We Need to STop Stigmatizing People for Rehoming Their Dogs
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We’ve all seen social media posts about a dog who has been surrendered to a shelter or rescue. We’ve all seen posts on social media written by people asking for help to rehome their dogs.
We’ve also seen the ugly comments that follow:
“How could you dump your family member?”
“You are heartless!”
“I’d rather live in my car than give up my dog!”
“You don’t deserve to have a dog!”
And then there’s this classic:
“No judgment, but I would never rehome my dog. I’d do whatever it takes to keep them.”
Rehoming a pet is a complicated situation and one rarely ever taken lightly. In this episode of the Individual Animal, AFF’s Director of Behavior and Training, Bernice Clifford, discusses her personal connection with this issue. One of her dogs, Mowgli has picked several fights with her much smaller, elderly dog. She considered rehoming.
We talk about the many reasons people consider rehoming, resources that can help them with the process (like getyourpet.com), and what resources exist to help them keep their pet – because often, people don’t realize that solutions are out there.
Bernice’s situation is a perfect teachable moment for everyone who sits in judgment of someone else’s life choices. It is a decision fraught with extreme emotion.
It doesn’t matter the reason behind someone’s decision – and there are a myriad of them, which we discuss in the podcast.
We all know the popular reason everyone loves to judge: Someone had a baby. Well, some dogs just aren’t good with kids. And some people truly do not have the skills to help their dog learn to live with a small child. For some dogs, this is an easy process, for others, it involves a lot of time and energy on the person’s part and some people truly do not have the ability to invest all of that time.
It’s easy to judge them and assume you know that they are just being lazy. But we don’t know what goes on in someone’s life. We also don’t know how much they love their dog. And while we sit in judgment about how terrible this person we know nothing about is, we’re forgetting about what’s best for the dog.
Is it good for a dog to be in a home where the people don’t have the resources to address its needs? Is it good to keep a dog in a home because the person has been publicly shamed to keep the dog? No, it isn’t. What’s best for the dog is to find a home with a person who can give them the brightest future.
That’s what we should focus on. When people rehome their dog, it is because they recognize that their dog needs something they can’t give it. We should meet that agonizing decision with compassion and when possible, help them find resources that might help them keep their pet. But we also must acknowledge that this is sometimes the most selfless thing someone can do for their dog and that it gives the dog a chance to have the best life someone can give it.
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READ THE PODCAST TRANSCRIPT:
*note that we have edited the transcript for clarity and removed repeated words and “umms…” Please excuse any missing punctuation or typos we may have missed!
Regina: [00:00:00] Hi and welcome to the individual animal a podcast about dogs, people and discrimination. I’m Regina.
Nikki: [00:00:06] I’m Nikki. And today we are going to be talking about rehoming your pets and what factors and emotions go into making that decision, and why rehoming shouldn’t be viewed negatively. Our guest today is Bernice Clifford. She’s worked for AFF for 13 years as our Director of Behavior and Training. She’s worked training dogs and people for 20 some odd years. We’ll put all of her credentials down in the show notes but I just want our audience to know ahead of time that Bernie’s is an expert when it comes to dog behavior. Hey, Bernie’s how’s it going?
Bernice: [00:00:46] Great. Glad to be here. Thank you.
Nikki: [00:00:49] So the reason we wanted to talk about rehoming is because recently Bernice had an experience where she dealt with considering rehoming one of her dogs in her house. And through that process, it sort of came to light to us what we’ve pretty much already knew, that sometimes there is a negative connotation to folks that are rehoming dogs, when a lot of times it’s not a decision that they’re making lightly. So, Regina, do you want to talk a little bit about the stigma that goes behind that decision?
Regina: [00:01:27] Sure. I think we have all whether or not you are involved with the dog community or rescue or you have probably seen those videos that often go viral on Facebook with “look at this heartless owner surrendering this dog to a shelter.” Maybe the owner is heartless right. But we don’t know. It’s more likely that the owner has gone through some major life change. Often times a really traumatic life change that causes them to have to make the traumatic decision to rehome their pet.
[00:02:00] And it’s so easy for us to just assume that that person is an asshole right because that kind of makes us feel better about ourselves because we’re not reforming our pets. But real life is much more complicated than that and we shouldn’t just be outright shaming people for making a decision that might be the best decision for their dog. Plus I think it also plays into the idea that shelters are terrible places and we know that’s not true and that the people who work there really love the animals that they work with. So I think there are a lot of stigmas that go into into how we feel about rehoming pets.
Nikki: [00:02:37] Absolutely. So Bernice, do you want to talk a little bit about your process and your experience your recent experience with considering rehoming in your household.
Bernice: [00:02:48] Absolutely. And I will try to do that without lots of emotion, but forgive me if that happens.
Regina: [00:02:57] I think the emotion is good. When you have the emotion because that’s something that is so important. Like I just said like it is not an easy decision at all. It’s a heartbreaking decision and people need to really face that that’s the reality and not judge. So go ahead.
