6.23.2015

#HandsOnFirst

While putting together a presentation for the Massachusetts Veterinary Technician's Association to promote the book, I stumbled onto something. 

Dog trainers, veterinarians, technicians, and every dog owner in the city has seen an influx of behaviorally unsound and sick dogs. Even The Boston Globe pointed out this issue in 2013:  - I referenced this very piece in the book. Everyone knows someone who got their dog off a truck in Connecticut, New Hampshire, or other state. Go around your office today and ask where people got their dogs - my bet is at least 25-30% were picked up out of state. 

That's because there is a law on the books (has been in MA since 2005) that states:

"all dogs coming into the state must be quarantined until behaviorally and physically sound for adoption." 

To get around this law, because with every law there is a loophole, thousands of dogs are trucked in to CT and other places for  new pet owners to pick up their dog. 

Not every dog is a mess. Many do great here - but many do not. Of the 85 dogs I've seen privately in 2 years, 67 have been trucked. Half have needed behavior modification medication and/or behavior plans in addition to a standard training regimen. This seemed high to me. 

So I looked on PetFinder. 

If you put in a search for dogs on Petfinder, and limit your search to 100 miles of Somerville, MA with no other restrictions (size, sex, house-trained, etc), you get ~4,000 dogs. That seems really high to me, but we are in a metropolitan area. If you click on the first dog, currently a dog from Blues Angels, it says the rescue is in Somerville MA----but if you click through to the rescue site, the dog is in Houston, TX. 

What's the big deal?

So say you are a client looking for a dog and you think you can go down and meet it. You click on a dog from Blues Angels in Somerville, MA - a shelter/rescue that we now know does not exist in Somerville, but the client doesn't know that. They pay for the dog, the rescue talks them into driving to CT to pick it up, and now the rescue has moved a dog that hasn't had behavior testing, or passed any standardized veterinary care and has gone through a traumatic transport. When I see that dog, a few weeks later, and it's unable to adjust to the city, the owners are frustrated, and the rescue won't take responsibility, everyone is frustrated. Veterinarians are seeing cases of dog flu related to unsafe transport, other highly contagious illnesses, and parasitic illnesses like rocky mountain spotted fever (a tick borne illness indigenous to the south, but we're seeing more cases here because of sick dogs being shipped).

The most extreme case in recent history was dog that needed all of his teeth removed, expensive parasite treatment, and treatment for pneumonia as soon as he got off the truck. This dog's new owner spent well over $1,000 immediately after transport. When I saw them a week after getting the dog, I recommended behavior modification medication and a more expensive specialist because the poor guy was very likely a former puppy mill stud. He jumped off a sofa and broke his leg because he didn't know that where the couch ended there was a significant drop. He was sold as a dog from Georgia who would be a "lovely family pet. He can walk on leash, doesn't bark, and is a low-key pomeranian." The dog peed on everything in sight (including the other dog), barked incessantly, and walking on a leash? Um...nope. Utter panic as soon as he was tethered. Did the rescue step up? No. The rescue was in Georgia the onus fell on the owners to pay for all of this. They were awesome and committed to this dog so he could experience love, but what would you go through with a dog like this? 

Now, imagine you're a dog owner with an undersocialized, sick dog in Somerville. The onus is now on the owner to pay for behavior consultations, behavior modification medication, and veterinary care - sometimes over $1,000 to save a dog. A dog they were promised is "a healthy, happy pet." 

The same thing happens for 10 out of 15 dogs on that first page. 

There is no way to meet the dog first. I've reached out to some of these rescues flying under the radar. None of them acknowledge they are operating illegally. They just send me an application, tell me how many dogs they have sent North and ask if I want the dog shipped through a particular shipping service.

In my opinion, this is as bad as the puppy mill industry. The dogs I see, the ones with problems - 67 out of 85 - when evaluated, present with similar issues to those from puppy mills: 

-Clinically undersocialized
-Few (if any) coping skills
-Issues with crates
-Fear of strangers
-Fear of loud noises / any noises
- Awkward social behavior 
- Reactivity to other dogs, strangers, or outside stimuli
- Constant Stress

When I contacted PetFinder on three documented occasions from February 28th of this year to May 24th, I was either met with "there is no restrictions to who can adopt these pets," - which is false. MA has a law as to who can adopt these pets without quarantine; or met with no response. 

