. . . 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 wrong. Always.
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.