Friday, April 22, 2011

Not all foster stories end well

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.


Kari in WeHo said...

Im sorry Titan, it sounds like your family failed you


T2 - My life with pit bulls said...

It's hard to know a dog will handle certain circumstances, but the same can be said of people. Obviously these people seemed responsible or you never would have allowed them to adopt Titan. Who would have thought to ask, "If you get divorced, will you both be so self-centered that you will move to a place that does not allow pets even though you have two?" And even if you had, they probably wouldn't have known themselves well enough to tell you. "If this adorable new dog you're about to adopt becomes vicious, how will you handle it?" It's obviously not even a question you can put on the table during the adoption process. If only it were the people who suffered the consequences of their poor decision-making as opposed to the dogs, this wouldn't be nearly as tragic.

cinci_celine said...

Thank you for sharing. Lately, I have been having to respond back to dog owners who are wanting to give up their dog due to aggression issues after having them for years. It saddens me to tell them, that I can not take their dog because (I'm much kinder in my responses) you, the owner failed your dog. Because you saw the behavior progress into something you can now no longer deal with. And yet, you claim the dog is sweet and a family pet. You're not wanting to take the dog to the shelter.

I personally think people should have to take a test to have a pet or child. (I would fail the child portion.) said...

Poor Titan---and poor you. I hope his family does the right thing and has him euthanized by a vet while they sit with him, rather than take the easy way out and leave him at the shelter to be euthanized surrounded by strangers (or try and pass the buck by giving him to someone else).

I had a foster Border returned years after the adoption. She was a scared girl when she came in and had made amazing progress in trusting again. So much potential. But similar story: owners never bothered to train, socialize, etc. or even properly maintain her to prevent any of the multiple bites from happening. They moved, I took her back ... and stayed with her while we put her to sleep shortly after. She was an absolute basketcase by the time they returned her, and she still haunts me today.

Long story to say I can relate, and I'm sorry.

forsythia said...

A sad story, but you have provided some interesting perspective on aggressive behavior. Makes me sad to think that Titan could have had a longer life with proper intervention. This reminds me of a very good illustration of your point. A former neighbor took in a stray he called "Doggie." Every time he took Doggie for a walk, she growled and barked and strained at the leash when she saw another dog being walked across the street. When my husband said that he shouldn't let Doggie get away with that, Mr. M. claimed that that "is just the way she is," and also seemed to enjoy the effect she had on other walkers and their dogs. From time to time, he would ask my husband to care for Doggie while he was away. My husband would walk her and tolerate no such nonsense. All it took was a couple of firm jerks of the leash and a stern "No!", and Doggie behaved very well. When Mr. M took her on walks, the bad behavior returned.

bitt said...

So sad. There is no chance of you taking him back to help rehabilitate him? Or are you worried you would just have to be faced with the same choice the family does. This sort of situation makes me sick to my stomach. :-(

Toni said...

I have herding dogs and many people will say they "bite", but it is their instinct to herd/nip. Are they sure he bit someone and wasn't trying to herd them?

Is there any way to find a breed specific rescue for him?

I read your blog because I also have a rescued pitbull mix and my friend recommended your page. I love the stories!

happypitbull said...

Toni, I think these were not herding breed nips. Titan's owner's description of the bite circumstances implied territorial aggression. The local breed-specific rescues only pull from shelters, so that was not an option, regardless of the bite history.

bitt, even if Titan gets professional help, the liability will exist for the rest of his life. He can never be rehomed. That is why neither myself nor any rescue group will take him. I'm not in a position to keep a third dog (much less an aggressive one). It would drain my resources, stress out my pets and family, and put a stop to my fostering (as Titan would be taking the space and resources currently designated for our fosters). A foster home is not meant to be a permanent situation--that's what the adopter is supposed to provide.

I was sad to hear from the animal shelter that Titan indeed got dumped there this weekend. His owner apparently left him in an overnight drop. The shelter confirmed that because of the bites (which were described to them by the owner in paperwork left behind), they won't rehome him. :(

purplepit said...

Poor guy. One of my least favorite parts of fostering is seeing what can happen when a dog is placed in a bad situation.

New dog should = Training.

Texas The Doxie said...

Ugh. It is a sad story. And one that strikes close to home as I am one of those people with a biting dog (not aggressive) and I'm scared to think of what happens if something happens to me. I wish I were in more of position to take on dogs like this...

Daisy Dog said...

I'm sorry for Titan. So sad.