Bernice: [00:03:14] OK. So currently I have four dogs in my house the oldest one being Creature. He’s about 10 years old and 20 pounds. He’s the tiniest dog in my house. And the only purebred dog in my house, not that that matters but Creature is a pug. And then I have the Yana who is about three and a half years old now and she’s about 55 to 60 pounds so size girl. And then there’s a Zuzu who’s two years old and sort of medium size. And those three are all super easy. They were the first three in the house. And the last one I added to the house is Mowgli. And we added mostly probably about a year and a half ago, and he’s just about two years old now. And he weighs about forty five pounds. So Mowgli… normally I have the opportunity to foster a dog because of what I do. I can foster all kinds of dogs before I decide that something is going to come into my house. But Mowgli, my partner fell in love with before he even got to the house, so I was sort of already at a decision of mostly staying no matter what.
[00:04:25] So that was all fine. But we arrived at our house that you know four and a half or five months old, And we could see pretty quickly that his tolerance for other dogs was pretty low. Meaning that he didn’t necessarily like new dogs. He didn’t like male dogs. And we already had a male dog in the house. So my first inclination even early on was oh this is not going to be the best fit for us but Chris, again continued to fall in love with the dog and he is a super sweet dog. He has lots of things about him that are lovely.
Nikki: [00:05:07] So anyway with your behavior experience Bernice, you really noticed that early on but I’m going to guess that a lot of people they get dogs in their homes at a young age aren’t going to really realize what potential hazards that might pop up in the future. You had an opportunity in the beginning to sort of notice those I think that the in the real world with people that don’t work with behavior, it probably comes as a surprise you know six 10 months down the road when they have a serious issue similar to yours.
Bernice: [00:05:47] Sure and that those are conversations that Chris and I had early on because he would say things like “he’s just a puppy he’ll grow out of it! Don’t you think he’ll grow out of it?”
Bernice: [00:05:58] And it was like Oh no I don’t. But we can try all these other things and we do do lots of management things and trying to make him feel better about Creature. And you know with any kind of behavior stuff, you start to see lots of success and then you have fallbacks but the fall backs in the beginning or nothing really serious. You know, they were just squabbles and squabbles happen when you have that many dogs in a house. So they were all squabbles that were easily broken up with just the sound of your voice. Which to me is is acceptable. You know it’s still a manageable situation.
[00:06:42] So then we had a couple of situations that I wasn’t present for. And Nikki, you were present for one.
Nikki: [00:06:49] Yes.
Bernice: [00:06:50] Chris was never present for any of these. And so you know we had a situation with our dog sitter, who is dog experienced, and she really expressed that she would prefer not to take care of the two boys together although all the dogs were fine. The two boys together made her really uncomfortable because of a situation that they had. And at that moment you know I had a small bit of worry but then I went back to everybody’s tolerance for dog squabbles are different. And so I thought she saw what we normally see, but was more sensitive to it. And so then they said that there was an incident, it was when you were there Nikki, and I will never forget the sound of your voice well I was in Texas…. and that did cause me much more concern than the first. But then when I called Chris on the phone, he was like, “oh I don’t know the dogs are normal the way they always are.” I mean the boys don’t like each other but they don’t look for trouble with each other on a normal basis.
Nikki: [00:08:00] Yeah. And I remember being very worried during the squabble, but once they had had some time to cool down or whatever it may be they seemed to just like to live in harmony for that moment in time, so it looks like everything was fine 30 minutes after it happened.
Bernice: [00:08:26] Yeah. So it’s tough. So I come home and everything looks normal to me. So I think nothing and then a couple months go by, and I had a situation…. And I do this for a living, like I’ve broken up dogfights… I will tell you, I don’t know if it was because it’s my small elderly dog being grabbed by my young dog…. I was horrified and terrified that I was going to end up with my small dog badly injured. And I was able to get them separated. Got them home separated them in the house. And then when Chris came home later, I let the dogs back out like normal and they were back to like normal. So then you go through these emotions of like in the moment and I was so angry and I was like that is it, this dog is not staying in our house he does not fit here. He doesn’t fit. He chases my chickens… Like all the other things that a dog does that are normal for most dogs become this like exaggerated thing and he can’t live here. That’s it for me. Then you see this normalcy and you’re like, “Am I crazy? Am I exaggerating what happened? Was I in a bad place at that moment?” But then it happened again and then next time that happened I didn’t…. The first time that I saw it happen, I sort of was like “Well, did Creature actually start it? Did creature get too close to him?” Sort of making excuses for why it happened and how I could help control it so it didn’t happen again. But the next time it happened, for me it was much more unpredictable and inexcusable. Like I was standing right there. I didn’t see Creature do anything, and Mowgli just grabbed him. So, at that time again for me that was it and I did start rehoming process. I did that by making flyers. I worked with the local shelter to find the right home for him. And I do want to express that although this was a pretty scary thing of him grabbing Creature. There was no real damage meaning that Creature did not have to go to a veterinarian to be put back together or be put on an antibiotic because of injuries. Otherwise, I may be having a different thought process about re homing my dog and we can talk about that in a little bit.
Nikki: [00:10:57] I want to make sure that we don’t paint Mowgli and this like…. Every time he walks in the door he’s nasty to every single dog that he sees. He gets along with other dogs in the house and he loves people very much he just doesn’t like chickens. He’s just like the scruffy lovable dog that just refuses to get along with the other guy in your house.
Regina: [00:11:23] I was just kind up to first thing I was can I say that I think that’s and maybe I’m jumping ahead here and I know we’ve talked about this before but sometimes rehoming a dog is about doing what’s best for the dog. And…
Bernice: [00:11:37] Right.
