November 10, 2020 by Cláudia
In the five years that I’ve volunteered at an animal shelter, I’ve luckily had to say goodbye to many sweet cats and dogs that were adopted. I have also, unfortunately, seen several of them returning to the shelter.
The reasons? I’ve been keeping a log.
The dog was not social. The dog barked. The dog bit someone. The dog was too needy. The dog was not affectionate enough. The dog destroyed our possessions. The cat peed on my clothes. The cat scratched the sofa. The cat left black fur everywhere (yes, these are all real ones). We separated. We moved. We got pregnant. Having a pet changed our life too much.
Three weeks ago I finally welcomed a new member to my little family – Belinha. She’s a 4-year old dog that has moved into my house and my heart. Because I already knew her from the shelter, I thought the transition would go smoothly.
I was (partially) wrong.
Even though she seemed to adjust completely well to her new life when I am with her, every time I leave the house, she enters into panic mode – howls incessantly, jumps onto furniture and destroys everything around her. Whether I leave for one minute or for twenty minutes. She has already broken many of my things, scratched my walls and bothered every neighbour in my building. I’ve already taken her to the vet and my social life has been completely replaced by a strict training routine to help her get better. Needless to say, I am extremely tired, stressed and slightly overwhelmed.
Yet, it never even crossed my mind that I would give her up. Yes, maybe adopting a dog has not been as easy as I had idealized. But when I decided to adopt her, I made a commitment to care for her and to put in the work if necessary to make it work.
My mom, after a particularly destructive incident told me that “I probably had to return her to the shelter”. And this deeply hurt me.
Going back to the excuses that I’ve heard at the shelter, I can sympathise with some of the despair of having a pet with behavioural problems. It’s hard and it completely takes over your life. It requires effort, patience, persistance and sometimes financial investment. I can understand being frustrated. But giving up your pet just because it didn’t fit the expectations? That’s where my sympathy ends.
The fact that my own mom, who is also already attached to the dog, suggested I abandoned her, deeply upset me. Was she really suggesting I gave up on a family member? That I would abandon an already traumatized dog for having abandonment issues? Was she really giving more importance to some material possessions than to a living breathing feeling being who we already love and are committed to?
I would never. And the main reason is that I was already conscious that this could happen. That issues could arise. That things could get destroyed. That’s part of the commitment.
Much like children, it is not fair to your pets to project expectations onto them. They will be as affectionate, as well behaved, as needy, as stubborn as they are. Naturally, love, stability and training will go a long way. I have already noticed a slight improvement in Belinha’s behaviour. But ultimately, pets are their own beings with their own personalities.
And if you are not prepared to be in any of these situations – having to dedicate your free time to training, having possessions destroyed, planning on what would happen in case of a separation, not going away for vacation if there is no viable option, balancing future kids and pets etc. – then I strongly advise to not get a pet. If you are not going to treat them as a family member, if you’ll value your possessions more than them, if you have even an inkling of giving up on them and cast them aside if they don’t fit your idealized picture of what a pet acts like… then do them a favour and don’t get a pet.