The other day, I was picking my daughter up from school and one of her teachers approached me. She asked if we got a puppy and named it Victoria. As anyone who lives with a 4-year-old can attest, the line between reality and fantasy is pretty blurry. I told her teacher that we were actually going to visit a breeder this Saturday who had puppies for adoption, but we hadn’t adopted one yet. Then a teacher from another class interjected, “You should rescue! I always rescue!”
I told her that I see a lot of dogs for aggression and that I wanted to get my daughter a puppy. I support rescue, but a puppy is generally the best for people who have little ones. She acknowledged what I do for a living and then she continued to inform me in front of all the other mothers in the pick up line that I should rescue a dog instead of adopting a puppy from a breeder. From the look on her face, I could tell that she was disgusted with my decision. I left feeling ashamed, guilty, and enraged.
Wait! I have rescued dogs my entire adult life. I adopted a Rottweiler when she was to be euthanized for aggression and kept her for almost 12 years until she died of renal failure. She was not an easy dog to live with, but we never gave up. When my daughter was born and many told me to euthanize Peanut, it was not even a consideration for me or my husband. I have fostered dogs and cats my entire adult life.
I give substantial discounts at my practice for any dog currently owned by a bona-fide rescue. I lecture at humane societies at no charge. I offer my help in writing protocols for classes, enrichment, and training at no cost to the humane organization. I support rescue and always have. When Peanut died last year, I wanted a medium-sized, brown, adult dog. However, as a mother, you don’t always (make that rarely) get to make selfish decisions without considering your child.
Life has changed. I have a 4-year-old. She grew up with Sweetie, who was a patient and wonderful doggie mother to her. Sweetie passed away when she was 2 and my daughter doesn’t remember her at all. The dog that she does remember is Peanut, my aggressive Rottie. Because her interactions with Peanut had to be so limited, she is afraid of dogs now. Then, I adopted a wonderful Beagle as an adult from a breeder (I wrote about him here). It took ten days for him to snap at her and, separately, another child. The children did no more than reach for him. He didn’t have a bone. He had just been asked to sit. She simply reached for him as she did many times before. In a future blog, I can explain more about what happened with Pete. I returned him to the breeder the next day and he was happy to be back home. He never even looked back for me. Now, my already fearful daughter is even more fearful.
I am not saying that all or even most rescue dogs are aggressive. In my experience, the risk of ending up with a pet with aggression is lower if the puppy is adopted from a good breeder where you can meet the parents. The best indicator of the pup’s adult behavior is the behavior of the parents. At this point, I have to keep my risk of getting an aggressive dog as low as possible so that I have the highest likelihood of getting a pet who is a good match for my family.
Don’t I have the right to choose a puppy from a good breeder so that my daughter can have a dog to hug and love like I did as a little girl? Doesn’t she deserve to understand the deep connection that can be made with a dog? Why is it wrong for me to do everything in my power, including choosing a young, well-bred dog with a low likelihood of aggression, so that my little girl can experience what I did with my dog, Duchess, when I was a little girl?
She was my best friend, the only one that kept my secrets, the only one who truly understood me and was always on my side. Why does that make me an irresponsible dog owner? I will get my middle-aged, medium-sized, short-coated, brown dog from the shelter when my daughter is older, but right now she needs a best friend who is patient with her and can teach her that all dogs don’t bite. She has the right to have that and THAT IS OK.
Dr. Lisa Radosta