Food for Thought on Rescue Shelters & Mourning Your Loss

How We Ended Up With Our Dogs In the First Place:
Putting aside the 5 month old female pups and their arrival at our home, a few red flags about the shelter, itself, began going off in my head. About two months into the dogs living with us, as fosters, numerous red flags were not just going off, but waving wildly. I will not name the shelter, but not too much later I found out it had a horrible reputation from other shelters and professionals.

If you are contemplating or new to fostering and new in dealing with an animal rescue shelter, keep detailed records of any and all communications. Make detailed notes of anything that strikes you as odd, chaotic, dishonest, alarming, and/or shady. It may end up being simple miscommunication, nothing to worry about, or something you will be thankful you kept detailed notes about should the courts, law enforcement, and/or attorneys need to get involved.

For a number of years I have worked in a field that requires critical thinking and deciphering a lot of fact from fiction. I am over the age of 40 and have raised teenagers, so, I consider myself to have a decent amount of life experience. More often than not I sense b.s. when I see or hear it. So, my encounter with that shelter ended and, regardless of the mental condition our foster dogs would be in, my husband and I had decided the dogs were not going back to that shelter.

I found that shelter on the internet. It seemed so adorable in the way it gave a description of the dogs. It got bonus points for the warm and fuzzy story of how it was started, and, hey, it said it had been around for an X number of years, but, in hind sight, it is no wonder why key upper staff members, with generous salaries paid for by donations, stayed under the radar. Then there were the dogs, not of the “Pit Bull” bread, not the small dogs easily adopted, that seemed to endlessly stay in the shelter no matter how many people requested to adopt or foster it. A large older, well behaved non-Bull Terrier breed forced to live in a chaotic shelter environment life? Why? To appear to not ONLY have Pit Bull breads? More funding with more legit or fake doggie head counts? Donations from organizations that will donate if a shelter houses particular breeds? Forcing an older, well-behaved large animal to endure chaotic and deafening situations to keep it as a helper animal for doggies not socialized? Fraud? Abuse? Incompetence? Who knows why some shelters force well behaved adoptable large dogs to remain in a particular chaotic shelter environment. Be aware, also, of if the SAME shelter changes the name and bio (the sad story of how the dog ended up in the shelter) for THE SAME dogs from time to time. Clearly my intentions are to specifically remain vague in our dealings with learning the hard way about the not so pretty side of animal rescue shelters. One in particular reminds me of that saying, “Religion is a huge money making business.”

At the time I didn’t feel the need to do any realistic background check for everyone or every business I would encounter. I wasn’t the poster child for “paranoid” 7/24, and certainly not when dealing with those seemingly kind enough to save animals. Plus, I was in the “clueless” category when it came to animal rescue shelters, at least with this particular shelter, along with the actual way it was operating its charitable organization, and let me tell you, for many, they are a blessing with very special people working in them. Others are in it for the money and the way those bad apples put on a good front will shock some of you. Some are more skilled, intelligent, and elaborate hustlers and if you knew how a lot of donations were being spent it probably would upset you.

There are many decent people running rescue organizations, struggling to save and help dogs, cats, etc. I am not, at all, referring to any of you. I am referring to the ones who even the decent people in animal rescue usually know about. First of all, the whole world of animal rescue is not for the weary. It is a very sad and rewarding field, but, too often, so sad. Some people simply compartmentalize things differently, but make no mistake, it bothers everyone involved.

Bottom line, do REAL research about a shelter you may be interested in donating to, volunteering for, or seeking an adoption from, beyond a few positive reviews on the latest flavor-of-the-year business review websites. Make several visits to get your own assessment. Never assume anything. Are the people in high places getting handsome salaries from those hefty money donations? Are they living the good life while their animals in their shelter live in chaos? Does the shelter NOT allow the public to actually go into where the dogs are held and see for themselves how the shelter is caring for the animals behind closed doors? Why not? Did any questions you were asked while being screened as a potential volunteer secretly make you raise a red flag? Was the first or any question they asked you rather odd? Places with nothing to hide allow people to go into where the dogs or cats are actually being contained. I guess it all depends on what you, the reader, deems within your heart to be something you do or do not want to get involved with. For now, I am done with this nano glimpse of info on animal rescue organizations, and, once again, do not think they are all or mostly ran by wolves in sheep’s’ clothing, because many out there are to be praised. Many good human beings dedicate their lives to saving, protecting, and finding good homes for animals.

All I want for you, the reader, is to save yourself any headaches, heartaches, and to learn more about the names of people in paid higher positions of animal rescue shelters. Charities are supposed to be transparent and often particular information is public record, not top secret. Be very HONEST with yourself about your GUT instincts upon visiting/learning more about a shelter. Before you volunteer at it, donate money, or get involved in ANY way, do not ignore that little quiet voice in the back of your mind. Listen to it. Share your concerns with people you are close to and trust, BEFORE getting involved. That’s all I ask.

Did Your Dog Recently Die?
If you are a dog person and your beloved dog has passed away, please know, some of us out here understand that your heart has broken. Some people may not fully understand your sadness, because they may only comprehend the word “dog” or “pet” but for many, in reality, it was the loss of a family member.

