Today, I’m going to talk about something that is well known in rescue circles, but not something that people really shine the light on in social media. Today, I’m going to talk about the plight of the average shelter or rescue dog…the dog that is not emaciated, with bones sticking out, doesn’t have a cleft palate or three legs, didn’t make the news because of some celebrity dog fighting case, and is therefore more likely to end up taking that short walk into some room where a syringe full of pink medicine ends his or her life.
Now, don’t get me wrong. It is GREAT that rescues take on these hard cases. Chako has taken on a lot of medical cases, such as little Sabrina (aka Oreo) who was blind from birth, Hank, who had a juvenile autoimmune condition and needed MANY months of treatment before he could be adopted, and Henry, who had one of the absolutely worst cases of demodex we’ve ever seen when he came to us (literally, small pieces of him were falling off as he waddled).
Let’s talk about the Michael Vick dogs. They got national media attention. They were flown to rescues all over the nation, thousands of miles away. Meanwhile, the shelter dogs in those communities thousands of miles away that didn’t have media cameras pointed at them languished in their kennels; many took their last breaths in those shelters. No cameras captured their last moments. Not enough people cared about them because they weren’t famous and didn’t come with large sums of money.
Let’s talk about the three-legged puppies, the swimmer’s puppies, the puppies with knuckling over (which Chako has taken, as well). These dogs do need homes, and yes, they are more expensive to rescue, certainly.
However, they also tend to get a lot of attention. People feel sorry for them. More people, it seems, become interested in adopting them and showering them with much-deserved love to make up for the hardships they’ve endured.
That is all perfectly okay. It is understandable. There’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with that.
But it does lead to an interesting collective phenomenon that ends up hurting the regular dog in a shelter or the regular stray–the one that doesn’t have media attention or a sad story or the cutest darn face you’ve ever seen. The one that’s just average looking, with no heart-tugging medical condition. The one that didn’t come from a celebrity dog fighter but whose history is unknown. That dog, few people want. That dog doesn’t have a compelling story. That dog doesn’t realize he’s not famous. That dog doesn’t understand that no one wants him because he is the the “average joe” of dogs.
Take a recent case of a seemingly stray dog that was photographed snuggled on a Teddy Bear. The organization that published the photo, Forgotten Dogs of the 5th Ward, tries to save many of the stray dogs in the area. They frequently photograph dogs. They cannot find foster homes or adopters for all the dogs. But this one dog, this one photo, called out to people. People demanded someone save that dog and asked why didn’t the rescue take him in.
The answer is simple and one many people don’t seem to understand: there aren’t enough foster homes. There aren’t enough people who want to adopt. Rescues have to make decisions all the time–logical, rational decisions. They have to choose which dogs to save and which dogs to pass by. Shelters often have to make the same decisions. This means that the dogs that have a special story, or a heart-tugging medical condition, or that have national media attention often get saved. They get people who ask to foster them. They often get adopters lining up for a chance to adopt them.
Another case in point: the dogs that came to Sacramento months ago from a South Korean meat farm ended up with massive media attention and a LINE of adopters wanting to take one home. Meanwhile, hundreds of other local “average” shelter dogs waited and waited. Some even died, still waiting.
This blog post is not about guilting anyone who steps up to take in a hard luck case. Those hard-luck dogs need to be adopted JUST AS MUCH as the “average Joe” dogs, of course. But the opposite is also true. The “average Joe” dogs are equally deserving.
So, next time you or someone you know thinks about adopting or fostering, all I hope is you’ll take a look at all dogs in need and work to find the best match for you, regardless of whether that dog has a sad story, lots of media attention, or is otherwise in the shadows–going relatively unnoticed in some shelter kennel or rescue foster home.