It's a Dog's Life
Stephanie "Foster Mom" O'Brien

Take Out The Human in the Equation

Posted Friday, October 4, 2013, at 6:50 PM
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  • Stephanie,

    I find your column completely off base when making broad statements regarding a shelter not accepting a dog with known aggression. Having been involved in rescue and sheltering for over 20-years, having a dog-aggressive canine within a shelter setting is extremely dangerous for the other shelter pets AND those people who have dedicated their lives to providing quality care to them until a forever home has been available through adoption. Regardless of breed, a dog-aggressive dog in a herd environment is recipe for disaster.

    And clearly you possess an affinity for bully breeds. Kudos to you for being one of the few foster homes able to see through breed prejudice by opening your heart and home to a pit bull. As you know, finding a foster home for bully breeds is a daunting task considering how many municipalities have breed bans in place, and sadly, make a blanket law stating that bully breeds are "dangerous animals". This breed ignorance makes it difficult to procure home owners insurance with a bully breed, often times makes for tensions with neighbors....the list goes on and on.

    So, you are placing blame on a nonprofit for this dog aggressive pit bull not finding a place at an area shelter or rescue group. How does that help either the dog or the hundreds of shelter pets awaiting adoption in local shelters?

    Perhaps your next blog could address what area dog lovers can do to changes Anti Breed Legislation in their community, lobby with legislators to make puppy mill production illegal, lobby for stricter penalties for dog fighting...in a nutshell, not blaming dogs or people, yet encouraging a heightened awareness of what both area facing in the community.

    I suggest you go visit a municipal shelter in a large metropolitan area, such as Kansas City, KS. Walk through the kennel and you'll be surprised to see 75% of the dogs awaiting a kind touch and responsible care are pit bulls. The vast majority are NOT aggressive, yet you're not able to transfer them to your shelter because of breed ignorance.

    Your post showed that you're quite ignorant to the plight of shelters and rescues and the measures that they go to in protecting both people and pets. Please revisit your sense of compassion and whether or not you're truly an advocate for the animals.

    I have placed over 200 bully breeds during my long-standing career in sheltering. To do that, I had to educate the community and I suggest you channel your energies to doing the same as opposed to playing the BLAME GAME.

    -- Posted by Jennnypattyjohnson on Fri, Oct 11, 2013, at 12:36 PM
  • Stephanie,

    After telling us that the dog in question has known issues with aggression, you wrote this: "What's irritating to me is why a shelter/rescue, or whatever name you want to give it, won't take an owner surrender."

    You changed the subject!

    The subject - as you yourself started it - was a dog-aggressive dog. Then, you proceeded to excoriate a "shelter/rescue, or whatever name you want to give it" for not taking *merely* an "owner surrender."

    A dog that is known to have aggression issues is not merely just another innocuous "owner surrender," and JennypattyJohnson, in her comment on your post, beautifully explained why a RESPONSIBLE "shelter/rescue, or whatever name you want to give it" would never knowingly accept such a dog into an environment where the safety of other animals and possibly even humans is thereby immediately compromised.

    Yes, you are correct that a dumped dog will likely end up at the "shelter/rescue, or whatever name you want to give it" anyway, but it would also likely be rather quickly euthanized. The "shelter/rescue, or whatever name you want to give it" would, after all, only be "doing what they felt forced to do."

    Who's to blame for that? The irresponsible original owner who failed to properly train and socialize his dog.

    -- Posted by draftedrough on Fri, Oct 11, 2013, at 3:04 PM
  • Stephanie,

    I just called People for Pets in Spencer and found this kennel information to show you just how many dogs our local shelter does, in fact, help....

    In 2013, 126 owner-surrendered dogs were accepted at the nonprofit adoption agency. 7 of those owners made financial contributions to off-set of sheltering their former pet.

    Do you believe those 7 donations truly off-set the overhead necessary in sheltering those dogs? Not even close! The generosity of dog lovers in our community step up to give these animals a second lease on life, regardless of breed.

    28 dogs were either strays accepted from Spencer impound and/or abandoned at the shelter off-hours.

    Yes, the dogs abandoned dogs were dropped off by desperate people who may have been too ashamed to do the right thing by their pet, yet People for Pets lovingly accepts them and places them into forever homes.

    From the tone and accusatory nature of your recent blog post, you sound like a disgruntled former volunteer. Having been a shelter director myself, I've had my share of volunteers with their own agenda and inability to see the big picture, and you sound just like those people who caused strife as opposed to harmony for people and pets.

    I cannot stress enough how this negativity adversely affects the animals sheltered not only at People for Pets, yet at the other shelters and rescues throughout our community. Is it your intention to have people SHOP versus ADOPT for their next pet? Why would someone want to deal with the negativity you're projecting?

