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Dog rescues refuse to return dogs to rightful owners

Sunny Day

Stories of dog rescuers refusing to return dogs to their former families are in the news. I'm not sure if they are more common or just more interesting but here are three from the recent headlines.

A Beagle in NY, a Ridgeback in CA, and Sheltie in OH are all lost to their former owners because they were "rescued". Now before you think this is a slam on sheltering homeless animals, I am a full time shelter employee and believe in the re-homing of pets for the best interest of the animals. The issues that have introduced the problematic consequences include:

legal animal ownership
demand for dogs
animal rights activism

Most people consider dogs to be sentient beings with needs of their own. Though the law considers dogs to be property, (so that government cannot take dogs without due process) it also allows for certain caretaker responsibilities. Failure to provide veterinary care, food, and shelter for your dog can land you in jail. You do not have that kind of responsibility for your desk or your house plants, even. As we evolve in our legal definitions we come up against the best way to protect special living property from bad owners. Sometimes, this is difficult legal territory.

Rescue professionals sometimes see the worst of mankind while saving dogs. It doesn't matter that cases of humans harming animals on purpose are rare, rescuers begin to see harm and possibility of harm all around them. Activists promote and actually believe that animals are better off dead than taking their chances in the world. Several recent cases of cats preyed upon by coyotes or neighborhood dogs, sent activists scurrying in search of a budding serial killer-a human one, simply because residents and law enforcement officers rarely examine carcasses left after wild animal kills. Even veterinarians have assumed humans must be to blame for all unusual findings. This jump to judgment includes the assessment that dog owners who have not neutered their pets or somehow become separated from a dog are simply not "good enough" owners to have pets at all.

Currently, people who want dogs are willing to pay more for a "rescued" dog and will accept behavior problems or health issues if the pet is said to be a victim of mistreatment so there is a growing market for second hand dogs. Truck drivers are finding a financially lucrative niche relocating dogs from areas of the country in which shelters euthanize half of homeless pets to areas in which shelters experience high owner reclamation rates of strays, leading to few adoptable animals left over.

A final confounding factor is national groups with significant funds passing hundreds of laws across the nation. Laws that require all dogs to be neutered, ban pet stores or breeding, require fees and special facilities to house animals, place limits on the number or type of pets. These groups encourage and assist local law enforcement agencies in seizing animals when owners fall short of requirements rather than working to educate and improve animal care. The aim of the employees of these organizations is animal prohibition that is gaining support among young misanthropes.

What can dog owners do to increase the likelihood of reclaiming a lost pet?

Restrain your dog. Travel and petsitting accidents are high on the list of dog loss situations.
Permanently identify your dog. Collars fall off and microchips are no good if they are not registered and updated.
Keep a list of rescue groups in your area. Notify them if your dog is lost in addition to veterinary and sheltering facilities.
Keep paperwork in order. If you co-own, be sure your partners have Rabies vaccine and health certificate copies so they can reclaim dogs, too.
Tell a friend.

I have spent thirty years or more in professional animal welfare and many of my learned, dedicated colleagues do not believe that animal prohibition can or will catch on. My three years of work with national activists tells me it's already working. And their best kept secret is their greatest weapon. No one will oppose them if they simply believe the threat doesn't exist.

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