I don’t live in New York City, so I don’t have to go quite through what these folks did to adopt a cat. If one of my neighbors hasn’t rescued a cat some idiot dropped off (because that’s what you do with cats you can’t take care of, right, throw them out of your car in the country where they will totally be fine ;-P), we have a long-standing and deeply friendly relationship with someone who does cat rescue, and she is happy to pass cats on to us for adoption. Still, I did come into contact with the Stalinist dog rescue folk shortly before we BOUGHT Mac:
“I’m so glad she’s taking Hart,” I told an alpha a little later.
“I don’t know about that,” she countered. “We had her fill out an application, but she was pretty rigid about only wanting to feed him dry food. How would you like to just eat cereal all day?”
I nodded slowly. I needed the alpha on my side.
How ’bout the kittens, I wondered aloud. Who got them? There were four kittens, and they were just a few weeks old. When they weren’t sleeping on top of each other like strips of bacon still in the package, they were bouncing off the walls of their cages. Everybody wanted the kittens.
“I don’t think anyone is getting the kittens,” said an alpha.
How was that possible? This guy had too many roommates. That girl seemed immature. One couple had too many cats already.
We ran into some pet-rescue craziness after Rufus, our first working farmcollie died. We wanted a livestock guardian breed of dog, and ideally, we wanted to adopt a dog that needed a home. So we went looking on all the usual rescue sites – and found a deep and abiding prejudice against letting working dogs work – or even do the things that they are bred for.
Our first attempt was with a young Maremma who had been used as a livestock guardian – that is, he was trained and brought up to live among sheep, and had a hard time adjusting to the 4×6 kennel he was now kept in – his previous territory had been measured in tens of acres. We approached the shelter about adopting him.
Yes, we had a warm barn for him to sleep in at night. Yes, there would be plenty of human contact. Yes, he would be out with sheep and goats.
No, we couldn’t have him. He has to be a house dog, and they didn’t want him to be with livestock. Why? Because then he wouldn’t be being socialized to humans – he was very anxious in a house with humans and they felt he needed to be there constantly. When I pointed out his entire genetics were designed to live in open spaces, and his youth had been spent among livestock in those spaces, that this was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, they argued that he’d eventually be a perfect house pet – a 110lb, territorial guard dog would make a great living room ornament.
Ok, moving on, we then inquired of a group of crossbred LGD puppies born in an affluent suburban neighborhood near my mother – this is an area of small lots and a high degree of social connection. The pups, half Great Pyrenees and half Anatoiian Shepherd would be huge, strong, and have a strong instinctual urge to range over a large territory – perfect for affluent small yards, really! When we inquired and noted we had a farm, that the animals would be kept near our family and have a lot of human contact but also space to roam and work to do, we were told “there is a lot of interest in these pups in this town, we simply don’t think they need to be farm dogs.” They probably don’t – while they are tiny and cute. My concern is what happens later on as suburban householders attempt to keep big dogs with big territorial needs in tiny suburban yards. LGDs bark a lot – that’s part of how they let predators know they are there. They also are inclined to roam – and tough to keep in without 6 foot chain link fence. They are wonderful, gentle, sweet dogs – but all of the breeding is for life as a working farm dog. We were told it was the breed rescue’s policy that none of their (all LGD) dogs be placed as working dogs.
So many dogs end up in shelters because they are misplaced – the high energy dog in a family with no time to play, the dominant dog in a family with lots of young children. Ultimately cute often outweighs rational in choosing a dog – to the dog’s detriment. Most of us need to choose a dog not for the life we’d like to live, but for the one we actually do – which is what we set out to do. The shock was that the life we live was viewed as harmful and abusive to the dogs – EVEN WHEN the dogs were bred for precisely that life.
I do understand that sometimes “out with the animals” for an LGD means no shelter and no socialization, and I support absolutely their desire to find out what kind of working life the animal would have. That’s not, however, what we do – and what most farmers do.
After a few more failures, we gave up and ended up buying a Great Pyrenees (Mac the Marshmallow) from a breeder. He’s a wonderful dog, and I have no regrets. He’s settled into a perfect guardian, a good buddy for Mistress Quickly, our American Working Farmcollie and emergency-backup dog, and my oldest son’s best friend. Told we couldn’t expect him to guard our goats and play with our kids, we’ve found he’s able to move perfectly between those two roles.
I’ve been thinking about the dog thing again since Mistress Quickly is getting older. Rather than having Mac lose his best buddy, we probably will try and find another dog in the next couple of years, so that our dogs are never alone. Moreover, we’ve talked about possibly needing another LGD to handle the animals that are kept up on the hillside, out of sight of the house. While Mac goes up there, his guarding work is mostly in the areas around the house where the does are kept – but the bucks and calves are up on the hill pastures.
As much as I’d prefer to support rescue operations, I just don’t think I’ll be using one. The requirements of many of them are fairly ridiculous – one asks you to sign a contract that they can come to your property and investigate your dog’s condition at any time. I don’t abuse my animals, and I support their desire to protect dogs that have already endured trauma – but I don’t make strangers free of my property, either. Multiple home visits before you can adopt – I’m willing to do that for children, but not for animals.
I don’t know what happened to the puppies we inquired about – I hope all of them are stably settled in their homes now that they are big and not so cute. I do know that the Maremma was still at the shelter in the same 4×6 cage more than a year later. I know he was lavished with love and attention there, taken for walks and cared for by people who love animals – but not enough to let an animal bred for work do what they love and are bred to do.
I take seriously the need to ensure that animals that have been abandoned and traumatized don’t get abandoned and traumatized again – but what I see is that “animal love” often gets perverted into making the barriers for adoption so great that over and over, people I know give up and buy from breeders. Now there is nothing wrong with purchasing an animal bred for a specific purpose from a breeder – and there are some compelling reasons for doing so. At the same time, there are many people who would adopt if they could – and homeless animals that wouldn’t be euthanized if the barriers to entry weren’t both high and sometimes misguided.
I often find myself suggesting that a dog or a cat might be a good addition to a sustainable household – yes, feeding them is a real issue and one that shouldn’t be taken lightly, but the security that a dog can provide to someone who lives alone, the rodent control a good mouser or the working qualities of a dog bred for hunting or ratting or guarding or herding are too valuable to give up. Add in the merits of comfort and security that having a dog or cat can provide and I do think pets are incredibly important to most of us. It is perfectly reasonable that to adopt an animal you’d have to show you can care for it and that you don’t regard animals as disposable, that you should agree to spay or neuter and that you have a plan for its medical care. It is not appropriate that you should have to open a vein, treat an animal like a human being or commit to chronic and permanent invasions of privacy. It is a pity that our perfectly laudable desire to protect animals has gone overboard in some cases.