Besides being a “dog”, it was a living being with intelligence that could talk and communicate with you very clearly without speaking a word of English, or whatever verbal or sign language(s) you speak. These dogs have refused to leave our side when they knew we were sad, worried, sick, or afraid. They have made us laugh and unconditionally dedicate themselves to protecting us, alerting us, playing with us, traveling with us, and watching our families grow. They love us and we love them.

So, for some, maybe think about waiting 4 to 6 months before getting another dog when your dog, a family member, has died. The house isn’t the same. The family is sad. Take it one day at a time. Be careful in doing volunteer work. Maybe do volunteer work any place that does not have animals. If you choose to foster animals, be very clear on telling yourself everyday that you are more like an aunt or uncle rather than a mom or dad to your foster animal. Do not understate, down play, or make light of your role as an animal foster parent. What you do as a foster care person for animals is the face of love, compassion, and human decency.

Fostering animals is a key function for rescue shelters and rescued animals. It is also considered the best of both worlds because you have a pet but eventually a loving family will own it and many shelters will house your foster animals if you take a vacation, have to go on an unexpected trip, or have a temporary emergency situation. Granted, people who travel a lot should not be fostering but you get the idea.

As a foster, you will be a key and vital reason for an animal beginning a new and better life. You are a hero that doesn’t get any or a lot of recognition. You are required to love, heal, help, or simply house animals that you will eventually hand over to another. That takes strength and courage not just any person can deal with. You are a particular group that has a lot of courage, strength, and dedication.  Do not ever forget that.

With us, we ONLY wanted to foster but there were unforeseen circumstances that bothered us, and we cared about the well being of our foster animals if handed back over to that particular shelter. Had I done the proper research, waited another month or two, and LISTENED to my inner quiet voice, the situation we began finding ourselves in would not have happened, so, in that respect, I take responsibility. We also should have spent at least 4 to 6 months being use to no longer having a dog, but everyone is different. I just hope to spare any one person, couple, or family some of the discouraging and difficult challenges we went through due to flying blind and clueless about jumping into animal fostering, animal shelter volunteer work, or the depth of what you may not be aware of with fostering and/or adopting dogs who have severe fear issues. Key word being “severe”. If you are not experienced with that specific issue, it takes a lot more than “love” and a willing effort to fix it. RED ALERT: It will not get fixed simply by loving the animal and/or feeling sorry for it. While that may alleviate overt doggie anxiety, to some degree, your road will be a much longer road that may or may not get you to the end of the journey you were hoping to get to.

Everyone knows about the serious risks of an aggressive dog but I had a lot of dead ends with any realistic info to help us comprehend being pet owners to not just one, but TWO sister pups rescued from a situation that had them fear-based traumatized. We figure two to three months of love and kindness would take care of everything. Right? WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!….It likely would have taken only two or three months had we known the right way to go about it from the very first moment the dogs came into our lives. The shelter offered absolutely nothing by way of instructions or advice, not even books or website links to go buy, check out, or read on. Since employees at the shelter randomly stated they lost records and any information of our foster dogs, and other adoptable dogs people inquired about, it isn’t surprising they would say, “GOOD LUCK & THANKS” for sending already special needs and traumatized dogs off with people who didn’t fully complete the foster care form. Plus, once the dogs had been taken to our home, months went by before anyone at the shelter even bothered to check in on the dogs or how they were doing, or anything, at all. In fact, three months after we officially adopted the dogs, the same shelter told us they were going to be sending people to our home who might be interested in adopting one or both dogs. Just a voice mail stating the date and time the chaotically and unprofessionally ran shelter would be sending strangers to our home MONTHS after we had legally & properly adopted the dogs.

I must have scoured the internet reading tons of info off and on for months. My husband and I spoke with/met with dog trainers, dog groomers, doggie facility owners, and I checked out loads of books and DVDs from the library. WE WERE ON OUR OWN! The ONLY expert and author I found myself coming back to was a gentleman by the name of Cesar Millan, a.k.a., The Dog Whisperer and, more recently, “Cesar 911”.

Mr. Millan’s DPCs were too far for us to travel with the dogs. We live in the central area of the United States. Plus, we would not risk losing one or both of our traumatized fearful dogs from a doggy potty or exercise stop right on the interstate or busy highway or in areas not familiar to us or, worse, isolated remote locations.

To even get either dog on a leash, get near them, have either dog see anyone looking at it, or even near its direction was a dramatic situation of itself. Let’s just pretend that part was not a nightmare. They were experts in getting out of harnesses within a split second and if that wasn’t bad enough, they were so scared they were incontinent to a drastic scale but with urine and crapping, in a big way. However, one thing Mr. Millan does, graciously and thankfully, strengthen people with is his knowledge by way of his television series, videos on Youtube, DVDs, and books.

For me, the Dog Whisperer television series gave close to instant results, even if in baby steps, and that is when I decided to record every episode I could find. I would burn the midnight oil or early morning rising by soaking in everything that man had to offer any time I found the time to watch his shows and if I didn’t have the time, I MADE TIME.

Some episodes spoke to us more than others, based on the issues, but pretty much all episodes offered helpful advice.  For anyone familiar with his shows, I would say three episodes reflected what we were dealing with. The episode with “Rosco” the fearful dog who never went for a walk or got a bath, “Viper”, the intelligent but massively fearful tan dog owned by a retired police officer who trains K-9s, and “Baby Girl”, who has since, sadly, passed away.


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