Regina: [00:11:39] Now I know you’re keeping Mowgli and everything, but you know for somebody else, maybe they realize that they they don’t have the skills to manage this situation and they realize that Mowgli is stressed out by haveing another male dog in the house. And then obviously Creature is stressed out because of what might happen. So it’s the best thing for the dogs to rehome them. I just wanted to make that point to, to go along with like Mowgli is a great dog. But you know some dogs like him just because they get into fights with other dogs doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t make a great pet for someone.
Bernice: [00:12:16] Right.
Regina: [00:12:17] Hopefully I made that point clearly.
Bernice: [00:12:19] I think it sounded good to me.
Nikki: [00:12:22] But Bernice, you decided with your partner in the house that you’re going to manage Mowgli and Creature in your house. So that was the final decision at this point.
Bernice: [00:12:37] Correct. Yes. And by manage, there’s a lot that goes into that. I mean I think that people think the dogs don’t get along so you just separate them. And that can actually cause more damage than good, because when dogs don’t like each other and you separate them and then they accidentally end up in the same room, you you could end up with a worse situation than you started with. So there is a whole lot of behavior modification that has to go into that, as well. So there’s a lot of rotating but there’s also behavior modification not that I expect the boys to ever fall in love with each other, but I need to have some level of reassurance that when we have company, we have grandchildren, somebody comes over and accidentally opens a door… I need some level of reassurance that the boys have behaviors on them that include moving away from each other going to a spot and not actually going at each other. So it’s not that straightforward, you know.
Nikki: [00:13:37] How is that working for you guys so far?
Bernice: [00:13:39] So far pretty good. But honestly we both have very busy schedules, so it’s going to be a long drawn out process. It’s something that you know I would imagine would take a good six months or so to have the boys trained to the level that I would want them to be so that I am pretty comfortable. And I would never be totally comfortable that nothing would happen between them. So never ever in Creature’s existence will he be left alone or in a room even for a couple of minutes unattended with Mowgli.
Nikki: [00:14:16] So you’re you are a dog trainer you’ve worked with personal people’s personal dogs training them. What would your advice in a similar situation to somebody to one of your clients?
Bernice: [00:14:31] Sure. So I mean I have had these situations and it’s funny because I always… when people decide to keep their dogs and this rotation thing I’ve always thought “my God that’s crazy.” Like why why would you do that. But here I am doing that same thing. So my advice is always to… depending on the size so Mowgli and Creature there is a big size difference. So while Creature really can’t damage Mowgli, Mowgli could damage Creature. And so that’s something I always take into account when counseling people. If the dogs are of the same size it’s much easier to try to work through something like that but with a size difference, my advice is almost always to try to rehome one of the dogs if they are rehomable. And sometimes the rehoming needs to be the easier dog, depending on whether the other or not dog has caused damage or not. And I did call other trainers. I mean I have lots of friends and acquaintances that are trainers. So I did get advice from other folks during this process and their advice to me was to rehome Mowgli. So here I am not taking anybody’s advice.
Regina: [00:15:52] I want to go back and talk about something… You are a trainer and you are talking about how long this process is going to be until you feel relatively comfortable… six months in that it’s going to take a lot of time and effort and you’re already saying it’s going to take a lot of time and effort for you and your trainer. So imagine you are somebody who knows virtually nothing about dogs. And that’s something that everybody says, “well you made a commitment to a dog so you should do everything you can.” We don’t really think about that a lot of people are doing everything they can. They just truly are not equipped to manage a rotating household which is really hard. And also from what I gather from when you were talking about the big fight that happened, that it was traumatic for you. Even though you’re a trainer it was still maybe you had that sense of “oh my god what do I do?” I mean my dog has been attacked before and I lose my shit every time, which is so unproductive. And I know that like in my head, I’m aware that it is unproductive, but I totally lose it. And you know because it’s traumatic. And so also you’re asking people who love their dogs to possibly deal with reoccurring trauma for them and for their dogs. It is a lot to ask of somebody. And again when we really think about what keeping a dog in a bad situation entails, we’re really asking a lot of people and it’s I feel like it’s just not the best thing to ask most people to go through that trauma or to try to manage something they aren’t equipped to manage.
Bernice: [00:17:39] Right. Right, Regina. Many times I’ve seen it go wrong when people have decided to manage a household like this. Because you know what, we’re all human and sometimes the wrong door gets open, sometimes you’re busy and you forget that one dog is in the yard and the other one accidentally gets out there. So it’s a lot to ask of people with busy schedules and you know the dogs are still in the same space. So unless you’ve got a completely separate apartment with separate entrances you always run the risk of an accident happening.
Nikki: [00:18:13] And it’s a really hard decision to make for some people. So I would imagine most people try to make it work just because they feel bad that they have to rehome one of their dogs. The other thing too is that rehoming can be looked at, like we said at the beginning as sort of stigmatized. So, even starting that process is almost… really hard for somebody to do. And I wonder Bernice, when you decided, “OK I think we’re going to maybe start rehoming Mowgli,” did you have any concerns or think that you would be looked at differently? Especially because you do run in a lot of animal welfare circles. So did you have any doubts about. it? Not that I think that you really care what other people think but, I’m wondering what your thought process was when thinking about what others were going to think about you, especially as a dog trainer rehoming your dog?