    Have you called the shelter to see if this woman even contacted People for Pets to surrender this dog? Well, I also asked about that and I discovered the followingt:

    - She did not disclose that the dog was a pit bull

    - Made no mention of the dog being dog aggressive

    - Made no offer to make a financial contribution to off set the cost of sheltering the dog

    I also discovered that she was indeed placed on a waiting list until space was made available through adoption, NOT EUTHANASIA. She could have boarded the dog or contacted an animal sanctuary, like Best Friends in Knaab, UT, to help the dog. So, rather than placing blame on our local shelter and the 30+ loyal volunteers who give selflessly of their time and talent, getting your facts straight prior to writing such an ill-informed post would prove advantageous in your quest to be an "animal advocate".

    -- Posted by Jennnypattyjohnson on Fri, Oct 11, 2013, at 3:08 PM
  • Honestly, these comments don't surprise me, because we are all very passionate about animals. The subject of this blog was about shelters/rescues not accepting owner surrenders. It was not specifically about a dog aggressive pitbull mix. I never once mentioned any shelter/rescue name. You both have made some pretty bold assumptions which tells a story all by itself.

    Hopefully, this will clear up some of the confusion. There is a big difference between human aggression and other animal aggression. If every dog that enters a shelter/rescue and growls, barks, lunges at another dog, or a cat that hisses and batts at another animal were ''dangerous'' and euthanized for the safety of volunteers and other animals, there wouldn't be many animals in any facility. A shelter should be set up so that animals are kept separate from one another, not placed in a ''herd environment''. This is exactly the reason why you should be accepting those animals and educating your volunteers how to properly handle them, you have the facility.

    Back to aggressive, who's to say the dog was even animal aggressive? People have different perceptions of what aggression is. I think a better choice would be to meet each animal before saying yes or no to accepting them into the shelter. What about the possibility of rehabilitation? Animals need slow and proper introductions to one another. No hard stares, but parallel walking, no face to face meetings, taking time for them to get comfortable in one anothers presence before putting them together. Most people think that all dogs should like other dogs and that is simply not the case.

    Should it really matter what breed the dog is and whether someone is willing to financially contribute for them to be allowed to surrender their animal?

    If you will look back through my blogs, you will read numerous articles about educating the public on being a responsible pet owners. I have included everything from spay/neuter, to socializing, exercising, BSL, etc. I also had 4 articles printed in the Daily Reporter this past summer about these topics as well. I would encourage you to read them. I am bringing awareness and I am educating the public. I started a weekly walk where people and their leashed pets can come and get some exercise and provide their dog with some socializing, I've gone to peoples homes to help them find a solution to an issue they may be having to prevent them from getting rid of their animal, I continually pass along positive posts on my Facebook page about animals and their wonderful abilities to make humans better people. I've fostered both dogs and cats in my home, have cleaned numerous messes made by a sickly animal in my home, driven thousands of miles to assist in transporting animals, taking them to vets, obedience classes, to adoption events, and fundraisers for homeless animals. I've bought dog food, beds, treats, meds, collars, leashes, toys, etc. on my single household income. So, please don't tell me I'm not an advocate for animals because I don't understand why a facility that is structured to take in animals can't or won't. This happens everyday all over the United States.

    -- Posted by Foster Mom on Fri, Oct 11, 2013, at 6:34 PM
  • Lets remain respectful, please. I don't believe Stephanie is attempting to batter shelters or rescues, but raising a question of concern. After all, isn't that how we progress? In order to better ourselves, we must ask questions and address issues. Yes, I believe that a responsible shelter should refuse a dog with a history of severe aggression problems. But we also need to look at the individual, and the severity of the issue. Could this dog still be placed? Possibly, but from what it sounds, a behavior assessment was not done, nor was any helpful advice exchanged.

    Certainly, shelters and rescues have a limited number of resources, and not every dog can be saved. Even if there wasn't room at this particular shelter or rescue, could she have been put on a waiting list? Could they have put her in touch with another local rescue? Could they have advised on the option of private adoption? Or euthanasia, if that was the best option?

    I think us animal lovers can have a clouded judgement (because of an enormous amount of compassion for animals) and tend (of course, not always) to create barriers for those who need help. Our mission as welfare advocates is to educate first and foremost, as well as help the animals.

    -- Posted by CPDT-KA on Fri, Oct 11, 2013, at 7:34 PM
  • After reading the comments, I had to go back and re-read the original blog. I was puzzled, you see, as the blog made no mention of any specific organization, nor even a geographic area of where said organization is located. It seemed overly defensive to assume that the local shelter was being referred to.

    Animal lovers do tend to be very passionate people, so it is not surprising that heated comments get exchanged on the topic. However, the whole intent of the blog to begin with was to remove the human equation...being judgmental, presumptive, and demeaning are all part of that equation.

