He’s Back: when cupid’s arrow misses

Nutty Brown is back.

Yesterday, we were feeling so good about his new forever. Today, we’re feeling so thankful for his adopter’s realization that he wasn’t the right dog, and his foster’s happiness at getting him back.

Returns happen. Those of us who work in rescue often cringe and curse when the news hits, but in the long run we’re usually happy that things worked out the way they did. In Nutty Brown’s case, his adopter was simply looking for a different dog.

Finding the perfect fit with imperfect information is a really hard task. Often we know the dog really well, and as hard as we try to screen the applicant, some critical information slips through the cracks. Other times we get a really good understanding of the adopter, but the dog is new to us or the adopter’s environment brings out behavior that we hadn’t seen before. Still other times, mismatches allow potential adopters to learn things about themselves that they hadn’t anticipated in the application process. As much as we’d all prefer a perfect match each time, returns can almost be a blessing in disguise: they allow us a more perfect match the next time around.

When I talked to Nutty Brown’s adopter on the phone yesterday morning, he kept saying “He’s a really nice dog, but.” And he is a really nice dog. But. Nutty Brown is just starting his life as a house pet. For four years, he lived outside on a chain with little food and shelter and virtually no human interaction. For years, his life was just him and that dirt lot and that tree. He’s got a lot of catching up to do.

It’s amazing, really. He’s come so far. He is house broken, he plays well with dogs, he walks nicely on leash, and he craves the human touch. It’s hard to believe he’s the same dog.

And yet. He is still working on understanding boundaries, rules, and some social skills. He gets nervous and overwhelmed easily in new situations and doesn’t know how to manage it. It’s nothing serious, but it takes a lot of patience and love, and a little bit of knowledge or a willingness to learn.

As it turned out, Nutty Brown’s adopters aren’t much interested in this type of behavioral work. They want a dog who is ready for any experience, welcomes guests with a tail wag and a polite smile, and doesn’t worry about too much. This is perfectly acceptable, and they deserve a dog just like that. There are zillions of them in the world. It’s just that Nutty Brown isn’t yet one of them.

We would never judge a family for its preferences and its ability to be honest about its boundaries and capabilities. In fact, we are thankful for great adopters and an atmosphere of openness and collaboration that allows great matches to be made.

And for now, the search for Nutty Brown’s true forever goes on.

44 responses

  1. Open communication lines between adopters and rescue groups/shelters is so important.

    Sorry to hear that this wasn’t Nutty Brown’s forever family, but the right person will come along. He deserves a perfect match.

  2. Well, shoot. I am SO sorry it didn’t work out. But you know what? Dealing with a dog who has “issues” is really tough and it takes up a LOT of your time and energy. If you’re not prepared for that – or simply aren’t willing to do that – it’s not good for anyone.

    I don’t know if you ever read my post where I considered returning Mayzie to rescue about 2 weeks after we adopted her. Dealing with all her fears was SO overwhelming at first and I just really wasn’t sure we were the right people to help her. I was completely head over heels in love with her and I am a FIRM believer in a pet being a lifetime responsibility. But I seriously considered that we might not be the right match for her.

    Of course, now I thank God every day that we didn’t return her. She has been such a blessing. But I can definitely understand and appreciate why someone just wouldn’t be up for that kind of work and I’m glad they returned Nutty Brown so that he can find someone who is.


  3. Great post and what a good looking dog; that is one pooch with attitude! Glad the adopters had the decency to return him to a home where he feels safe rather than abandoning him again further down the line

  4. I’d much rather see him return and continue to receive love, care and training than remain with a family that he was not a good fit for. Thanks for creating the atmosphere where people can feel comfortable doing that.

  5. I know that both times Ginger Rogers was returned, I felt like I had “failed,” but coming out on the other side and realizing that her perfect family was just around the corner, I am so appreciative that the first two adopters realized she just wasn’t the right fit. I would rather she was returned than kept out of guilt or obligation. If that had happened, they’d have been unhappy, Ginger would have been unhappy, and she never never would have found her perfect match!

  6. If everybody does their “job” properly – the rescue group, the adopting family and the dog, then all the doors are left open, especially the one that leads to returns. That door stayed open because this couple trusted your organization. Sometimes that’s a hard balance for a rescue group to achieve. Standing ovation to you guys!