Bernice: [00:19:14] Yeah. I mean I did have a brief moment of concern about that mostly because of my representation at Animal Farm and I would never want some… you know that the folks that would get upset about something like that to then look badly at the organization that I’m with. But then, you know the more I thought about it, the more I thought that’s kind of cowardly. Like why would I keep it quiet if this is what I have to do, then that’s just going to help other people who have to do this understand and feel a little bit better – not that not that you can ever feel okay about the process, but at least not feel quite as shamed if you will.
Nikki: [00:20:02] And I think that’s how we sort of got the podcast going was that we really thought it was important for other people to understand that it’s OK if you are in a position where you need to rename your dog. and a lot of people go through it, even people that own dogs their entire life and train dogs their entire life.
Bernice: [00:20:23] Right. Right. And I think the more dogs you end up having, there are probably more dog trainers that have had to go through this process, because we have a bad habit of collecting dogs.
Nikki: [00:20:34] Yeah.
Bernice: [00:20:35] And so depending on how you want to live with them, you know I think that you run a risk. The more you have come through your house the bigger your risk is that you might run into a situation like this.
Nikki: [00:20:48] Let’s talk a little bit about what we know with our work with shelters of reasons why people need to rehome on their dog. So sometimes it’s behavior issues, like the one that you had, but there is a ton of other reasons why it’s necessary for folks to make the decision to rehome their dogs. So we’ll start with you Bernice since you work with behavior stuff. Can you tell me some other behaviors that you have experienced in with your aware that are reasons that people needed to rehome their dog?
Bernice: [00:21:22] Sure, absolutely. You know having a child or a toddler – and I feel like those people get shamed often. And honestly, not every dog is built to exist around a toddler. It’s fairly easy with most dogs to manage them around an infant. But when that baby starts moving and they move funny, they don’t look like regular people, that’s not always the best situation for a fearful dog. And so sometimes that that’s something that I have seen.
Regina: [00:21:54] Yeah and I also think that some people just, like I said some people not being able not being equipped to handle aggression issues between dogs, some people… Like yes there are all of these things and all this advice that we can give people of how to integrate a baby into your life when you have a dog and there’s lots of great advice out there, but it does take time and it does take work. And some people just aren’t equipped emotionally or even practically because their lives are too busy to do that. And so if somebody can’t do that then I personally would rather have them bring home their dog and give the dog a good life as opposed to risking something terrible.
Bernice: [00:22:36] Absolutely. Absolutely.
Regina: [00:22:38] It’s complicated why people need to rehome their dogs. And some of us might make different decisions, but we’re not those individuals so it’s really hard. We can’t compare other people to ourselves.
[00:22:53] Some dogs get sick and people are not prepared to spend that money. And I see this so much on social media. “Well you should have a savings account of thousands of dollars to pay for anything that might happen with your dog.” Meanwhile, seventy five percent of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. So that’s just not reality and not everybody has pet insurance. I’m lucky that I can afford pet insurance so that when my dog got very sick last year, I was able to pay for it and take care of it. But pet insurance… My pet insurance for him is now 60 dollars a month. That’s a… That is a lot of money and a lot of people can barely afford insurance for themselves. But just because they can’t afford pet insurance doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have a dog and experience that wonderful relationship.
Nikki: [00:23:46] So if you’re if you’re faced with like a six thousand dollar vet bill or giving your pet up to somebody that can afford to take care of that vet bill, that’s like a really tough decision to make. But like, you know what the better decision to make in that case is, if that’s your only option. Luckily, nowadays there are a lot of shelters out there that will help folks get over that medical hurdle. If they have the resources to, but if they’re in an area where that’s not an option then what decision would we all make? I feel like if you couldn’t afford a serious medical surgery or whatever like your dog gets injured and you do you can’t afford the medical expenses and your only option is to give that dog up to someone who can… I don’t think there’s a person on the earth that would say “I’m just going to let my dog suffer so I can keep it.”
Regina: [00:24:47] Right… and I have said I feel like I talk about them every podcast. I have friends and in rescue and some of them…
Nikki: [00:24:55] You do!?
Regina: [00:24:55] I do! Did you know I have a Shiba!? They they will take dogs that are really sick. whose owners can’t afford to care for them. And they take these dogs, you know and then the dogs do end up getting rehomed, but they have compassion. They don’t demonize the owners who can’t afford to care for the dogs. They take the dogs they get them well and then yes the dogs most of the time don’t go back to their owner. They do get rehomed, but it’s better for all dogs and people if we have compassion as opposed to a judgment.
Nikki: [00:25:32] Absolutely… except they should give their dogs back to their owners.
Regina: [00:25:37] Yes I agree.
Nikki: [00:25:42] But anyway yeah also, just unexpected life changes. I get a lot of phone calls where people have inherited dogs through their family members that have passed away and then realize, “crap! This dog is not getting along with my other dog in the house and I can’t keep it.” It’s not fair for them to have to manage a dog that isn’t theirs in their home. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them trying to find a new home for that dog of their lost family member or maybe they found a stray dog on the street or there’s a lot of reasons why people pick up dogs that aren’t theirs and then realize it’s just not a good fit.
