Guest Post: A Rescue Experiment

Nick Iordanis returns with some advice about determining whether adopting a rescue dog is for you (and, really, whether you’re right for just such a dog!). 

My previous two posts have been about finding the right dog for you and why pound dogs are the way they are. I’ve come to realize that I have skipped a crucial step, though: whether or not the rescue dog route is right for you.

As I have said in my previous articles (here and here), rescue dogs are not clean slates—they have a past. Sometimes the shelter or rescue will have a good idea what the dog has been through, but usually volunteers can only guess about the dog’s past life.

Because rescue dogs have an uncertain past, it takes a specific type of person to adopt them. Adopters have to be understanding and, most of all, willing to work with their dog. One question I try to answer for myself when “vetting” prospective adopters is, How committed will they be to this dog?

Tiberius is up for adoption at TAGS. He went out for a home visit, but because he doesn't yet have great manners, he was sent back. Like most dogs, rescues or not, he needs someone with time to devote to his training.

While some rescue dogs will walk into a home and be perfect, others will present some tribulations.

To give you some context, consider this scenario. When a rescue dog comes into your home, it is not much different than having a three-year-old Japanese orphaned earthquake victim living with you.

First and foremost, they have been through a traumatic experience of losing their home and their family (if they had one).

Second, as much as you would like to believe otherwise, neither the dog nor the three-year-old Japanese orphaned earthquake victim speak a word of English.

So when you finish reading this blog post, imagine turning around in your chair to see a three-year-old Japanese orphan staring at you. What would you do?

Would you get upset about him jumping up on your bed?  Would you be mad if he did not come when you called his name in a stern voice?

Of course the answer to these questions is no.  So why feel differently when it is a dog?

Cathy's dog Cora remains very nervous (the raised paw is a sign of wanting to appease), but she's made great progress in a happy home.

It is impossible to understand what some of these dogs have been through. I have spoken to adopters months after their adoption who’ve said, “I picked up the garden hose to water the flowers, and the dog ran into the house whimpering, went into the corner, and urinated.”

An ideal adopter will follow that up with “I am going to have to work on this with her so she understands the garden hose is not going to hurt her.”

A questionable adopter will complain that the dog peed on the floor.

I should add, there are many dogs in rescue programs who have very little “baggage.” Specifically the puppies. The young ones are particularly fearless and have not really learned that bad things can happen to them.

This can be a valuable thought experiment for those of you who may be considering adopting a rescue dog. If it were the Japanese orphan, would you do it?


7 Responses to Guest Post: A Rescue Experiment

  • I found that out when I adopted my second chihuahua from the Humane Society last spring, a 2 year-old little boy. He had the traumatic experience of losing his previous owner, then being adopted for 3 weeks by someone who couldn’t keep him. He was emaciated and terrified. After almost a year, he’s still a traumatized puppy. His personality is so sweet but I thank my stars that he ended up with me and not with a family not prepared for a dog like him. He can’t stand being picked up and will run away; he’s afraid of getting yelled at/hit; he’s constantly jumpy and runs to his bed; he has seizures when he’s overstimulated with light and sound. Anyone hoping to get a happy-go-lucky lap dog for their children to cuddle would’ve been very unprepared for a dog like him. Every day he changes and I can’t believe the turn-around. One thing about him is that he’s always happy, always wagging his tail and wanting to snuggle, but only on his terms, when he’s feeling safe. Great post. I wish more people were made aware of this potential problem.

    • Cathy says:

      Thank you so much or sharing your experience, Marie-Eve! I’m so glad to hear that your little boy is happy and snuggly and starting to understand that he’s safe now. It’s true that not all rescues are easy, but when you do get one like your little guy or like my Cora, watching the dog come around can be an incredibly rewarding experience. It’s so worth it! But it requires time, patience, and commitment, which–you’re right–a lot of people don’t realize and aren’t prepared to give.

  • Nick Iordanis says:

    Thanks for the comment Marie-Eve. This really is an issue that many people don’t consider when they want to rescue. Pretty much everyone wants to rescue for moral reasons, but do not put any thought towards whether or not they are really prepared for a rescue. These people have good intentions, but in reality its not very good for the dog to be bounced around from home to home.

    We can only guess what happened in the past to your little guy. Sounds like he has a great home now! As Cathy has shared with Cora, once they get comfortable their personalities come out, it is an incredibly rewarding experience. Dogs like this are probably not for a first time owner unless they are extremely dedicated.

    Feel free to share this article with friends who are interested in adopting…

  • Hi, again. 🙂
    I got caught up with reading about your Cora that I talked to my partner about our own (his name’s Toopy) dog’s behaviour. She’s not as patient and thinks he should just snap out of it. After I explained how your dog is, she started seeing how much better Toopy is when she changes her own behaviour around him. It took me months before I was able to get him to hop on my lap!
    I’m definitely going to share this article. My partner especially responded to the comparison to the little Japanese orphan–and now she wants to adopt an orphan. 😛
    Question: Do you medicate your dog with antianxiety meds daily? I just wonder what I’m going to try after this bout of 2 seizures back-to-back when I tried taking Toopy out for a walk in the sun last week.

    • Cathy says:

      We started giving Cora a daily dose of anti-anxiety meds (Clomipramine) in January after having her for eight months and continually making progress but then seeing setbacks. When she started cowering around us again, after a couple of months of not, I decided to go the medication route. It’s made a huge difference for Cora! It’s been more than a month since she’s cowered from us, and she’s even been bold enough to approach others on occasion.

      Does Toopy have a seizure disorder, or do you think the seizures are due to anxiety? Poor Toopy!

      You might want to check out the site I bought the book, and it had a lot of really good information in it about helping fearful and anxious dogs, but the site offers great info, too. It’s good that your partner recognizes that when she changes her behaviour, Toopy responds better. It really can make a difference!

      Good luck with your Japanese orphan adoption! 😉

  • He had one seizure last August. I had everything tested and they found nothing. The vet said maybe he was starting to show signs of an epileptic disorder. He had no other issues until last week when he had those two seizures back-to-back. We had just gone out of my apartment building and he was excited, barking at other dogs, cars zooming by, sun shining hard, and construction beside us. Two minutes into the walk, it started. I’m thinking the light and sound just made his brain fire like crazy.
    Thanks for the website for fearful dogs. Toopy cowers and shakes in the car, hiding his face. He’s better at our pet store, for some reason. When I go to my next vet appointment, I’ll ask about the medication. Maybe just to try, especially on days where he’ll have to deal with change and anxiety.
    My other dog is a spoiled baby. Everyone thinks I babied her to the point where she doesn’t like other dogs at all and looks at them like she thinks she’s a human. 😛 I have special needs puppies!!
    Thanks for all the info. 🙂
    (By the way, I found your site while I was checking Christina Vasilevski’s site out. What a coincidence that you had a blog about rescue dogs and I’m dealing with my own.)

    • Cathy says:

      I saw yesterday that you’re a WCDR member (I am too). 🙂 Thanks for letting me know it was through Christina’s site that you found us!

      Aw, poor Toopy! The seizures must’ve been a little scary for you. You might want to try the Thundershirt for him if you haven’t yet. I’ve read that it’s helpful for some dogs who are nervous in the car. It might help him on his walks, too. The theory behind it is that it comforts dogs in the way that swaddling comforts a baby.

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