I saw a meme on a social media site the other day that made me think. It said something along the lines of never abandon a dog, no matter what happens. In literal terms, I agree completely and would never abandon my dogs in the sense of leaving them to fend for themselves on the streets or in the country. I’ve heard many people say, however, that they would live on the street rather than give up their animals, and I have to wonder if that is truly what is best for both the person and their pets.
After nearly twenty years of Rottweiler rescue work, I’ve repeatedly seen people give their dogs up to both shelters and rescues. Sometimes this is done out of convenience or for other selfish reasons, including the excuse that the dog is old and they don’t want to care for it any longer. I’m honest when I say that I have little respect for such people, as they seem to view the living being they are dumping as a disposable item, worth no more than an empty soda can. Others I’ve seen have surrendered their dog when all other options have been exhausted or when they realize that doing so is actually best for the dog. These are the people I respect.
Several instances come to mind in regard to people who, putting their own desires aside, looked at what was best for the dog and made a heart-wrenching decision to part with their animals. I mentioned one such instance in my blog titled Guardians, where I convinced a woman who had a DUI conviction and was going to spend a year in jail to surrender her dog. Through the thick glass of the visiting center at the jail, I remember asking her to honestly tell me how well cared for would the dogs be while she was gone. Her uncertainty led me to make her a promise, which I kept -- that if the dogs were surrendered, I would personally ensure that they went to a good home. They did. The woman could have insisted that the dogs be fostered so she could take them back when her sentence was complete but she didn’t. I think she realized that she would be in no position financially, nor would she have a home, to properly care for the dogs once she was released.
A similar situation didn’t involve jail but did involve a man who struggled for many years with alcoholism. The man lived by himself with an amazing young male Rottweiler, named J.W., who was getting into trouble with neighbors and local authorities. I won’t detail the long story of how I came to meet J.W.’s owner, but I can share that circumstances became so bad that I made the decision to try to convince the man to surrender his dog. The reality was he needed to give up his dog or law enforcement would become involved, limiting J.W.’s options for finding a home. You see, the man was entering a yearlong, court-ordered rehab program and he wouldn’t be able to care for the dog and he didn’t know of anyone who could take J.W. I remember being with the man as he stood outside his truck, sobbing for an hour. He loved that dog more than life itself. Finally, in a moment of clarity, the man handed me J.W.’s leash.
The same happened with J.W.’s owner, or more specifically, with his wife. It was at least three years after the day J.W. was surrendered to Big Sky Rottweiler Rescue, and I was at the post office and, as is normal for me, I had my dogs in the car. A lady parked next to my car and smiled at the massive Rottweiler heads looking toward the building, waiting for my return. When she came into the post office she asked if the car was mine and if I was involved with rescue. I said yes and introduced myself. It was then that she told me she was married to J.W.’s former owner. Again I was concerned about her reaction, but just as before, there were no hard feelings toward me, only thanks. The man had sobered up, was now married to her, and had even became an elder at a local church. He had shared all the details about J.W. and I with her which is why she asked if I did rescue. We chatted for a bit, and before I left I asked that she pass a message on to her husband. My message was that he had made the right choice. J.W. had been adopted by the family that had fostered him for BSRR and he shared his home with a cat and another Rottweiler. As hard as it had been for the man, I wanted him to know that he had made the right decision.
The common theme in both of these stories is that both owners struggled against something they couldn’t control without help and to get that help, they needed to surrender their dogs. The act of surrendering the dogs was so traumatic that I suspect it was a factor, even if only a small one, in their decision to make the changes in their lives so that they would never experience that pain again. I know for me, I make many sacrifices to ensure my dogs have a good life. No I don’t buy them bottled water or feed them gourmet food, but I do want to make sure they are loved and cared for. If I was making choices in my life that risked that care, or worse, resulted in me having to give up my dogs, then I would do everything I could to change myself and my situation to avoid repeating that. I’m thankful that the two people mentioned above, did just that.
These people made the tough call to surrender their animals because it was best for the dog even though it was emotionally painful for them as the owners. Do the dogs miss their owners after surrendered? Absolutely! However, if there is one thing I’ve learned in rescue, it is that dogs are amazingly resilient animals. They can transition into new, loving homes much more easily than people realize. What is even more amazing is that, even in their new homes, they never forget their former owners. That bond cannot be broken.
So, when people say they would never give up their dog, I believe they should rethink such a statement. Having had many medical issues in my life, I know that if I learned I was terminally ill with some malady, the first thing on my mind would be to ensure that my dogs would be cared for. If that meant surrendering them to a good home in advance of my demise, then all the better. As much as it would hurt me, it would be what is best for my dogs. You see, I’ve had several dogs that came from such situations and my current boy, Bradum, is one of those dogs. Bradum’s family was forced to move from Montana to Florida in order to try to find work. The family knew that it would be hard to find a place to rent in Florida that allowed dogs and it would be nearly impossible to do so with a one hundred twenty pound Rottweiler. Feeling that Bradum would have a better chance of finding a good home here in the Montana region, they surrendered him to BSRR. I can’t imagine the pain such an act caused them but I respect their decision. Though I don’t know who they are, I hope they know that they made the right choice. They never said never to the idea of giving up their pets.
I will always respect the person who makes such a difficult decision as much as I respect the person that will invest everything they can so they can keep their dog. That is why I, and other members of BSRR, offer free training advice to people in our region and have even provided dog food to people who have fallen on hard times. If a dog has behavior issues that might result in the dog being surrendered or people simply can’t afford to feed the dog while between jobs, then as a rescue organization, it is our duty to do everything we can to allow them to keep their dog. However, if all else fails, we respect the homes that have exhausted all options and make the call to surrender their pet. God knows we all may face such a choice though I pray none of us will. But if we do, think about the dog and do what is best for them.
As a side note, if you ever find yourself at a point where you feel you need to surrender a dog, please, please, please, don’t wait until the last minute to contact a shelter or rescue organization. The more time you can allow for space to be made or a home found, then the better for all involved.