Today I went to Twitter to say "Hey - look! A thing!" and they said they'd look into it. I bet if this starts to get more attention, the rescues would find a way to skirt the law, but it might be harder. We HAVE to start talking about this, and praising the good rescues and shelters who are making sure the dogs are safe, sound, and well-suited to their families. If they aren't, then they have resources available to help, or even take the dog back. Dogs can be a fifteen year commitment. If you don't have support, success can be harder. Particularly for #CityDogs. 

When contacting individual rescues skirting the law, they were all "individual / independent rescuers saving dogs." While I'm sure some are great at what they do, I can say given the number of dogs I'm seeing fail here in cities from well-intending rescues and well-intending dog owners saving dogs from terrible conditions, the behavior evaluations are failing. We have to do better. We have to put our hands on these dogs prior to adoption, and cease the culture of picking dogs up from out of state. Rescues can still send dogs to brick-and-mortar shelters here so people can see the dogs first, which is always advised. 

While one hot day does not indicate global warming, a trend in a direction does. This is that trend. 
67 of 85. 
That's quite the trend. 

Additionally, the website Adopt-a-Pet.com has Al-One Dog Rescue using "Sommerville, MA" to get around the loophole. If they can't spell the name of the town they are fake-operating in, it's probably a good indication that they aren't really here.

Canada is talking about the US rescue dogs that are behaviorally unsound shipped to them. We need to talk about this in the Northeast because we are all seeing it.

As a result of this, I'm starting a new campaign: #HandsOnFirst to promote people putting their hands on dogs prior to adoption, prior to purchase, prior to rescue. This goes for rescue, shelters or well-bred dogs. We can still ship and rescue dogs - as long as they are going to a reputable foster or a brick and mortar shelter prior to adoption. 

But this system as it stands now is wickedly broken. 

Also, so no one can say I hate rescue, every pet I've owned as an adult (except for a snail and fish - those were presents from my dad to my daughter!) were rescue. We are looking for a new rescue dog, and I'm seeing it's VERY difficult to find a rescue dog that is here for us to see in person because of the dogs flying under the radar that I can't meet first. We will likely always rescue in this home, though that is a conversation between me, my husband and my daughter. Local dogs are getting overlooked in favor of these more exotic rescues from the South, from Puerto Rico, from Iraq, from Afghanistan and now...Thailand and Korea (food dogs that are now being shipped as pet dogs in urban centers.) Yes, they all need help, but we need to sort this out so we don't make this worse.

I don't hate rescue - I really, really, really don't. I don't like unethical rescue, and I don't like seeing 2/3's of my students struggling and getting in over their heads because they wanted to save a dog. 

 This is on the verge of being a huge story. I know it. If you talk with Vets, Technicians, Certified Dog Behaviorists (Iaabc.org/ccpdt.org), rescues who are doing a good job, rescues who are skirting the law, and certified dog trainers (ccpdt.org / kpa.org /iaabc.org) - there is a lot here to unwind. 

There is a lot to say for puppy mills, irresponsible breeders and the like - but that is getting attention. I think this is something that needs focus, too, because the more people get burned by rescue, the fewer people there will be to rescue. We owe it to these families and their dogs to do better and come up with solutions. This is a start, but #HandsOnFirst is all I got as a solitary person trying to do the right thing for dogs. This is a way we can put responsible breeders, responsible shelters and responsible rescues at the forefront without starting an argument of rescues vs. purebred dogs, which doesn't help anyone. 

And no, just putting your hands on a dog does not indicate that this will be a match made in heaven - three of my toughest cases were all local dogs. That said, at least the family could meet the dogs first, and have a broad idea what they were getting into prior to bringing the dog into their home. They could bring a certified trainer to assess the dog prior to adoption. One of the owners actually wanted the tough case, and she's a superstar who is in a good place to take on these tough cases. But for a family who is looking for a sturdy, well-adjusted family pet, getting a dog sight-unseen is not unlike signing a pre-nup after meeting some dude on Match.com.

#HandsOnFirst.

Please.

-M3