    I don't doubt that shelters and rescues alike deal with an astounding number of irresponsible people daily. In dealing with the wreckage of these people (the abandoned animal), the organization has a huge task. Some people surrendering a pet have had an unfortunate life circumstance beyond their control...however, I'd venture a guess that a majority of them are people that didn't properly think through the decision to get the pet to begin with. They didn't educate themselves on the nature of the breed. They didn't take into consideration that the animal won't always be a small, manageable puppy or kitten. It could be very easy to become frustrated and jaded, to assume that every person looking to surrender their pet is one of these irresponsible owners, and that their reasoning is a fabrication.

    My personal take on what the original blog was saying is that when a pet owner looking to re-home their pet is treated poorly, made to feel ashamed, or less than human, the only suffering is at the hands (paws, rather) of the animal. Those pet owners continue on with their lives. Sure, the treatment they encounter may sting for awhile, but they go back to their home and go to sleep at night in their bed...perhaps after they take that trip down the gravel road and shove "Fido" out.

    It seems that the mention of a "dog-aggressive Pit Bull" strayed away from the original point. Though this circumstance was the inspiration for the post, I feel the message goes far beyond that.

    When dealing with animals, every single situation needs to be looked at on an individual basis. Assuming that Jane and John looking to surrender their dog didn't REALLY lose their job and have to move to a home that isn't pet friendly resulting in them being turned away does no good to anyone.

    Instead, meet the dog. See if the dog is adoptable, or could be adoptable. As Stephanie mentioned, even a label of "aggression" can be misleading. Some dogs, especially Bully breeds, can appear to some as aggressive when, in fact, that is their play behavior. Some dogs simply have had little or no socialization with other dogs. I understand that due to limited time and resources many shelters/rescues are not able to invest fully in that one dog to attempt to alter an undesirable behavior. HOWEVER, at the very least, they SHOULD do a behavioral analysis of the dog before passing judgment or accepting a description at face value. Think of how easy it is to perceive another human incorrectly...now add in a language barrier so that the only thing you have to base your perception on is behavior alone, or in the case of an owner simply calling in, a verbal description of it.

    I've read several blogs recently about why so many people avoid getting a pet from a shelter/rescue. Stephanie's points in this blog are the number one reason why many choose purchase over adoption. The second most common reason is that the person adopting the dog was not given all of the information on the dog. Some shelters/rescues use blanket descriptions of the animals available for adoption, claiming they are all loving and great with people and other animals, when in fact, many aren't.

    At the end of the day, the shelters/rescues as well as the responsible owners that are forced to surrender their animals all have one huge thing in common...they all love animals. If "animal people" AND shelters/rescues alike would all take the time to try to understand each other better, the animals would benefit greatly.

    -- Posted by Gone to the dogs on Fri, Oct 11, 2013, at 8:36 PM
  • Gone to the Dogs- you worded that well.

    -- Posted by CPDT-KA on Fri, Oct 11, 2013, at 8:51 PM
  • I feel I need to add something here. It was mentioned that Stephanie should "channel her energies" into educating the public about bully breeds. I find that particularly odd in that when I hear the term "bully breed", the first person that comes to mind is Stephanie. Both through her blog, her posts on Facebook, and her work with Sioux Empire Pit Bull Rescue, she is a recognizable face and name in the world of bully advocating in our community.

    What is sad to me is that we don't often see organizations, other than breed specific rescue groups, lobbying against BSL. This is not only confusing, but concerning as well. It would make perfect sense to me that any organization focused on animals would be highly involved in the fight against BSL. Why, you may ask? Because obviously the most common dogs affected by BSL are bully breeds, yes, but that is always changing. Even here in Iowa, where there is anti-BSL legislation in place, municipalities all over the state are quietly pushing through laws that affect dog owners.

    Consider Fairfield, Iowa, for example. Breeds of dogs deemed "dangerous" by law include:

    Doberman Pincher

    Pit Bull Terrier, American Pit Bull, Staffordshire Terrier, or any other dog

    whose appearance and characteristic of breed is commonly regarded as Pit Bull, Pit Bull

    Dog, or Pit Bull Terrier or a combination of such breeds


    German Shepherd

    Belgian Malinois

    Siberian Huskies


    *and perhaps most concerning: "Dogs that by size present control con-cerns including Great Danes,

    Wolfhounds, Deerhounds, Mas-tiffs, Boerboels and other dogs weighing in excess of one

    hundred pounds"

    Not only should every dog owner be concerned about BSL eventually targeting their dog's breed, shelters and rescues have an even bigger reason to be concerned. The enactment of BSL leads to increased owner surrender. Sure, some laws allow dogs already in existence to stay, grandfathered in, in essence. However, what happens when people need to relocate due to life circumstance or employment change and find out their beloved pet is not allowed there with them?

    The question isn't what is Stephanie doing to fight BSL targeting bully breeds, it is what are animal-related organizations doing to prevent BSL from affecting all dogs?

    -- Posted by Gone to the dogs on Sat, Oct 12, 2013, at 10:35 AM
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