Regina: [00:26:25] And I’ve seen people judge people who have taken a dog from a family member who’s passed away and it’s like, “ugh! They should be honoring their family member and keeping this dog.” It’s probably really emotional for them to realize they can’t keep their loved one’s pet. That’s probably really hard for them because it’s probably like giving away a piece of a person that you love. Again it’s not an easy decision. I don’t know what it is in the psychology of humans that we’re just so happy to demonize people as opposed to have compassion for them.
Nikki: [00:26:57] Yeah. I can’t imagine what my family members…. I mean I know I got Animal Farm and I’m sure that my dogs would find a great home but…
Bernice: [00:27:11] I’ll keep them.
Nikki: [00:27:12] I can’t imagine like if I if I had passed away unexpectedly this is getting like a really doom and gloom. But like, how my family would feel having…. I mean a lot of my family is not in a situation to do to take my dogs, so I can only imagine it.
Regina: [00:27:31] Especially not both together.
Nikki: [00:27:31] And then it goes into the whole while you should have a plan for your pets.
Regina: [00:27:40] Oh yes, there is that. That gets me. Because that’s the latest thing you should even putting your will like money for your dog. And again that goes back to a lot of people don’t have money like they don’t have an estate that’s going to be with them when they pass away… I have seen recently and I think you’ve seen this to Nikki that you shouldn’t adopt a dog to someone if they don’t have a backup plan for if something happens and they die unexpectedly.
Nikki: [00:28:05] Wow, Well, I’m only 33 so I’m just hoping I’m not going anywhere before my pets do. That’s my backup plan! Oh boy. So let’s talk about..
Regina: [00:28:25] Oh, go ahead which topic were you going to bring up?
Nikki: [00:28:26] I was going to go on to the next thing. Do you have something else we didn’t go over?
Regina: [00:28:34] We went over pet medical expenses but do we go over human medical expenses?
Nikki: [00:28:39] No.
Regina: [00:28:40] Yeah so there’s that, which I mean then I guess we could talk about horrible health care in this country but maybe we’ll just bypass that. But I mean health care is expensive and it can be really hard to have to… You have to make a decision sometimes between your medicine and your dog’s food or your dog’s veterinary care and your medicine or your health care or your child’s health care or something like that.
Nikki: [00:29:09] Not even financially. If you have a big dog that’s hard to manage and you break your hip and can no longer get that dog out for walks that it needs every day, then you sort of have to make the decision of “well maybe this dog needs a home where he can get the exercise that he needs.”.
Regina: [00:29:32] Yeah and not everybody can hire a dog walker. I can just imagine in my head people going hire a dog walker and not everybody can do that.
Nikki: [00:29:42] Dog walkers are expensive. So let’s talk about what you can do before you go before you decide to rehome the dog.
Regina: [00:29:52] Yeah. I feel like we made this sound like rehoming is the only option and it’s definitely not. I know a lot of people feel like it is like there may be one scuffle between their dogs or maybe their dog has some food aggression and they think oh my god I have to bring my dog and that’s not necessarily the case. And you don’t even have to be able to afford a trainer behaviorist to help you get there. There are resources out there for people.
Nikki: [00:30:16] I’m not I’m not sure if we talked about this in Jessica’s podcast at all, but I kind of want to talk to you Bernice about, first of all, “my dog has a behavior issue when do I reach out to a dog trainer?” which are pretty easy to find… I also want you to talk about how you find them and what questions you ask. But also when at what point do I then decide to reach out to a veterinary behaviorist, if it’s something that I can afford and if it’s something I have the resources for because I do understand that they are few and far between.
Bernice: [00:30:55] Yeah. So dog trainers are…. Behavior issue is such a big giant umbrella. So things like I’m having trouble house training my dog. Well you don’t need a veterinary behaviorist for that. I may take my dog to my veterinarian and make sure that it doesn’t have an infection but something like that, I am probably going to call a dog trainer so… “I can’t house trained my dog,” “My dog is jumpy, mouthy….” The regular normal dog stuff, I would call a dog trainer for first. “My dog is biting my child,” “My dog is trying to go after my neighbor,” My dog is going after other dogs…” Those are things that you would want to look into a veterinary behaviorist for… Or “my dog has such severe anxiety.” There are some anxiety things that a dog trainer can help you with. The benefit of the veterinary behaviorist is that they can actually look at your animal both as sort of a trainer and as a veterinarian and they can recommend medications to help you and help your dog better fit into your life.
[00:32:11] So many behavior issues, I guess what I’m trying to say is many behavior issues are not necessarily the dog having a behavior issue but the dog and the human having an issue blending together in the same environment.
Nikki: [00:32:26] What’s your take on, “I’m just going to watch a YouTube video and hope that helps.” I feel like that’s what age we’re in. “Anytime I have a problem, my dog is biting me and I don’t know” … Why I’m going google it and watch a YouTube video.
Regina: [00:32:46] I’m going to ask people on Facebook!
Bernice: [00:32:54] A tough one, because I’m going to say it depends on the situation, because personally I love YouTube! But it depends on the situation.
Regina: [00:33:04] Hey, YouTube was really helpful training my dog. YouTube was, but it wasn’t… I didn’t have any major behavior issues with him though.
