I fostered a German Shepherd named Bingo years ago for about 8 weeks. When she arrived she had already been institutionalized for about 4 years: dropped off as a puppy and returned several times… It was not made clear to me why she was returned, but I got the idea the shelter remained hopeful she could acclimate to life in a home rather than the shelter. I was ready to help; I had an ideal set up: large yard, quiet home, no children, one roommate, one cat and I work from home.
I was told her hip pained her – years on a cement floor will do that, I suppose. I began giving her Glucosamine Chondroitin; she quickly felt better. We regularly exercised together. Within a few weeks she gained confidence and began biting. Hard. She was food aggressive, and even lunged at my roommate several times from her crate as she walked through the room. Thankfully, she was in her crate because I have no doubt she would have attacked. After weeks of working with her, with the guidance of the shelter’s dog trainer, she bit my leg trying to get at her bone.
After a long discussion with the trainer, we agreed I could not provide her with the work she needed, and for the safety of my home I would return her to the shelter. This was an incredibly difficult decision. I was well aware that her return would almost certainly mean Bingo would be killed. However, I also recognized the danger posed with Bingo being adopted out to anyone. Bingo had what I would consider Institutionalization Syndrome. From about seven months old to about four years all she had known was the shelter, and the routine of the shelter where she was kept.
I remained in contact with the trainer after Bingo was brought back. Nearly two years after her return, Bingo was still being housed there. She was no longer receiving the pain medication, and was back to living on a cement floor in a cage. Worse, some of the volunteers had trained her to take treats out of their mouth. In my opinion, it was a disaster waiting to happen. That was not a situation in Bingo’s best interest.
There are sanctuaries for dogs who should not be adopted out, and individuals in a better position to help without placing the general population in danger. I understand, and support, the concept of no-kill shelters. It is a scar on the face of America that millions of healthy, loving and adoptable animals are killed in shelters every year. The fact of the matter is, however, she was not receiving the care she needed to keep her pain free and to live a productive life. The shelter was wrong to keep her with them; she suffered, and posed a threat. Because they were unable to properly care for her, the shelter should have made every attempt to place her in a sanctuary, or at least provide her with the supplement she needed for her hip. If they were unable to do that, I believe it was in Bingo’s best interest to euthanize her because of her suffering.
There are hundreds of shelters that do right by the animals and communities they serve. In fact, the shelter I’m speaking of has helped thousands of animals find forever homes, but the question remains: how do we avoid this quandary altogether? Would mandatory spay/neuter have a significant impact? What if the number of clinics to serve families that can’t afford to get this procedure for their pet were increased? Education may also improve the likely hood of an animal getting spayed or neutered. Humane education should become a regular part of our children’s curriculum.
It may take years to implement policies and procedures that will turn things around for the millions of domesticated animals that are effected by human behaviors. We should not aim low, however, and expect significant change. We must aim high, and the number of animals that suffer and die will shift.