Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Euthanizing a Dog for Behavioral Problems

All too often these days its easy to have an animal behaviorist come along and say a dog should be euthanized because it has this or that behavior problem. Having owned a few "problem" dogs, I think the time has come to recognize that dogs are often being put down when they don't need to be and that we shouldn't always defer to the so-called experts-animal behaviorists making life or death decisions.

My dog Tony-who is now being treated for heartworm-is one such example. He was found wandering along the river and ended up in the city animal shelter. An animal behaviorist examined him and declared him unfit for adoption. He was labeled as shy and fear-aggressive. Luckily a woman nearby runs a German Shepherd Rescue and she has a long-standing relationship with the city animal control. She happened to find out Tony was in the shelter and picked him up (they let her take him despite his supposed issues because of that long term relationship). Guess what? Tony is fine. He is the friendliest dog you could ever meet. Sometimes I wonder....is Tony really a German Shepherd? He seems more like a Labrador Retreiver wearing a German Shepherd dog suit most of the time.

Another of my dogs-Lucy the Weimaraner-has a similar story. She escaped from the yard at her previous owners and ended up in the shelter. Once again, the animal behaviorist labeled her as fear-aggressive. But Lucy wouldn't hurt a flea, even though she is definitely the alpha dog in my house.

These two cases taught me a lesson that really hit home. Had the German Shepherd Rescue not visited Tony, he might have been euthanized by the animal shelter staff since the resident expert deemed him dangerous. Same fate might have awaited Lucy. But these are perfectly good dogs that have made great pets.

Are we too eager to euthanize in this age where we desire perfect safety? I think we are. If a dog is fear-aggressive, why not work on the dog first? Start by getting the dog in basic obedience training and work HARD at it so the dog drops into a down without batting an eye. Then socialize the dog. Get it out among people and other dogs. Crate the dog when you've got company. I think people give up on a dog too easily. Remember life is precious and temporary. With a little effort a dog might come out of his shell and be a great companion. It takes a special person with some dedication to deal with a situation like this, but why not step up to the plate and try. There is already too much death in the world and people are always looking for the easy way out.

We live in an era when there are tough choices to be made. Tragic things do happen, all too often we hear about a pack of pit bulls attacking a child bringing the problem of dog aggression to the fore. But the real problem is breeding-too many dogs and not enough homes. Until that problem is solved difficult choices will continue to be a necessity.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you. I am writing an essay for my English 1A class about euthanizing dogs because of behavioral issues and your essay has helped me a lot. Thank you so much for writing this and caring.