Bernice: [00:33:11] Right right right. Yes. If you have a major behavior issue, you really should have somebody who knows what they’re doing look at your dog. And a good dog trainer, if you’re not sure, a good dog trainer is going to meet with you and refer you back to a veterinary behaviorist if it’s something beyond what what they feel equipped to help you with. So you know but I mean for things like house training if you want to look on YouTube first that’s fine. Just make sure that your dog doesn’t have any kind of an infection or you know something else is going on.
Regina: [00:33:45] And also with some behavior issues some maybe aggression issues sometimes that’s a health issue too.
Bernice: [00:33:51] Absolutely.
Regina: [00:33:52] I think that should always be the first thing people check. Take your dog to the vet because oftentimes it’s an indication of pain.
Bernice: [00:33:58] Absolutely especially if it comes on quickly if if you didn’t have an issue and all of a sudden you have an issue there is a very good chance that you have a medical issue.
Nikki: [00:34:07] Can you think of any other resources that might be helpful before they decide to go on to start the rehoming process.
Bernice: [00:34:15] Yeah I mean so a lot of local shelters now have really good resources. A lot of them will have a trainer on site that will help folks so that they don’t need to go through rehoming. If it’s a money issue, a lot of human food pantries as well as animal shelters do have food for dogs and cats in their little resource library. I’m trying to think of what else a lot of the local shelters I think you already mentioned this do do low cost veterinary care. So those kinds of things are always good to look at before making a decision.
Nikki: [00:34:54] Regina, do you have anything to add about like that poor portion before we go on?
Regina: [00:34:58] No, but you know what, I actually thought of something that I didn’t mention early on in the podcast when we were talking about the stigma. One thing that I learned really quickly, I mean like my first week at Animal Farm, is that we don’t save forever home because things can happen. And I know so many shelters and rescues love to use that because it makes us feel good. But then when we say that that’s I mean that’s just baked in there that then will stigmatize somebody who can’t keep the dog for whatever reason. So we would all be better served if we backed off from hashtag forever home because it does carry an inherent shame and therefore anybody who needs to rehome their dog. So now do we want to talk about the depressing and the really depressing stuff as if this wasn’t depressing already. What Happens when a dog isn’t suitable for rehoming? ‘Cause and you know some dogs can’t and shouldn’t be rehomed. So Bernice do you want to talk about that?
Bernice: [00:36:00] Sure. Sure. Again with something like, I would always recommend that the person is calling at least a dog trainer but probably a veterinary behaviorist just to make sure that they’re understanding the behavior. And I only caution about that because some if people don’t understand dog behavior sometimes they think that they have a larger issue than they actually do.
Regina: [00:36:29] Yeah. And I mentioned like resource guarding earlier and I think that’s one issue that I see a lot of people don’t understand what that is and they think it’s like “Oh my god, my dog is terrible and I can’t have this dog in my life.” And when really most the time resource garden is something that can be managed pretty eas…. I’m going to say easily but I realize that it’s not always easy.
Bernice: [00:36:51] Yes (laughs)
Regina: [00:36:56] But you know. Yeah. We should make it clear we’re not saying that if you have a difficult dog you should or a life change that you should immediately rehome your dog. That’s not at all what we’re saying.
Bernice: [00:37:05] Right. Right. So I mean severe behavior issues like you know, we sent a human to the hospital or another animal to the hospital… these are things that I would be saying you are probably if if you cannot keep the animal and contain the animal properly and by contained I mean manage properly, muzzle when in public that kind of thing, then the dog is most likely going to need to be euthanized. People have this fantasy that there is all these sanctuaries out there and there just aren’t all that many sanctuaries that are really wonderful there are a few. But typically dogs that don’t like other dogs don’t do really well at the sanctuaries that are actually great.
[00:37:50] So you’re probably going to have to euthanize the dog. And that is best done with the owner since, if we’re dealing with a difficult dog, they are going to have a harder time if they have to go to a shelter first and then be euthanized.
Regina: [00:38:08] I feel like this is also something that we could get entire podcast out of and I think we should talk about. But on a larger scale and all the things that go along with this topic. I think that’s something that we should save part of this conversation for another podcast.
Bernice: [00:38:27] Yeah. Yes it is a big one. It is a big one and it’s a big one for rescues and shelters as well.
Nikki: [00:38:35] But if your dog is a candidate for rehoming and you’ve decided that that’s the best option for you and your dog there are a lot of resources out there. The first one I want to talk about is super controversial and I feel like every time I mentioned it to people that call, half of them just no longer want to talk to me anymore because they don’t think I know what I’m talking about. But Craigslist is probably the most controversial way to rehome your dog. These days we when we did adoptions at Animal Farm foundation we put our dogs on Craigslist to advertise them for adoption and have had very awesome adopters come out of that. Now I understand that there’s a lot of folks that are like “Oh my God. That’s where all the animal abusers get their dogs.” But if you really think about it Craigslist is not any different than posting a flyer up in your local community right. You’re still in control of who is adopting out that dog. The only thing Craigslist is doing is getting you know 10 to 20 times more exposure because you’re reaching more people.
Regina: [00:39:43] Right. And it’s it’s not as if it’s not as if you’re not going to meet the person. Someone’s not going to like email you and respond to your ad and be like I want your dog and you’re gonna just like put them in a box and leave them on the street for the person to pick up. That’s not what happens.
