The Saga of Stevie Wonder – Part 2

. . . and they lived happily ever after . . . until they didn’t.

They loved our little Stevie-girl to pieces. She slept under the covers in bed with them, accompanied dad on daily morning runs, played fetch on the back patio until their arms were sore, and went to basic obedience class at the top-notch facility nearby. They bragged about how sweet, smart, and darling she is. By all accounts, everything should have been perfect.

But right about January, we got the dreaded email. Stevie’s family was seeing some behavioral issues –some anxiety and fear– and they needed a good private trainer. A few months later, an even more dreaded email: Stevie is being returned.

Our first reaction was to be shocked, appalled, and judgmental. Yikes.

But the return of Stevie is an important reminder to us that all stripes of people part with beloved pets, for all kinds of reasons. Us who work in dog rescue often protect our hearts with a high wall and a quickness to judge: returns are never acceptable. Those who return pets are wrongAlways.

But in fact, could we be wrong for thinking this way?

Hang around animal rescue for long enough and have the courage to keep your heart and mind open, and eventually you’ll start to see that nothing is as black and white as you had initially thought. Not all those who want to adopt pit bulls are criminals, not every shy dog was abused, not every dog who growls is dangerous, and not every adopter who returns a pet is a bad person.

Naturally, our instinct was to feel protective of our former foster, Stevie-girl, who we nursed back to emotional health after she was found tied to a tree on a golf course last spring. How could she be homeless again? Doesn’t forever mean forever?

That we heard the news in the same week that our post about another dog’s return was highlighted on the ASPCA Pro blog seems like a cosmic sign of some sort. Don’t forget to be compassionate. Kindness and humane treatment applies to all creatures, not just the dogs we work so hard to save.

Eventually, we came to what we think is an important realization. Some dogs may be better off rehomed. We would have loved to have seen Stevie thrive in her forever-home forever. And yes, we think that with enough time, money, patience, training, and care, the incompatibilities between her exuberance and her family’s lifestyle may have resolved. But how much time, money, patience, training, and care is enough, and how much is too much? What level of stress to a family and a dog is justifiable to make a situation fit? Knowing what we know now, we see that Stevie probably never would have become a natural fit for this particular type of family. And don’t Stevie and her family each deserve a natural fit? We realized that it’s actually possible — probably, even–  that she’ll be happier, healthier, and more well-balanced in a different home.

There is much to be thankful about in Stevie’s saga. And we’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

26 responses

  1. Sounds like you need some love. I am grateful that we are at a level of awareness in the dog/human relationship where (some) people realize that when things aren’t working they know that they have options. So much better than the alternative; frustrated dogs and humans in less-than-desirable situations in which all parties are miserable and at risk. Keep up the great work you are doing!

  2. As usual, a great post. Sometimes rescue has a hard time with this. Sometimes we want to force things that shouldn’t be forced. And then sometimes, the magic just works. I can’t wait to hear more!

  3. There can be a lot of that “black and white,” rigid thinking in rescue work among the volunteers who are so intimately involved with pulling, fostering and placing dogs. This is typical in the beginning when emotions really are the fuel that drive volunteers. Lots of things can happen over time, including burn out for many of those same volunteers. The harder, necessary “thing” is when volunteers look deeper into why a particular adoption may not have worked, suspend judgement, so that blame is taken out of the equation and the right questions get asked. Which is the strength of this post. “Knowing what we know now” is the gift of hindsight – and – before you could get to that realization, you had to start with that first experience of placing Stevie in what you honestly felt would be a good forever home. Speaking from my experience, if I could go back in time, there were several adoptions that my rescue organization should never have made. We went through that same learning curve that you’ve described here. It’s never an easy process, but if you’re in animal rescue for the long haul, you’d better be prepared to ask those harder questions.) And, you seem to be doing a good job of this.

  4. I’m so glad you were willing to tackle this. Thank you.

    The insistence that every rescue dog be carefully rehomed with their forever family comes from a good place. No one wants to see people who think of dogs as disposable. And dogs who have had a rough start deserve to settle into a home without being moved around casually.

    But you’re right that we can insist on the notion of a forever home so much that we lose sight of compassion.

    To this day, I wonder if my insistence on keeping two rescue dogs I adopted was the right thing. If I had been willing to rehome one of them, they might both have been happier their entire lives.

    Hopefully we’ll get to the place as a society where we can take a holistic and compassionate view of matching people and animals.

    Looking forward to hearing the rest of Steve’s story.

