Stepping up to the Challenge
Last year alone UK councils collected more than 60,000 stray dogs from the streets, many of these dogs were reunited with their owners but majority unfortunately ended up in the system.
The statistics show that 15,000 were rehomed and despite the efforts it is claimed that 4,231 had to be put to sleep.
So, what are the challenges facing rescues centres and can we do more to alleviate this growing trend?
We are talking about the smaller rescues here not the larger cooperate rescues, although they do face some of the same challenges they are more equipped to cope.
We need to look at the small local shelters who are doing their best to rehabilitate and rehome these animals.
These frontline smaller rescues have funds and resources that are seriously limited, despite this they struggle through knowing they are making a difference and protecting these unwanted and abandoned dogs.
However, it is these smaller rescues who face immense pressures to care for the dogs they already have as well as taking in unwanted dogs that come their way.
These pressures are made worse by a lack of public and government support, unlike the larger cooperate rescues the smaller rescues do not have an unlimited amount of money to fall back on when adoption levels are low.
They rely on the donations, fund raisers and kindest of their supporters to keep them from closing.
So, let’s look a little deeper into what happens when a dog is relinquished to a rescue; this is a true account written exclusively for this article from Wellingborough Dog Welfare.
The process of dogs coming into us is different depending on whether they are strays or relinquished into our care by the current owner.
Strays will complete their mandatory 7 days in the stray block before coming to us. Once they come in they are observed to identify any issues with health, feeding, handling, escaping, reaction to other dogs, grooming, energy levels, separation issues e.g. chewing etc.
At this point they are not handled by anyone other than long term experienced volunteers and the kennel manager for safety reasons, whilst we build a profile of the dog and assess its suitability for rehoming.
This profile will include information such age, socialisation, breed, any breed specific requirements that may help the dog, e.g. high energy collie = active home needed.
Obviously, this task can be difficult when they are strays as we have no idea what they are like with cats, chickens or other small animals, and yet we are asked this question time and time again.
Wherever possible we try and test them in different situations, but we don’t always have dog friendly dogs to ‘test’ them with in kennels, and we certainly don’t have any cats or chickens!
Strays can be challenging because sadly they can’t talk, and we know nothing about them. As a result, we must be over cautious as to their suitability with children and other animals; and we are sure that many people who come forward could provide suitable homes, but caution is a must.
Behaviour profiling is a key when trying to identify the needs of a dog, but the difficulty with judging a dog’s character based on observed behaviour is that any ‘bad’ behaviour may be because of their environment; similarly, ‘good’ behaviour may also be because of being unsure of their surroundings.
If a dog has dominance issues in the home but is picked up straying, they may not be feeling quite so sure of themselves in kennels and therefore not display this behaviour.
Sometimes it’s not obvious until they are in a home and more settled. In these situations, we always try to find a way to work with the new owners (where they are in agreement) to rectify these issues and prevent more damage to the dog or upset for the new owners.
Luckily many new owners understand that rescue dogs sometimes arrive with baggage and are committed to turning things around and this is where the help of a professional dog behaviourist in invaluable.
With owner relinquishment cases it should be straight forward, but the rescue is often not told the complete truth; or a lack of understanding by the owners may paint a ‘different’ picture of the dog than reality.
Dogs are assessed in the home for a brief time, and a questionnaire completed in conjunction with the owner about all aspects of the dog’s personality and history.
We are a small charity and heavily reliant on the kindness of volunteers. We are not equipped to rehabilitate aggressive dogs and do have to refuse some, but if we agree that we are happy to help rehome the dog, it will either be rehomed directly from the current home or be added to a waiting list waiting for a space to come into kennels for rehoming from there.
Once we have the dog and issues arise, what happens if the family refuse to take it back as per the signed agreement?
Unfortunately, there are occasions where our hand is forced, with owners threatening that a dog will be euthanised if we don’t “take it now”, leaving us with no alternative but to make space or find emergency accommodation.
Sadly, some owners keep the factual issues quiet so that they can off-load the dog easier. We are then left with a dog that needs rehabilitation rather than rehoming, and an indefinitely occupied kennel which means we must turn more dogs away whilst we search for a more equipped rescue.
It takes time and money to find suitable sanctuary places, and we may need to wait months for help with rehabilitation and/or fostering if somewhere suitable can be found… But the hardest thing is knowing that during this whole time we are turning dogs away who would otherwise be saved.
It’s heart-breaking at times.
We try to be very clear about the type of home they need based on the information we have and taking into consideration any behaviour we have noticed or been advised of.
Potential adopters can sometimes be disappointed because a dog ‘looks’ perfect, but we will always wait to find the best match possible rather than rehoming on a first come, first served basis.
We always invite people to come and visit our dogs, but one of the biggest obstacles to rehoming is that some people are put off a dog that is bouncing all over the walls.
We often these dogs often go on to be the most laid-back dogs at home as they are just stressed in the kennel environment. The opposite can also be true of dogs who are extremely quiet and withdrawn in kennels becoming boisterous in the new home once they have found their feet.
Potential adopters are assessed using a variety or suitability and lifestyle questions, and home checked prior to agreement of any adoption. This is to ensure the garden and home is safe, and suitable for the needs of the dog they are interested in, and that the dog is suitable for them.
This also gives us another opportunity to discuss any known issues with them to ensure they completely understand the commitment they are about to make.
Sadly, there have been occasions where some people are not honest about their lifestyle, or capability with certain issues and yet again we may need to call on the services of Paul Daly to work with them to find a solution as the alternative is the dog finds itself back in kennels, resulting in even more issues for the poor dog.
Once adoption has been agreed a date is arranged for the new owner to collect their dog. We always aim to keep in touch with adopters and encourage them to keep in contact with us, especially if there are any issues that they are experiencing.
We always provide full rescue back up and take the dog back into kennels should the new owner wish it.
Sadly, some dogs may never be adopted. Often dogs come to us with health issues and they cannot be adopted until they are recovered otherwise the adopter would inherit costly veterinary bills along with their new family addition.
Wherever possible we find suitable foster homes and provide everything the dog needs whilst they undergo assessments and treatment. Sadly, this is where some dogs will stay for the rest of their days.
Others may go on to recover and find a home of their own where they can live out the rest of their days.
Our aim is that ALL our dogs will go on to find a warm, loving home where they can live out the rest of their days. Rescue isn’t always easy, and not everyone will think that you are doing things right… But we do what we can to make a difference to the dogs who pass through our doors and we always try to never give up!
We roll with the punches and learn from our mistakes, but no matter how tough it can get, we are grateful that every single day we get to experience the truly heart-warming feeling of helping these lost souls find a family.
Rescue isn’t for everyone, but for as long as we are needed, and we are able, we will be there.
So, there you have it straight from the frontline. Over the years I have worked and continue to work with many great rescues across the UK.
The one thing that sticks out for me especially with smaller rescues is their true and unwavering dedication. All the work is done mainly by volunteers and helpers, each one of these people are doing a job that is not easy.
They admit themselves that they may not always get it right, but they should be celebrated. The challenges faced by rescues I am sure will continue to increase, the one thing that is sure every single rescue centre, home rescuer, volunteer and helpers will step up to face these challenges with unshakable dedication.