Nikki: [00:40:03] I think that sometimes pet owners, when their rehoming their dogs, think that shelters have this like magic trick of adopting our dogs, When in reality we have really no control over what happens to the dog after it leaves our shelter, no matter how diligent we are in our adoption processes. So the same thing goes for we then your dog in person and you can certainly you know and I recommend you find in a local shelter that has an adoption application online, if that makes you feel more comfortable use that with the people interested in your dogs. And go meet the people and really explain who the dog is and what the dog’s issues are. Or you know the dog might not have issues depending on where we homing the dog but well I mean all dogs have issues really mine certainly do. But I really I want to make sure that people understand that Craigslist is not evil and I can’t wait for the hate mail that comes with this but well you know what.
Regina: [00:41:09] I actually have I’ve always had the belief that Craigslist is terrible and that’s because that’s what everybody said. But now that you’re saying this I’m thinking to myself how is Craigslist any different than putting up flyers? It’s not any different because you’re still having strangers call you right?
Nikki: [00:41:28] Absolutely.
Regina: [00:41:31] There is absolutely no difference.
Nikki: [00:41:33] And I think one of the great ideas Bernie’s had, which I’m not sure everybody thinks about is she put a flyer up for Mowgli at our vet’s office and vets have really good connections online like who needs a dog. So I think that’s something that people maybe not always think about is vet’s offices are great along with all the other places you can hang fliers, like grocery stores and gas stations.
Regina: [00:41:59] Also, lots off rescues we’ll do courtesy listing so they’ll put your dog on their site but they won’t actually like you know take your dog. You can keep your dog until they find a suitable home or you find a suitable home.
Nikki: [00:42:09] Also adoptapet.com Recently and I say recently it might be a year at this point, added a feature to their web site where pet owners can now post their dogs for adoption. Formally adoptapet.com was just for shelters and rescues. So that’s a really big place where… That’s where I went to get my first dog. A lot of people go there to find animals, so that’s a huge way to get your dog exposure.
Regina: [00:42:43] You know what. I just remembered and I’m going to have to find this and put this in the show notes. But Nikki, do you remember we were contacted last year by somebody who started a site that is strictly for people who want to rehome their pets. And it’s to connect them with adopters. I’m sure I still have the emails I’m enough to search. Hopefully I can find it by the time we publish this podcast because it was a really cool thing it was just kind of you know keep dogs out of shelters by having a place for people to rehome their pets themselves. Yeah. You know I can’t remember the name. I will find it and put it in the show notes in the blog.
Nikki: [00:43:24] Another thing that I always tell people to that call they’re looking to find a place for their dog is if you have the opportunity and the time and the resources, it’s so important that you try to rehome your dog before going to a shelter and rescue for a few reasons. One is gonna be much better for your dog to go from one home into another home and shelters are doing a great job, but a shelter environment is not always ideal for a dog. Dogs can deteriorate in shelters. So if you can get your dog from one home to another it’s just it’s so much better for the dog than to have to go into a shelter.
Bernice: [00:44:07] Right. Right. It’s really hard to see an animal’s true personality when they’re in the shelter environment. You’ll see dogs that that display behavior issues that don’t actually have behavior issues when they were in a home environment. On the opposite you’ll see dogs that are sort of shut down and don’t show any behaviors and then you get them home when they’re they’re completely different. So it’s a tough environment for animals just like it would be for people.
Regina: [00:44:33] And a lot of people go to rescues because they have foster homes, but every rescue I know it’s like tapped out and they don’t have any more foster homes. So if you can rehome the dog yourself that’s probably the best thing for the dog.
Bernice: [00:44:48] Anything is probably, if the person can handle it, is probably the best thing for the person to because you know then you know where your dog went – you have that connection but everybody’s different. Everybody’s an individual.
Regina: [00:45:01] Yeah. Oh man. This was a depressing subject.
[00:45:13] But if you do have to bring your dog to a shelter, I think maybe we should talk a little bit about how US in animal welfare should act towards people that have to rehome their pets. And I will say, animal welfare as a whole, I think that we’ve got a lot more compassionate about how we react to people rehoming dogs. I know that a lot of shelters I visit now they have surrender and owner surrender sort of suiteareas to make them feel more comfortable and less icky about having to drop their dog off at a shelter. I think there is this like negative stereotype for people that have to rely on their dog and still in some areas in some shelters we have an attitude of you’re an asshole because you’re rehoming your dog.
Regina: [00:46:06] yeah I would say the first rule is don’t take a video of the person surrendering their dog and then posted on Facebook to try to shame them. Don’t do that then you’re the jackass if you do that. Because You don’t know that person’s story so don’t do it. And I know there’s lots of times. Oh the person didn’t even pet the dog, they just walked away. Yeah. Because maybe they couldn’t handle the emotion of petting their dog. We don’t all respond the same way to a horrible negative emotion. So maybe that’s how they could handle having to do what they had no choice to do. So don’t be that jackass.
Nikki: [00:46:39] Yeah. It’s a really hard decisions go meet those people where they are and understand that they certainly have probably exhausted all of their options, and believe me, nobody – nobody – wants to surrender their dogs to a shelter. I don’t. I don’t care who you are. It’s not a fun thing to do.