  5. When I sent Stella home with her new family yesterday, I told them, Life happens; if for any reason at any time you cannot keep her, she comes back to me. They were fine with that; I do not expect her back but….I’ve also had a couple adopters, who, when the adoption was not working out, worked with me by fostering the dog till we could find a new home. These people are gold.
    Your adopters sound kind and pragmatic – they’ve spent time and effort with Stevie to the point they can do no more – and you are all being kind and compassionate in return by looking at the big picture, not just saying we should never have adopted to these people in the first place or how terrible of them….they contacted you (and didn’t dump Stevie somewhere else) – hopefully, they, too, have learned what type of dog will better fit their life – and how better to adjust their lives for a new dog. Can’t wait for tomorrow’s installment.

  6. Oh Aleksandra – so sorry for you, for Stevie-girl and for the family; but thanks for this post. I kept a foster dog who showed unpredictable aggression. We were unsuccessful in our efforts with trainers and behaviorists. We loved him like crazy – but we had to make a lot of accommodations, including family and friends could only come over when he was locked safely away…and the ordeal led to friends and family not coming around much. After we lost our boy to old age and adopted another dog we began to realize just how much anxiety we had lived with for a long time…and I’m not sure we’ll do it again. I sure won’t blame someone else if they don’t want to live that way – especially if they have kids. I wouldn’t want a child to grow up thinking that living with a dog is supposed to be an anxiety roller coaster kind of experience. Sending good vibes for a good new start for Stevie-girl.

  7. So well written all around, as usual. Some very good points brought up. I am happy they felt they could be totally honest with you, and you them. Makes hard things like this slightly easier I would imagine. For a split second I thought she went back to you but then I remembered you were in TX, who will take her in? I guess we will find that out later. Hoping the transition goes smoothly and her furever furever home comes along soon.

  8. We have had our Our Best Friend for three years now. He wasn’t the right dog then, and he isn’t now. It would probably be best if I *could* find a different home for him, one where he’d get more exercise and proper training.

    But my kids (one in particular) are attached to him, and he is to us. I certainly don’t have the time and energy that would go into screening adopters, and certainly dumping him at the local SPCA is NOT an option. I think I’m still hoping he’ll settle down with age.

  9. Forever does mean forever, but it’s so hard to judge without being in the situation. Looking forward to finding out more!

  10. I love when you write about the judgmental nature of rescue. Rescue is about a lot a judgments–is this dog adoptable? Can it be made adoptable? Is this adopter ready for a dog? For this dog? Will this dog thrive with this adopter? And the truth is that none of us are good at accepting that our judgements can be wrong at any point.

    What I think is important is not to cast aspersions on an adopter who returns a dog, particularly when efforts were made to adapt–both by the adopter and as well as by the dog. If I remember correctly, the other return you wrote about was with the family a week. I have three rescues, adopted at different times, and each time I was sure I’d made a horrible mistake within the first few days. The good news is that I stuck it out with the first one, and then the second, and then I understood that this was part of the adjustment of adding a new family member to the routine, so the third wasn’t quite the same level of “WTH have I done?”

    Whenever I see people in PetSmart with a cart full of equipment suggesting they’re getting a dog, I stop them and say, “Here’s what I wish someone would have told me before I adopted the first one: In a couple of days, you’re going to be sure this is the worst decision you’ve ever made. Hang in there. Think about a time when someone was staying for an extended period in your home–think about all of the awkward adjustments to routines and schedules. This is no different than having a baby or a new roommate–it will take some time for everyone to find their groove. Hang in there.”

    • Completely agreed on the first few days with a new dog being awful! Both times (we have 2 dogs) I thought we made a horrible mistake, and our lives would be irreparably awful. Now, as I sit at my computer with Badger at my feet and Mushroom lying quietly in her crate, I am so glad we didn’t give up on either of them.

      That said, the family that adopted Stevie seemed to have her for a while, worked with a trainer, and had a young child, so I’m not going to pass judgment on their situation.

