(Photo by writer)
When you first got your family dog, he was a pet. Then he became part of the family. Now economic hard times have hit. Work is scaling back or disappearing, money is tight, and the cost of everything is going up.
When you have trouble meeting your bills and even putting food on the table, you have to cut back. Fido might be one of the cuts you are forced to make, for the good of the people you need to feed. It’s a gut-wrenching decision for many. Once made, however, figuring out what to do with him is harder still. What do you do with Fido?
The best choice is to find him a new family, but this is not an easy chore. Everybody is feeling the crunch. Finding a loving home that can afford to keep a new dog is not going to be easy. Do you have neighbors who aren’t feeling the economic crunch just as you are? Afraid not.
Next, you can try the humane society shelters. These shelters can be found locally in the telephone book or through your local government. They strive to find new homes for dogs and cats, usually through an adoption process. Unfortunately, during hard times adoptions are way down, and pets needing shelters are way up. Many charge a fee to take your pet now. Many pets will not find homes. They will eventually be euthanized, when the shelter feels they can no longer afford to feed them.
Dog pounds will take him, but you know his chances of surviving there are much slimmer. The timeline for euthanasia of these animals is much shorter, simply because there is neither food nor room for too many animals. If your Fido looks at all like a dangerous breed, like a pit bull or wolf hybrid, he will be put down immediately – no questions asked.
You can advertise your Fido for free in many places. Take a good picture, write up your ad, and hang it on local community boards all over town. Try pet shops, tack shops, and feed stores. Often you can post in grocery stores, libraries, and post offices. There are publications that will run your ads for free or at low cost. The internet is also a great source; look in forums of local publications, or groups like chamber of commerce. Just remember, giveaway dogs are like noses – everybody’s got one.
Unfortunately, many owners are not responsible enough to make any of these decisions. They take the easy route; they simply let the dog go. If they can’t take the guilt of having him on their doorstep for the next three weeks, they drive him somewhere else first. They justify it by saying they are giving him a fighting chance at survival. Dogs can live off the land, right? They’re hunters, after all, aren’t they? And maybe they’ll find a benefactor who will take them in.
The idea that anyone can really feel this is a good option never ceases to amaze me. Yet I know it’s true, because I live in a rural area not far from suburbia, and I see these dogs dropped off all the time. During economic hard times, I see them in droves. Let me acquaint you with the truth of what happens to these dogs.
First, they stay in the road where they are dropped off; sometimes for days. They chase cars, looking for help. They often get hit. Some die; others are injured. Now they have to deal with being lost, abandoned, and hurt.
When they finally get too hungry or thirsty, they go looking for sustenance. Since they know houses supply such things, it is to houses they go. Most are not met with outstretched arms, any more than you welcome strays at your house. They are yelled at, chased, and have things thrown at them. They learn to sneak around and avoid people. They learn to tear up garbage, dig up things that are buried, and generally become horrible nuisances. Some become angry dogs, which makes them dangerous.
They may indeed learn to hunt, but unless they are talented they don’t hunt vermin that nobody wants. They learn to hunt animals they can catch. Their prey is usually someone’s penned-up livestock; chickens, caged birds, baby sheep and goats. Do you suppose this endears them to the livestock owners? Forced to protect their livestock, these folks have three options; take the dog in, trap them for the pound, or shoot them.
If they do catch wild prey, it’s likely to be injured or sick animals they catch. County extension offices figure the fastest way to spread communicable disease is to allow a population of stray dogs to remain free. They catch things like distemper, rabies, parvovirus, and canine hepatitis, all of which can then be spread to animals owned by people.
Another fact of Fido’s new life is that he will probably not remain alone. He yearns for company, and will search out other dogs. Dogs with owners will not welcome him; they will instead see him as a threat to their property. Dogs on the loose are as hungry as he is. There will be dog fights, where the smaller and weaker ones do not survive. The rest will pack up so as to hunt more effectively.
Every livestock owner who grapples with this problem knows that a dog pack is the most vicious threat there is. Big cats, coyotes, and other wild predators occasionally hunt livestock, but they take what they need to eat and leave the rest. A dog pack, however, does not. When they attack your chicken shed they kill every chicken there, leaving bodies and carnage behind. They are also likely to tear the shed itself to pieces in the process. Your Fido, once he reaches this stage, is marked for extinction. If wild animals, other feral dogs, or the elements don’t kill him, livestock owners must. This is the life you have relegated your Fido to by giving him a ‘fighting chance at survival’.
Think about these things when you are trying to decide what to do with your Fido. Maybe you can learn to make your own dog food, thus feeding him more economically and stretching your dollars. Maybe hanging a few posters won’t be so difficult under the circumstances. Even if you do decide to send him to the pound, it’s a better end than freedom in the wild can ever be. If you really want to give your dog a fighting chance, don’t turn him feral to do it.