  7. I love him I love him I love him I….
    I somehow missed the original Nutty Brown post and am just now meeting him and am in love. Thank you to Chief Nutt, Alex, his cute little girlfriend and to his foster mom!
    If this boy needs anything please let us know at HD’s rescue.

  8. This post makes me sad. Part of me wishes that his adopters had given Nutty Brown some more time to adjust. Two days seems hardly enough time to get a clear assessment. I guess the issue is managing expectations: no dog is perfect, all take time to train and work with to get to be the “perfect” dog. However, I applaud the family for adopting a rescue dog and wish them the best of luck in the future. They are saving a life, and that sure does mean a lot.

  9. Awwwww…..Nutty. It’s okay. You’ll find the perfect home next time!! You’re in good hands in the meantime. You’re so cute….you’ll be in your true forever home very soon.

  10. It’s sad it didnt work out – but big praise for the adopters realizing it wasn’t a match made in heaven! And that he had a great rescue to go back too!! Imagine if all dogs had such a great system to help them?!

    Big Hugs to Nutty Brown – his new forever peeps are out there someplace!!!

  11. There is no such thing as the perfect plug-and-play dog this couple is after. Every companion creature takes work. I’m glad they returned sweet Nutty, but didn’t this come up in the interview process? “Are you willing to work on any issues your dog might have?”

    • I think you’re right– every dog takes work. But some dogs take more than others. Nutty needs extra slow socialization, and is not what I would call an “easy” dog. Some dogs are “easy” and others are not. He could go to a wide variety of families, but will probably end up with an experienced and educated handler.

      In retrospect, I know it wasn’t a great match. I think this couple thought they were willing to work on whatever came up, but they just didn’t know that Nutty’s issues were a little more complex than they were willing. Normal dog integration stuff –potty training, basic commands, boundaries in the home, leash walking, chewing — are one thing, but when you’re dealing with true behavioral issues — fear, socialization, acceptance of novelty — it’s totally different. I think they will be fine with the former, but don’t feel ready to handle the latter.

      Thanks for your astute observations! Aleks

  12. I’m back. I hope to clarify my comment about the interview process. I do not mean to question your (Aleksandra’s) interviewing process or criticize your work at all.

    I’m so disappointed in people who want a companion animal and don’t take more than to days to figure out that this is going to be time-consuming and hard work and a commitment beyond whatever they found out in two days.

  13. I have no doubt nb will find the right family, and I am so happy they were honest with you and themselves and got him back to the rescue. Maybe it’s just me, but this doesn’t come as a complete surprise. When I saw the photo with his new family, there seemed to be a look of uncertainty vs. The beaming expression we usually see. I wish all of them the best on finding the right fit. 🙂

  14. I’m always so split on these types of things. On a logical level, I’m really glad he’s getting a second chance to find his perfect forever family. It’s much better to have a few test runs and to try out a few families before finding the match that is truly best for him. On an emotional level, it’s hard to understand how anyone after a few days can give a dog back – I ask “don’t they understand the commitment of having a dog?”, “don’t they understand it takes a few weeks for a dog to truly start to settle in its new home home”, “don’t they understand the joy and fulfillment that comes with helping a dog with some issues?” BUT I have to put my judgmental emotional side away and realize that not everyone is as committed to their dogs and will do anything for them. That’s OK. That’s why there are easy dogs and hard dogs, right? Give the less-committed-to-their-dogs the easy ones and I’ll take me the hard dogs time and time again!

  15. That is really sad. But it is good they collaborated with you instead of just dropping him at some shelter. Hopefully you’ll find some people who want to put time into a dog to make him great. I can understand wanting a dog that is already good “out of the box.” As a first time dog owner, I probably would not have been able to handle a nervous dog and would have made him worse just through my own ignorance.

  16. it is always much better when they return the dog and that the rescue agency is willing to accept it back. i adopted a dog once. Told it was good with other animals and clean. I brought it home. He was covered in fleas, did NOT get along with other animals and I had to board it overnight. I called the rescue agency the next day and they REFUSED to take it back until I made a huge stink about it and they kept my adoption fees. I did cat & bunny rescue for more than 10 years..if someone wanted to return an animal because of a bad “fit” we accepted it and returned the fees. Better than letting the animal loose on the street or turning into a kill shelter.

  17. Haven’t we all chosen a a mate, a major, a pet, a profession, a residence or a roommate that seemed smart at the time, but simply wasn’t suitable for us? This is how we learn and improve!

