Dog Rescues Can Do Better
My first piece for this blog was an attempt to encourage breeders to do more with their pups, and encourage those who already are doing more to advertise this more widely and create more demand for the high quality 'product' they have.
I'd like everyone to know where to go to get a good quality, well bred pup and if alternatively they want a rescue dog I'd like people to find a rescue easily and find the process of getting a rescue dog easy to understand and a pleasant experience.
Much of the problem of unwanted dogs today is not caused by accidental litters, and it certainly isn't caused by reputable breeders producing a litter once in a blue moon or even every couple of years. It is caused by people being ignorant of their options, ignorant to the benefits of getting a pup or adult dog from a reputable source and therefore falling into the trap of free ads, puppy farms, the 'farm in the countryside with the sign by the gate' or the 'bloke down the pub'.
Rescues have a part to play in this too we have more rescues than ever in this country and I am afraid some of them are doing more harm than good. I have some advice to the people who run and work in rescues on how they can improve their service.
Don't Alienate Customers
Yes, potential adopters are customers and should be treated them as such, treat them politely, and treat them patiently as they may not know all the things you know.
All too often I hear people saying that they did consider a rescue dog but:
- The rescue they contacted was rude to them when they said they didn't want a particular breed.
- But the rescue they spoke to were nasty when they said they wanted a puppy.
- The rescue they went to had no time for them.
Then there are the people who actually did get a dog from a rescue, however:
- The rescue lied to them about the dogs' health and temperament problems.
- The rescue offered training and behavioural back up which never happened.
- The rescue promised to stay in contact, and be there for them, but is never available on the phone and ignores emails.
When you alienate one person, regardless of the reasons why, that person spreads the bad news, so now that person's family, friends and neighbours are going to think twice about a rescue dog.
It doesn't actually matter that their questions appeared silly or the reason they didn't want a Staffy is because they saw the latest anti-bull breed diatribe in the local rag bad news spreads and it spreads fast.
Be a people person or get a people person to do all your 'customer facing' work, because whilst you might well prefer animals to humans, its people who rehome dogs!
Don't Rehome Dodgy Dogs
I am sure this part will make me unpopular with some people but every dog that goes out with more than a minor behavioural or physical problem, is a nail in the coffin for not just rescue dogs, but dogs in general.
I work in a rescue, volunteering my behavioural knowledge and training skills to help thoroughly assess the rescue's dogs, and form a training plan to work with them. So I am not someone sitting behind a monitor spouting off who is not involved first hand with difficult dogs, dogs with heart-breaking histories, dogs who plain just need a home.
I would love for all the dogs in every rescue in the country, to get their forever home, and if I have to say that I think a dog would be better off euthanized, it upsets me very deeply. However, the cold hard fact is, there are thousands of dogs in rescues who will never get a home, and each of those dogs is taking up a kennel that a perfectly well balanced easy going dog could use for a much shorter period of time.
It isn't fair, it sucks, and the dogs who probably shouldn't be rehomed have done nothing wrong, somewhere, some human has let them down badly. But for each dog rehomed who has a serious health problem, who is very dog aggressive, who can't be taken out without a short leash and muzzle, that dog puts the idea that 'rescue dogs have problems' and 'rescue dogs are difficult' and 'rescue dogs are dangerous' into the minds of at least 50% of the people that meet it.
Work with your Dogs
If you are rehoming dogs from kennels that have not had any training, have only been behaviourally assessed as far as 'is this dog food aggressive or people aggressive?' and the most you do is basic veterinary care plus spay/neuter of those old enough, then why are you any better than a pet shop that sells dogs?
Why should someone get a rescue dog rather than go to a pet shop or a puppy farm? Because it's morally the right thing to do? Sorry, that's actually not good enough.
You need to do more and you need to make it clear to the public that you do more, and that in effect you offer a better product.
Train the dogs you have in your kennels. Teach them about lying quietly on the floor whilst someone eats their lunch, teach them to sit nicely in reception and not bounce on visitors. Train them to get up onto sofas when invited and off when requested, teach them what 'bed' means, teach them that a doorbell or a knock on the door means they should jump into their bed for a treat or sit nicely and wait patiently. Teach them to walk nicely on the lead, teach them to recall, to stay, to wait, to sit, down and stand.
Give these dogs the skills they need to live people's houses, and give each adopter a couple of pages on what commands a dog knows and what rewards he finds most motivating, what situations he has encountered and which will be new to him.
I appreciate that within the confines of a small rescue that uses kennels, some of these things will be awkward but they should be achievable and if they are not possible at all with any dog, then seriously, are you really a rescue or a second hand dog shop?
Advertise Your Good Work
Some rescues will already be doing all these things I have suggested so blow your own trumpets people, tell people why your dogs are excellent dogs, why they will easily fit into a persons home, how much easier these dogs will be than one from somewhere else.
I fully appreciate that rescue is a difficult thing to do, its emotional, its heart-breaking, it is frustrating. But I also think that just taking in a dog from a pound or a public hand in, and putting it into another home is no longer sufficient, if it ever was.
Rescue dogs have a bad reputation, the country is becoming less and less dog friendly by the day, something has to change. I'd like to see rescues advertising heavily just how good their dogs are, promoting responsible dog ownership, positive training, and actively educating people to effect a real reduction in unwanted dogs.
Building more kennels, and more rescue centres is not the answer making rescue accessible, people friendly and beneficial to dogs in general, is.