Today I dropped Mustang Sally off for her spay. This is the end of my role as medical foster; she starts looking for a home via the rescue group's adoption program now. I patted her on the head and said "Good luck, kid," and left really quickly, before the tears came.
I was really surprised at how soon it was time to give Sally back. I guess it's because I'm used to the mange puppies, and that single medical issue can take months to resolve. Sally had a small handful of medical issues, but all cleared up in four weeks, and medical foster is no longer necessary.
I'm hopeful that Sally's future will be bright and she will live a long and happy life with a loving family.
That happy ending is not, I learned this week, the case for Titan, a blue heeler that we fostered in 2008.
We were still doing independent foster in 2008, though what that really means is that acquaintances dumped stray and unwanted dogs on me and my husband, and we had to find new homes for said dogs. Thus we ended up with Titan, a seven-month-old purebred Blue Heeler (aka Australian Cattle Dog). He would be one of the last dogs we fostered independent from a rescue group.
Titan was a lovely little guy with a strong working dog temperament. He had high prey drive, tried to herd us around, and bickered with Dozer on more than one occasion. He was also very smart, very trainable, and enjoyed being around people.
In early 2009, we placed Titan with a family who had another cattle dog and a big yard. I urged the new family to get him some obedience training and give him a job or activity that suited his drive.
This week, I got a call from the dad. Divorce. They're all moving to places that don't allow dogs. Will I take Titan back?
Of course, we prefer that our foster dogs come back to us in the event that things don't work out. So I was fine with taking Titan back and re-homing him, even two years later.
Then the other shoe dropped. The dad said that Titan was aggressive toward strangers. And... Titan had bitten a couple of people. Including a child. The bites had occurred over a period of time, and Titan's owners had evidently done nothing, such as calling a trainer or behaviorist, to address the problem.
Well, when a dog develops a bite record, re-homing is no longer an option. Liability and public safety are the major considerations. Rescue groups won't take known biters, and people won't adopt them. There's only one realistic outcome for homeless dogs with bite histories: euthanasia.
Could Titan's aggression be managed? Could Titan be a safe dog? Could Titan live a long and happy life without biting another person? Titan's owners didn't have his behavior assessed by a professional, but I suspect that the answer would be yes, Titan could be a safe dog and could live a long life. Aggression can often be treated, managed, and reduced so that known biters can live out their natural lives without biting again.
But such dogs have homes, and their owners care about them. This family was about to make Titan homeless. Homeless dogs do not have such opportunities.
It saddened me greatly to tell the dad that, because of the bite history, aggravated by the fact that they had not sought professional help and diagnosis, I could not take Titan back... and further, that there were no rescue groups in the area that would accept Titan, and that it would be impossible to rehome Titan as things stood.
I explained that if they are definitely going to get rid of Titan, they cannot rehome Titan without disclosing the bite history, and that will make it very unlikely that anyone will take Titan. It's a lawsuit waiting to happen. From a public safety and legal liability perspective, the only option is the local shelter. The family must disclose Titan's bites when they relinquish him at the shelter, and those bites make him unadoptable. Titan will probably be killed at the shelter.
Although it's hard to say what I could have done differently, I feel that I failed Titan by placing him with a family that apparently didn't care enough about him to keep him safe.
There's no moral to this story, only sadness. I'm sorry, Titan.