    Good news is, this couple now has a clearer idea of what they need in a pet. Maybe with a little more experience, they’ll have what it takes to care for a more challenging dog. If not, it’s not like the world is going to run out of low-key animals who would like a loving home.

    To Nutty’s not-parents: There’s a dog out there for you. Go find it!

  18. Its always a little discouraging when a dog gets returned, but thank goodness for rescues that can take the time to find their perfect forever homes! I’m sure his family is out there reading about him right now.

  19. I still look at this as a happy story. He has folks champioining his life now and his days are so much richer and brighter than they were just a few months ago. We are all works in progress and some of us need more baby steps than others but I have no doubt this sweet boy will find the right forever home. I hope the family that returned him continues to the right dog for them through rescue groups, as you said, there are plenty out there better suited for the family and if the do/can that is still a win win for rescue. NB will find his forever-and-ever family, no doubt! Keep up the great work and I applaud the unconditional love and support!

  20. Nutty Brown, I will continue to pray for the perfect home and perfect family for you. I know they’re out there, big boy. They’re still getting everything ready for your homecoming, because they want everything to be perfect.

    And thank you to the kind people who took you home and then realized it wasn’t the best thing for them or you. By bringing you back, they’ve ensured you’ll eventually end up where you’re destined to be.

    Patience, sweet boy. It’ll happen.

  21. I’m so sorry that the family didn’t work out, but I’m very happy that they were strong enough to return him. It’s a huge decision, and one that takes an enormous amount of maturity, strength, and a bit of humility. I know because I’ve done it.

    For those that have multiple dogs, or are the people who have always had dogs in their lives (especially rescue dogs), I know it can be hard to understand. After all, you’ve seen the beauty of helping a dog and seen how dramatic and rewarding that experience can be. But for those who haven’t had that experience, or have been dogless for a long period of time, the process of working with a new dog can be daunting. Your quiet house isn’t so quiet, and your “easy” lives just got harder. Combine that with whatever existing stress you had in your life, and suddenly panic starts to set in. I like to compare it to having a baby, except that you don’t get maternity leave for having a new dog. 😉

    My return experience was due to a little bit of lying on everyone’s part. I was too stubborn and ambitious about what I could handle, and the rescue was too withholding about what kind of issues and needs the dog had. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I brought the dog home that I realized quickly (within a week) that I just couldn’t do it. And believe me, I felt ashamed, like I had let everyone down, and just felt like a failure. But, I happily rescued another dog a few months later (who is still a lot of work), but I was better prepared, and knew my boundaries this time.

    I really hope the family decides to try again. There really is a dog out there for everyone. 🙂

  22. Nutty wouldn’t have made it this far if his lack of socialization/fear reactions had red-flagged Love-a-Bull that he was completely unsuitable for adoption. That said, he’s built up a lot of conditioned responses from his solitary life on a chain with a tree. And, those behaviors don’t go away in a few weeks or even in a few months. But, they do get better.

    And, isn’t it great that there are dog lovers out there who like and want that challenge? Not everyone wants it and that’s okay too.

  23. well, i’m bummed for everyone, but i believe that nutty’s forever is around the corner!

    and i want to thank you for this post! it is so important to validate those people that just need an “easier” dog. rescue work needs those people, so that they can take the dogs with easier to deal with issues and free up the more experienced folks to take the dogs that are going to need more time, patience and training.

    there is a place for both kinds of owners! especially because with time and experience, the folks that need “easier” dogs can grow into those that are ready for more challenge.

    seriously, thanks for taking the opportunity to reinforce this message!

  24. It came as a surprise to even me, who got a puppy, how much work dogs are and, how that work does not really end… especially in the beginning, it takes so much time and effort to bond and train the dog. I’m sorry it did not work out- but better they noticed right away! that way not too much disruption and upheavel for Nutty Brown.

  25. I met a rescue dog once to see if we were a good match and I brought my little chihuahua along because, of course, they would have to match as well. She and my dog got along just fine. But she had fear and distrust in her eyes around people and I knew I couldn’t take her. My dogs are around lots of different situations, people and children often and I couldn’t take the chance. I still wonder what happened to her though and if she found the right home. I found my girl later that year and even though she is a bit of a handful, very high energy, she is very outgoing and loves people.

