Thursday, December 29, 2011

When Dogs Bite

Over the 4th of July, a cousin had his annual party.  He lives in a house on a river with split level acreage.  It's a huge bash every year with at least 20 people coming.  The day is filled with drinking, eating and fireworks. 

I'm already setting the stage.  Can you see it coming?

This year, one of the relatives brought their lab.  This lab is a family pet.  He's neutered.  He lives inside the house with the family.  He's well socialized, well trained and loves everyone including the three year old in the household.  She's remarkably gentle given that toddlers tend to like to pull, poke and prod, but she has parents who are generally on top of things.  She is never left unsupervised with the dog and has been taught "gentle" (yes, you can teach a child commands as well as you can teach a dog).

Concerned about the noise (but not enough to leave the dog home), the owners took him to the vet ahead of time and got a prescription for an anti-anxiety pill to help him deal with the fireworks. 

Fast forward to the 4th - we now have a well socialized dog around 40 people, more than half of them strangers and most of them drinking.  Add in the fireworks, the rush of kids and a new drug.  You've got a recipe for disaster.

But they added another one.

Because he was still acting nervous, they chained him up down by the river.

So now you have a nervous dog on a medication that he's not used to, terrified by the loud noises and sights and he's chained up with nowhere to go. 

The older kids saw him growl and backed away.  Because older kids can be better at reading dog signals.  But the three year old girl who lived with him and loved him?  Didn't see a threat.  Unfortunately, everyone thought someone else was watching her.  She went in search of her dog, found him and went right up to him.  Since she was all alone when it happened, we don't know the entire situation.  He was right next to the water so we're very lucky she ended up with some bites than in the river where she could have drowned.

The evening of the 4th was spent in the hospital getting stitches in her poor little face and back.

Do we blame the dog?


The owners took full responsibility.  They had him evaluated by the vet, who took responsibility for prescribing the drug and felt that added to the situation.  In hindsight, he said it was poor judgement on his part for giving the dog a drug it had never had (and a full dose at that) and not warning the owners about the possible side effects. 

They had him evaluated by a behaviorist, who pointed out that chaining the dog was the absolute catalyst in the entire poorly thought out day.  After thoroughly assessing the dog over the course of days in many different situations, the conclusion was that the aggression shown in the bite at the river was situational and the cause of a frightened, drugged up dog with nowhere to go.

The dog is still in the home.  He is still not left alone with the child.  But he hasn't shown a single sign of aggression toward the child.  Their relationship has returned to normal.  He will get to stay home for the 4th of July next year - drug free and off a chain.

People like to just blame an animal for biting, but no dog bites without a reason and without warning (unless that dog has been punished for showing warning signs in the past).  It's easy to simply blame the dog, but to keep bites from happening, we need to learn from them.  We need to step back and thoroughly assess the situation with the help of experts to determine the why and see what could have been changed in the situation.  Education is key.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Present?

Do pets make good Christmas presents?

There isn't a one size fits all answer for this question. I know that some shelters and rescue groups don't like adopting out around the holidays for fear that the puppy or dog or kitten or cat will end up back at the shelter or rescue in the New Year.

 I think the better question is: When do pets make good presents?

 My brother, sister-in-law and nephew had to say good-bye to their beloved dog last month after eight years. Corkie was 16. It was a difficult decision and one that my five year old nephew didn't quite understand. All he knows is that his dog is no longer around and he misses her. They decided that their Christmas present to each other was going to be...a new dog. And this decision came spur of the moment based on a picture of a dog that their friend was fostering. The puggle is a year and a half old, great with kids, cats and other dogs. They took him home for a two day trial, which sealed the deal. They now have a new dog. They didn't mention to the rescue dog that this was their present to each other. Why? Because rescue groups can cringe at that word. But this is a good adoption. My brother hasn't had a puppy ever. He wants to do this the right way. This means we've been on the phone constantly - which kong is appropriate? What treats are good for him? What food would be best to feed him because he read that Puggles can tend to have skin allergies? He pulls on the leash, but he sits. He needs more training - can I recommend a certified trainer in their area? What toys are best? You would think they have a newborn. (And adorable - while my brother is on the phone with me, my nephew is shouting in the background, "DAD! DAD! Scooby needs this!") This is one lucky dog. This was an okay present.

 When someone is expecting a pet, they make great presents. If my husband showed up Christmas morning with a dog and said, "Merry Christmas!", I would be ecstatic. We're searching for a new addition to the family already. We know what we are getting into. It's nice for a family to make the decision on a dog together, but my husband knows me well enough to know what I'm looking for in a new dog (American Pit Bull Terrier, at least three years of age, preferably male, good with cats, dogs, and kids; any color but blue). This would be the best present ever!

My mom's friend got a shepherd puppy from rescue for her daughter last Christmas. Yes, "for her daughter." (this phrase will get you escorted out of some rescues/shelters)  And little Emma was so excited when she opened that box to see the puppy she had been praying for and writing Santa for! They had looked at pictures on the internet, read countless articles and breed websites to find which dog was best for them and had finally decided on a German Shepherd.  Emma wanted a puppy.  Mom and dad were okay with that, doing their own research on crate training.  On Christmas morning, Emma had to run a present over to the neighbors house with her dad (the ruse to get her out of the house while the rescue group dropped off the puppy).  Her mom waited in the room until she heard her husband ring the doorbell. As he opened the door, she put the lid on the box. Emma opened it immediately - gasped in surprise and wonder, then burst into tears. "Emma, what's wrong?" her mom asked. "The puppy could have died!" Emma sobbed. "And she must have been so scared in the box all dark.  Why was Santa so MEAN?" How sweet! Emma's new puppy came with a crate, dog bed, toys, leash, collar, dog food and training classes. A year later and they have a beloved family member. That gift worked out. The novelty didn't wear off, as Emma's parents expected. She still participates in the dog's evening walks with mom and dad. It's a family affair. But mom and dad fully expected to be the primary caretakers of the dog. Hence, why this worked out so well. With research done ahead of time, this lucky puppy got a forever home - starting as a little girl's Christmas present.

So why do rescue groups say that pets don't make good gifts? Because in some cases they don't. People who get their child a pet without doing any research and are expecting a teenager to be the primary caretaker of the (dog, cat, puppy, kitten, hamster, snake) often don't like when the caretaking falls to them after the novelty has worn off. People who buy a pet for someone who isn't suspecting it just because they "always love playing with the puppies at the pet store" aren't doing that person a favor. It's one thing to fall in love with a fluffy furball in the store - another thing entirely to be getting up every four hours to make sure it doesn't go to the bathroom in his crate or puppy proofing the home after the cushions have been chewed. Pets can make good gifts if everyone involved is expecting it. Clarifying this can go a long way toward making rescues and shelters appear to be more accepting of holiday adoptions. Holiday adoptions can save lives. Pets like to be home for the holidays too.

That's Scooby snoozing away while my nephew and his best friend play their video games. Scooby was the perfect present for this family!