We Can’t and Shouldn’t “Save ‘Em All”

Wow it’s been a while since I posted, but look, I’m not dead!

Just kidding, I’m very dead. On the inside.

I decided I’d like to rant because my life is spiraling out of control and I have nothing better to do while I wait for my laundry to be done. I know I’m not the first to rant about this particular topic and I won’t be the last.

Those of us involved in the shelter community are familiar with the “save ’em all” mentality. The idea that every dog who comes through those shelter doors should be given a chance at all costs because damnit, it’s a living being with wants and needs.

What I think is worth saving and what you think is worth saving may be completely different. But after years in various shelters, I’m exhausted. I’m tired. Tired of seeing valuable time and resources wasted on dogs who are borderline feral, dogs with serious bite histories, dogs whose health will only decline over time, and so on. I’m tired of seeing good dogs with a legitimate chance at a good life neglected.

It’s not always the shelter or rescue’s fault dogs are getting screwed over. Sometimes their hands are tied in some way or another. It’s never easy, because in the end, you are talking about a living being. Sometimes there are complicated variables at every turn. Sometimes it’s just how the system works. We have a long way to go to change it.

It’s no secret dogs are being overbred, whether purposefully or accidentally. They flood shelters to the point some have to euthanize even healthy, stable dogs just so they have space to take in more. Some shelters are open admission, meaning they have to take in every animal brought to them whether they have space or not. Even with restricted admission shelters, sometimes animals get abandoned on the property, giving them no choice but to take them in (this abandonment is very illegal by the way, but it’s very difficult convincing authorities to go after them).

Keep in mind I’m talking primarily about shelters in the U.S. Other, more responsible countries don’t have the problems we do. Until we have a manageable amount of dogs in the country, why are we wasting time, money, and energy on dogs with aggression issues? Dogs with severe health issues? Dogs who are so borderline feral that 95% of the time I see them they’re stressed out of their mind because they don’t want to be surrounded by all these strange humans? While it is not their fault, these dogs do not mesh well with this life we are trying to shoehorn them into.

I have been struggling with a foster dog over the past year. When she came in as a stray her only issue was mild resource guarding with food, which we very successfully worked on until she was very adoptable. Long story short, shelter life caused her to deteriorate. She became uncomfortable with strangers and would snap at them with little warning if they attempted to touch her. We thought it was a barrier issue since it was only happening through the kennel door. She’d been friendly with people outside the kennel, so I took her home to foster. Turns out her discomfort with strangers wasn’t restricted to being in a kennel.

She has improved since being with me to the point she will attempt to walk away or otherwise disengage when she is uncomfortable (previously she would stand her ground). But as we all know, people are fucking idiots. Even if the dog clearly wants nothing to do with them, they push it and try to befriend them in their very inappropriate, primate way. When she is pushed she will still snap with little warning. While her bites are mild, she has broken skin and I’m terrified to think how much her issues would worsen in the wrong home.

On top of that, she has a bone structure that literally makes it uncomfortable for her to move. It’s clear to see when she tries to sit or lie down. We’ve tested her thyroid, looked into the possibility of Cushings, but the vet found no issue other than she is just “oddly built and overweight.” We’ve been working on the weight loss, but even with that the discs in her back will always cause her discomfort and likely deteriorate over time. Surgery can’t correct it. She would need to be on pain meds for the rest of her life, at the very least.

We have exhausted every effort to give this dog a chance even though I knew better. If not for the fact she is absolutely perfect when strangers aren’t trying to touch her, I would not have put in this much effort to save her. I love her dearly but I have no interest in keeping her. I know my limits. I know spreading myself too thin (emotionally and financially) does me, my dog, and my foster a huge disservice. I am already struggling with depression and burn out. I have less to spread than others. I strongly agreed with the shelter’s decision that she was unsafe to adopt out. She was transferred to another rescue (though I remain her foster) to try giving her one last shot even though, once again, I knew better.

I was selfish with my previous dog. I tried to save him in the end when he was old and dying of cancer. I didn’t know for certain he had cancer ’til after he’d passed, but I put him through surgery to remove his spleen in case it would give him another year or so of good life. He was refusing to eat, to go for walks (his favorite thing in the world). He knew his time was up and he was ready to go, but I wouldn’t listen. I wasn’t ready to let him go. I was selfish and he suffered for it. I should have given him one final, amazing week before letting him go peacefully and pain-free in my arms. I know we do stupid things when faced with mortality and losing loved ones. I understand why I handled it the way I did. I am in the slow process of forgiving myself, but it still kills me and it will always kill me.

I don’t want my foster to deteriorate and suffer. I don’t want to risk her bouncing from home to home, being put under more and more stress, potentially biting more people. She is happy with me. I think it’s likely this is the the happiest she’ll ever be. I don’t want to keep trying and find out that I was right. For once I would love to be wrong, but the risk of finding that out is not worth it. It will be hard, I will cry and grieve, but she will have a happy and dignified end. Not yet, but some day.

I am tired of seeing dogs bounced around, misunderstood, stressed, neglected, hurting other people or pets. It is humanity’s fault for failing them. We bred poor, unstable genetics into them, we did horrible things to them in the name of “training,” we refused to truly understand and respect them. Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is let them peacefully leave the world others did such a poor job preparing them for.

 

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