Across the country, animal rescue volunteers and shelter staff attempt miracles. They work to find homes for our nation's more than 64 million homeless dogs and cats. They struggle to raise funds to keep those animals fed, watered and in good health. They exhaust every available option to avoid the sometimes unavoidable. The following letter shows just what kind of heart many of these people have:
"I volunteer for a German shepherd rescue, and I have a problem.
"There are times when I go out to some of the local shelters to evaluate dogs for the rescue. Recently, I saw a 2-year-old male in the impound building at a shelter.
"He is a bite case and his owner turned him in. It seems the dog attacked the neighbor, biting him on both arms, legs and on the back. The owner seems to have had no control over the dog, and it is noted that he could not even walk the dog on a leash.
"After spending some time with the dog, I am confident that he just needs training and a good, confident owner who knows how to control a powerful breed. The rescue I volunteer for will not take him in because of his current behavior issue, and this coming Saturday he will be put to sleep.
"I am asking for your help in rehabilitating him. He is a gorgeous boy, and I know that when people see him on our site, he will be adopted fast to a great home. He just needs to have his aggressive behavior changed so that he can get the home he deserves."
Heartbreaking letter. What the writer doesn't recognize, though, is that cases like this are no longer a simple matter of training. You cannot train aggression out of a dog. You can control and modify aggressive behavior, but rarely can you cure it.
The dog that inspired this letter may have been adopted into a great home fast, as the writer hoped. But his options were not wide open. With his history, only certain homes are appropriate: a home with no kids and an owner with the patience and willingness to put significant time and money into ongoing behavior modification and professional training.
When you fully realize the plight of this dog and others like him, it's impossible not to get emotional. But you have to consider all the factors involved in adopting out an animal with a history of aggression: the families, neighbors, communities, insurance complications and legal issues.
I feel safe in saying this was a great dog that ended up yet another casualty of irresponsible dog ownership. Often people prefer the struggle of living with behavior problems to an investment of time and money in the education of their dog. And when the struggle becomes unbearable, the dog gets left at a shelter, to become someone else's problem or to live out his final days.
It's not fair. In fact, it's incredibly unjust. But the answer is not to rush an aggressive dog into a new home or neighborhood where it's likely he'll bite again.
The answer is education and an insistence on responsible dog ownership from the get-go.
No more smokescreens: Blame the pit bulls!
No more denial: He's bitten a few people, but really he's a wonderful dog!
No more excuses: I'm too busy to do extensive training, and I can't afford a trainer.
If you can't call your insurance company and tell them about your dog, you have a problem. If your kids are afraid to come out of their rooms, you have a problem. If your neighbors cross the street when they see you and Cujo coming, you have a problem.
The solution isn't the local shelter. The solution is education.
Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to [email protected] or by mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. © Creators Syndicate Inc.