March 11, 2012
A lovely family adopted a sweet blind Mastiff mix from my group, several years ago. They lived in a dog-friendly condo, but they did not realize that their condo rules (CC&Rs) had a weight restriction: Dogs weighing more than 25 lbs. were not allowed.
Leyna, the dog they adopted, weighs about 90 lbs. Every resident in the complex signed a petition and asked the Board to make an exception because Leyna was a sweet, calm, blind rescued dog. But there was one Board member who refused to agree to the exception.
So, Leyna’s family sold the condo and bought a house (we have had some adopters who bought cars for their dogs, but a house was a first!). Though they had no intention of moving at that time, they say that it was the best thing that could have happened because Leyna and her family now have a lovely backyard where they can enjoy fresh air and sunshine together, and Leyna can go outside whenever she pleases.
As they moved to a private home with a backyard, they were able to adopt another dog, Atticus, from Forte. Atticus loves Leyna and has become her “seeing-eye dog.” — If they had stayed in the condo, this wouldn’t have happened.
A few years ago, we placed Archie, an older Pit Bull mix with a kind man in San Diego who wanted to adopt him because he was old and appeared to be the least desirable. What a selfless way to choose a dog! It was a miracle that he found Archie online — When he contacted us, I cleared my schedule, so that Archie and I could drive to San Diego the next day to see if this was a perfect fit. And it was a match made in heaven!
Archie is a sweet dog, but while he was in our care, he didn’t do well with other dogs, so we could not board him in our usual cage-free environment. All foster candidates had other dogs, therefore, he spent two long years in kennel boarding.
We eventually found a foster home for him where he lived happily for several months, but the foster had to leave the country. We were really out of options, short of putting Archie back in a cage; moving him back to a “jail cell” from the comfort of a home environment would have traumatized him to no recovery at this point. This was at the time when the gentleman in San Diego contacted us.
Within a year after he was adopted in San Diego, Archie developed a tumor which crept up so quietly that it was found when he was brought to ER. While the huge 13-pound tumor turned out to be benign, the vet bills totaled to $10,000, which his adopter paid without hesitation. He told me that Archie is worth millions to him, and he would have borrowed or done anything to save his life if he needed more medical care. Archie now looks five years younger than when we rescued him and is doing wonderfully with his doting human dad. (Click here for Archie’s full story)
Four years ago, we rescued a white Pit Bull, whom I named Paloma, and we have been looking for a permanent home for her all these years. I would never put down a dog for lack of a foster home, but I firmly believe warehousing dogs in kennel boarding for years is not in the best interest of the dogs. Luckily, one of our dedicated volunteers is fostering her in her home, but she works long hours, so we have to hire a dog sitter to walk Paloma during the day when our volunteers cannot be there. It is taking a village to keep her out of a cage in kennel boarding.
When you rescue or adopt a dog, you are making a pledge and a commitment. Even though these dogs are not my personal dogs, I and my rescue organization have made a pledge to care for our rescued dogs in the best circumstances, so we are duty-bound to live up to our obligation to the dogs. When you adopt a dog, you are making a commitment to the dog for his or her lifetime, and you have to follow through.
When I adopted my first rescued dog Forte, I knew of no private rescue groups and Internet had yet to exist, let alone pet adoption websites such as Adopt-a-Pet.com or Petfinder.com. So, like many other people at that time, after adopting Forte, I was on my own. I had to be responsible for his well-being, his health, his training, and everything else that was needed to integrate this rescued dog into my home with no support from a rescue group. I was solely responsible for making this adoption work, regardless of whatever issues might arise. It was my job to do everything I could do for Forte, whether it was “convenient” for me or not.
Nowadays, there are many adoption fairs throughout the city every weekend, where you can adopt from a private rescue group. You can “shop around,” and in if the dog or cat you adopt turns out to not fit well into your lifestyle, most rescue groups’ policies should state that you return the animal to the group (instead of discarding the animal at the pound or worse). But this does not mean it is acceptable to return your dog or cat, like an ill-fitting sweater, because you made a commitment to care for the animal you’ve adopted, for the lifetime of the animal.
One of the worst cases is when people adopt a puppy, neglect to train him, then a year or two later “return” the dog, whether to a rescue group or the pound, because the dog has become not socialized, not house-trained, and not a desirable family member. This is why there are so many young healthy dogs being abandoned in the pound. At this point, it’s no longer a “return,” but abandonment. Some people brought such dogs to us, instead of returning them to the pound because while they were reneging on the dog, they did not want their dogs to be killed in the pound. This type of return or surrender of an animal makes our job as a rescue group very difficult, because it requires a huge effort to rehabilitate the dog who is no longer a pup, and should have been experiencing ongoing care and training in the home of the adopter.
How fair is this to the rescue group or the dog himself? If you buy a blank canvas at an art store and paint on it, you can no longer return the canvas. All you can do is discard the canvas. When you return the animal you’ve adopted, you are discarding him and dumping your own responsibility on others.
Where is the sense of responsibility? What happened to the special bond you had with your “man’s best friend”? You said your dog would be your family member when you adopted him. Would you discard your children if you neglected to properly raise them and then they misbehaved?
Rescue groups require that you return your pets to them if you decide that you no longer want them, only to prevent the animals from ending up in the pound where they will likely be “destroyed” because more than 80% of all animals in pounds do not make it out alive, and often, owner turn-ins are the first to be killed. So, it does not mean, “Oh, when you’re done having fun with your dog, just bring him back and we’ll recycle him.”
Whether a rescue organization has its own boarding facility or not, none of them can house an unlimited number of animals. My rescue group has placed more than 900 dogs so far, and there is no way we could ever house and properly care for them if they all came back to us (Gasp!).
One of our volunteers told me that she’s still somewhat traumatized about the family dog her mother gave away when she was a small child. When you abandon your family pet, you are not only hurting the animal but you are leaving a scar in your child’s heart. When you work through problems with your companion animal, your child will learn by example the true meaning of keeping a commitment. Also, by not returning your animal to a rescue group, you are leaving space that allows the group to save the life of another animal who would otherwise die in the pound.
Returning your animal should never be an option. It should only be the last resort when there is indeed no choice because of extreme life circumstances. Before you go to an adoption event or a pound, please remember that adoption is a commitment for life. The life of your companion animal — your family member.
Marie Atake is Founder & President of Forte Animal Rescue and a former Commissioner on the Board of L.A. Animal Services.