All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Shelter Seems Anxious to Euthanize

Dear Marie,
I purchased a beautiful 1.5-year-old Male Border Collie mix from the local animal shelter.  His previous owner had given him up for adoption, but I was never informed of the reason why. He was a wonderful, fun-loving, incredibly intelligent dog.  He also adored me, showering me with love and affection. I own a modeling agency and kept him with me in the office.  We were together 24 hours a day.  Unfortunately, he had some bad behavioral traits.  Among them, he was destructive, would defecate to punish me and on three occasions nipped at my clients when they would intervene.  He simply didn't want strangers telling him what to do. 

Obviously, I could discipline him, but he wouldn't tolerate anyone else doing the same.  He never broke the skin, but it was indeed a problem.  I might have been able to solve the other behavioral problems, but I couldn't have a dog at my business that might hurt someone.  

Reluctantly, I decided to take him back to the animal shelter and put him back up for adoption.  I got there and explained the situation and was told that they could not accept him for adoption since he was being brought there for the second time, but more important, because he had nipped at people.  They were willing to take him back, but they told me he would be put down.  

I anguished for hours.  I had to go back east to be with an ailing relative.  Animal Control spent a lot of time trying to explain to me the danger of putting him up for adoption.  I was told of the risk and the liability if someone were to get hurt.  

I eventually relented because I was so pressed to go to the hospital to see my relative.  To this day, I regret the decision.  Had he not nipped at clients, I would have never considered giving him up.  So my question after this long-winded email is why is animal control so anxious to euthanize such a wonderful animal?  Is there really that much risk that a dog that nips will turn on someone and genuinely injure them? Thanks for whatever comments you might have.

Dear Alan,
I am going to answer your question but what I have to say is probably not what you want to hear.  Let me start with your basic question first.

Technically, public animal shelters have no legal obligation to place owner-relinquished pets up for adoption; however in practice, many do make an effort to re-home the majority of these animals.  Still, shelters have their hands full with stray pets; owners who add to this almost overwhelming load by giving up their own animals are not afforded much credibility.

Everyone who drops off his or her own dog or cat has "a story."  Sometimes the explanations are maddening – the new boyfriend or girlfriend doesn't like the cat or dog; or new carpet is being installed; or it sheds too much; etc.  Needless to say, shelter staff members become pretty hardened to owners with “stories” about why it’s just not feasible to keep a pet any longer.  

However, a shelter’s concerns with liability are well-founded.  We live in a society where lawsuits are the norm.  A shelter that adopts out a dog or cat that is known to be a biter/nipper leaves itself wide open to substantial financial liability, and with the small budgets shelters have to work with as it is, this is not something they can take lightly.  As a result, they generally choose to euthanize owner-relinquished pets that have a history of biting.

Prior to living with you, your dog had been in a home and subsequently given up.  For all you know, he may have had several homes prior to entering your household.  His emotional state was fragile at best.  At a year and a half old, the most important, formative months of his life were spent in a state of flux, which led to the behavioral problems that you observed.   Contrary to the old saying that "you can’t teach an old dog new tricks," all of his behavioral issues could have been addressed and eliminated with training, patience, love, and stability.

I get the impression you did not have this dog too long prior to your family emergency and I understand that you felt you had no alternative but to give him up.  I am surprised that the animal shelter you dealt with did not offer you the names and phone numbers of rescue organizations and support groups, as well as advice regarding what you could have done, including boarding your dog while you tended to your family matters, and then working with a trainer upon your return.  

Still, I believe that all too often, even with good advice from staff members, pet owners look at shelters as a quick solution to eliminating "their problems."  This is not what shelters are for and we can’t blame them for the unpleasant consequences that arise from public irresponsibility.        

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