  26. I’m really enjoying your blog. (I volunteer with a shelter and my very favorites are our pit bulls. And of course I brought one home). What a mature response to a very disappointing initial outcome, but you’re right, the ultimate outcome will be a better one.

  27. Blessings to you all. As has been said, dealing with deep seated behavioral issues is tough especially when you realize you were looking for a ready made dog who would enjoy your family and friends.
    Tomorrow I am bringing in a Beagle for whom I have no room; a woman volunteered to foster him to save his life yet she had no clue what real fostering entailed. Now she does (I doubt she will foster again) and I am sticking to my commitment as his rescue of record to be sure he is safe.
    Most of us, I know I do, commit first with our heart before considering the impact on not only our lives but of the other dogs in our homes. Kudos to keeping the communication and support doors open. You do such awesome “work.”

  28. The first dog my husband and I ever adopted (pit bull mix) had been returned by someone else and I believe to this day that it was definitely for the best that he was returned. In hindsight, it’s clear that the situation he was returned from wasn’t the right situation for him. Cysco was very fearful of men and the person who adopted him was a man with a male roommate. Cysco became very fearful of the roommate (after a drunken episode, which I’m sure wasn’t that big a deal but scared the bejeesus out of Cysco) and the whole thing probably would have ended badly if the guy hadn’t brought Cysco back to the shelter. I’m sure that there was another much more confident, out-going dog out there that was the right fit for this guy, but not Cysco. We ended up adopting him, dealing with his fears and anxieties fairly successfully, and had a wonderful 5 years with him before he passed away from cancer.

    I am confident that the right person/people will come along for Mr. Cutie Nutty Brown – and I’m sure it was a great learning experience for these adopters. Hopefully they could take some knowledge away from the experience and try to make a better match next time.

  29. I’m so glad that you posted this – first of all, you have give adopters permission to admit that they may have made a mistake, and that’s important! We are currently caring for my brother’s dog right now while he is working out of state and she is fearful of visitors – it’s challenging for us, especially since our dog greets everyone with enthusiasm and is able to go anywhere and do anything with us. It has changed everything we do.

    My brother told me he was worried that he wasn’t going to get his dog back – but, she will be going HOME to my brother. She is sweet and lovable, but she doesn’t fit in to our lifestyle and that’s not her fault, it’s just not a good fit. So, I guess I understand how your adopters feel, and they are so lucky to be working with someone as understanding as you and Love-a-bulls 🙂

    I hope Nutty Brown finds his perfect forever home!

  30. It is always important with adoptions that people realize there is a fit between them and their potential pet, just like when we choose our friends.

    Fortunately, most of our pets, even the adopted ones, were adopted from families of dogs giving birth, so we have always had the benefit of raising the puppies the best way our household is suited to raise them. Some of them are outside dogs because of size and others are inside dogs due to size. It is great that you are explaining this concept to people who may not realize there is a fit to ensure.

  31. Thank you, Aleksandra, for not being judgmental of the adopters. The only reason I still have my dog is I couldn’t find anyone else to adopt him, and his issues worked out over time. So I certainly understand people who say, “Whoa, this is more than I can handle!”

  32. good post..so true. We her lots of stories when people give up Frenchies or when they want to return the pup etc…UGH
    Benny & Lily

  33. I just recently found your blog and absolutely love your posts. I really admire the calm, open-hearted approach you seem to have with both the dogs and the humans you interact with. While I know you’re writing specifically about your fosters or the rescues you work with, so many of your lessons are applicable on a larger scale, and I’ve appreciated these lovely reminders. Thank you for sharing these amazing stories, keep up the good work, both on the blog and with the rescue pups!

  34. Great post! I find myself becoming angry when I hear of returns, but better that than the alternative of a dog being taken somewhere else out of shame or not being cared for in the best way. Your patience for people is very inspiring and eye-opening.
    I have no doubt this sweet boy will find the right match with the time and dedication for what he needs very soon!

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  37. Thank you.
    I am reading this coming down from being emotional (in the privacy of my own home with only my dogs to see, of course! Not with the actual adopter!) over a little boy being returned after I thought I’d found his forever person. Your post and the comments after put things back into perspective for me.

    This home not working out doesn’t mean he’ll never have a home, and it doesn’t mean I let him down or she let him down or he let anyone down.. these things happen. 🙂

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