibility for the dog.
The decision to euthanize a dog is not easy. One of my friends had to put his beloved dog to sleep when it began to aggress towards the new baby in the home. This man spent a ton of money on excellent trainers and veterinary behaviorists- the same ones, in fact, that helped Maisy and I. He put in the time and effort. And yet the dog- who was wonderful in many ways- still posed too great of a risk. My friend ultimately did the most responsible and loving thing he could: he gave the dog one last wonderful day, and then let him go peacefully, surrounded by people who loved him. And it broke my friend’s heart that he couldn’t save his best friend.
As for the dogs in the article? I don’t know their story. I don’t know what was tried, and what wasn’t. I don’t know why the government chose to euthanize those dogs instead of place them in new homes. Although I truly hope they tried- after all, if humans choose to use dogs for work, there should be a long-term plan for them after they’ve completed their service- there simply aren’t enough details to form an opinion.
The truth is, rescues are often in a tough spot. They have limited resources. If they’re lucky, they have a trainer who volunteers to try and help the dogs in their care. Many dogs have minor but workable behavior problems that can be resolved prior to (or even after) adoption. But some problems pose a huge liability. Should one of those dogs bite a person in their new home, it can reflect poorly on the specific rescue, and damage the reputation of rescue dogs in general.
So while the story my friend linked to was indeed awful and made me sad, I have a hard time getting worked up about it. While it’s a terrible thing to kill dogs, I also recognize that some dogs are just too far gone. For whatever reason, their behavior is too unpredictable, and their futures too uncertain.
In the end, all I know is this: We can’t save them all. And that sucks.