  11. Thank you for this. I am sorry for Stevie and the family and I hope everything works out in the end for her. I too adopted a dog in Sept. 2010 that I ended up having to surrender three months later. It was the hardest most painful thing I have ever had to do. There reasons for my having to surrender Patrick are numerous. Ultimately, it was the health and happiness of my other dog Riley whom I had adopted 6 months prior that made me make that truly heartbreaking decision. I wish i had had someone like you that i could confide in and know that you would understand and someone I could work with in getting my lovely boy into a good home, the right home. Sadly, this was not the case. The person who helped in adopting both dogs, was very rude and made me feel like the worst possible human being on the planet. They conveniently forgot about the email I sent to them two weeks after Patrick’s adoption saying this wasn’t working out. They conveniently forgot about the call i made to them two months after the adoption saying, no really its not working out. Not with having a trainer come to our home once a week. They took it personally and attacked me whenever an ad was placed on the shelter’s fb page about Patrick being up for adoption saying that I was an irresponsible owner, that i did not care enough to uphold my end of the bargain when i adopted him, etc, etc. Believe me, i cared. I did not take the situation lightly and I tried my hardest to make things work. But, just as you say in your post, how much is too much? How much is justifiable? It got to point where it was me against my entire family. It was too much for me and I had to make the horribly excruciating choice to give him back, a dog that I loved and cared about so dearly, in the hopes that he would find a family that worked better for him. Although its been a year and a half since this happened and Patrick has found a lovely home with a family and fur brothers and sisters that adore him, i am still having a hard time getting past it and I don’t know if I ever really will.

  12. Sorry to hear about Stevie Wonder – it’s hard to have a foster be returned because we worry about them so much! And it is even more difficult when we have to depend on others to take care of our fosters when we can’t. I hope she is re-adopted to a perfect family real soon.

    One thing rescue has taught me is that most people are quick to blame others, and the compassion they extend to animals does not in many cases extend to other people. But in the end this hurts animals because we can’t educate people, change their minds, or allow our own minds to be changed if we’re busy finding fault. It’s better to understand why other people make the decisions they do – to see what they see and feel what they feel – and then we will be better able to help them and the animals.

  13. I’m sorry for Stevie, but it sounds like her adopters tried to do everything they could to make it work. We’ve got four rescues and the last one, Lady is our foster failure. We really tried to get her rehomed as her fosters. We did alot of the adoption days with the rescue group, posted her cute pictures and accomplishments on her crate training, and social skills on Facebook and emails. We thought, she’s good with kids, other dogs, cats and a yellow lab mix, but she was heartworm positive. Everyone who looked at her, loved her sweet disposition until that fact came out. The longer she stayed, the more attached we got. She’s loved, but she is one of four, and trying to give all of them enough attention at times can be tiring. I have to wonder if we would have kept trying (she was our foster for five months) maybe the perfect person/family would have come along. I think Lady knew all along, the minute she walked in, she was home.

  14. Sorry to hear it didn’t work out for Stevie in this home, but I agree she and this family deserve a better fit. This is a thoughtful, wise post. Re-homing can be the best thing for a dog. I hope Stevie finds her perfect home soon.

  15. You are much more compassionate than I am . I am still of the belief that if someone takes a dog that is a forever commitment nomatter what the circumstances…sorry but people don’t return misbehaved monster kids–so why should a poor dog be any different. I am sure the dog is better off and I hope these people never ever get another dog. I don’t think it’s about the right fit. I think it is about the level of commitment peopel are willing to give to another life.

  16. I think compassion is absolutely necessary when finding the right fit for the dog and for the family. After caring for my brother’s fearful/reactive dog for two months when he was away, I was forced to acknowledge that a fearful/reactive dog wouldn’t really fit into our lifestyle. We like having people over and taking our dog with us when we go places, and she just was not able to handle that. Thank you for understanding when a family decides that they just cannot make it work.

  17. This post was written right to me. How did you know that I automatically judge people who surrender/ rehome their animals? 😉 I volunteer at a city shelter where a surprising percentage of the cats are owner surrenders. It’s hard for me to understand because I’ve never been in a situation where I’ve had to rehome a pet.

  18. I’m sorry that Stevie’s home didn’t work out for her, or her adoptive family. But, it is a good & happy thing for all, especially for Stevie, that they returned her to you. Her fate, like that of so many other unfortunate, & misunderstood pets, could have ended up far worse, even tragic. At least with you, she still has a chance to find her true, loving, forever home, for forever ! We also adpoted our beautiful dog from a local sanctuary, & there were more than many times we thought we’d have to return her. It was all due to all of us, dog included, getting to know eachother, eachother’s personalities, & comfort level with eachother, especially for our dog, after all, she was in a new, strange place, with new, strange people. Once we realized all of this, & took the dog & our daughter to obedience classes together, everything fell into place, & the bonding developed. The magic word is “patience”. Good luck to Stevie. 🙂

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  20. Pingback: Who Are We to Judge? | Peace, Love, & Fostering

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