Regina: [00:47:00] And this goes back to seeing people as individuals that we don’t take the time to talk to people. We just judge them and maybe if we did take even two minutes to ask someone why they were doing it and get beyond it “well because I had a kid.” Ok but why what’s going on? We would have compassion for them and understand that they are making a hard decision that they probably wish they didn’t have to make.
Nikki: [00:47:24] Just be compassionate.
Regina: [00:47:30] Oh hey! That goes back to that goes back to what we were originally going to call this podcast: Don’t be a dick.
Nikki: [00:47:37] Don’t be a dick and I’m going back to your don’t video somebody, I don’t even want to know where that arose from. I’m guessing it’s because it happened which is very sickening…
Regina: [00:47:49] Oh it happens a lot on Facebook and often those things go viral and so that person, when we don’t know their story, is being shamed by thousands of people. I mean I saw a lot of this when I worked at BarkPost that I… you know what I probably I’m sure at some point in my tenure as a dog journalist ,I’ve wrote about that I probably did. And I probably wrote some things that I massively regret now but it happens a lot.
Nikki: [00:48:18] That’s what’s so great about. I mean it’s great about working in a lot of places and all but especially working at Animal Farm, I think that I’m constantly second guessing everything and trying to look at other people’s perspectives. I think it’s something that we all should be doing every day inside and outside of in animal welfare, is looking at other people’s perspective and what it’s like to be in their shoes. I’m going back tomorrow saying about videotaping, another thing with rehoming that I’ve noticed and welfare and this is sort of off topic a little bit of this podcast, but when you’re marketing your dogs for adoption ,you don’t need to tell people how they got to your shelter and why.
Regina: [00:49:07] Oh yeah. They use rehoming a lot and “they were rehomed because they were too old” … And maybe they were but also maybe the person couldn’t afford the care for their senior dog.
Nikki: [00:49:17] Just don’t shame people that rehome their dogs that are trying to make the right decisions for their dog. Or at least think about that before you make those sort of posts on your animals bio and Facebook pages and whenever.
Regina: [00:49:32] Yeah. That’s another podcast.
Nikki: [00:49:33] Yeah I got about off topic. Yeah. What else guys?
Regina: [00:49:40] People’s choices are much more complicated than we want to make them out to be. And we have to remember that what we might do or what you might think we would do right. Because we always say well I would do x y z if I was in that situation. Okay, but you’re not in that situation. So how would you… you don’t really know how you would act.
Nikki: [00:49:57] You’re not that person, either. You’re not in that situation and you are not that person.
Regina: [00:50:03] And like I said before like when my dog when my dog’s been attacked, I do lose my shit. But I and I and I know what I should do right. So I’ve had that thought well if I was in that situation I would do x y z and then I’m in that situation and I act like an idiot.
Nikki: [00:50:20] I do the same. I think even Bernice does and she knows better.
Bernice: [00:50:26] Yeah I mean I didn’t contain myself do it properly but I’ll tell you it was and it was hard to control my impulses to just rescue my little dog. Like I’m not going to lie. I had to like actually breathe through the whole process.
Regina: [00:50:43] Well you know what. I like maybe this kind of goes…. I think I alluded to this before but this sort of goes back to when people need to rehome their dog because of dogfights or anything like problems with your dog are traumatic. And we all want to think we could handle situations emotionally but again if you’re not in that situation, you can’t fully understand the trauma or emotions that go with dealing with something really horrible like that. So just keep your mouth shut and don’t judge and just offer compassion.
Nikki: [00:51:17] And some people are just assholes, but still be compassionate.
Regina: [00:51:19] Yeah. I mean. Oh I sure. I mean I know you said nobody wants to be home their dog but I’m sure there’s like 1 percent of people out there that are just assholes. I am sure those people exist.
Nikki: [00:51:29] Be compassionate about it either way.
[00:51:30] Right because maybe what it comes down to is that they don’t have the tools to take care of their dog. And again like I said before then you know what I want them to rehome their dog because that’s not the best situation for their dog. Why do we want people who can’t care for their dog to keep their dog? It doesn’t make any sense. It’s not best for the dog. Again this is such a depressing topic.
Nikki: [00:51:53] Well I just hope that from this we all as a whole understand where people are coming from and be sure to be compassionate to everyone.
Regina: [00:52:07] Oh wait I actually just thought of something that… Just because someone rehomes a dog for whatever reason and maybe it’s even that they had a kid and don’t know how to deal with kids and dogs, that doesn’t mean that they should never have another dog or that they won’t be able to manage another dog – because all dogs are different. And like you said Bernice, some dogs just don’t like kids. But that doesn’t mean that if someone rehomed to their dog that they that there wouldn’t be another dog out there that was right for them.
Nikki: [00:52:34] Right, I don’t think one situation reflects the other. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and for being brave enough to really go through this whole story for everybody to hear. I really appreciate you being honest and transparent with your story and the decisions that you had to me. I truly believe that it will help people that are in the same boat as you in the future.
Bernice: [00:53:04] Thank you guys for having me.
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An interview with Animal Farm Foundation's Director of Behavior and Training
This year has been difficult for everyone and insurmountable to others. As an organization, we have long since understood that companion animal welfare without human welfare means nothing. So, as a response to the impact of the pandemic, we've augmented and...
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