Here's a novel idea: honor your bleeping commitments

A charm on my Giddy's collar. And check out the bad-ass skull design!
I probably shouldn't generalize, but for many rescue volunteers, our least favorite task is working with owner-surrenders. Well, cleaning up one dog's vomit before another dog can eat it is pretty high on the list, too. About half the dogs that pass through our Boxer rescue come from shelters. The other half are surrendered directly by their owners. Now, you could make the point, "Hey, at least they didn't dump the dog in a field somewhere or shoot her in the head." That much is true. It is also true that many surrendering owners would love nothing more than to keep their dog. The last few years have been particularly hard on a lot of people. As a result, we've dealt with quite a few foreclosure situations, divorces, job losses, etc. Sometimes, the choices are few.  When you have nowhere to live, re-homing your dog becomes an unfortunate reality. For other surrenders, though, it comes down to one word: inconvenience.

At the time of our organization's inception over twelve years ago, we set down the policy that all volunteers are expected to be polite to surrendering owners regardless of the reason for the surrender. We are not paid for our work, but we aim to conduct ourselves in a professional manner. My personal tactic is to say as little as possible so as to avoid saying something I might regret - particularly in cases where the reason for surrender seems more than a little flimsy. It has sometimes been hard to bite my tongue over the years. Owners often say some pretty goofy shit in order to convince themselves that they are, in fact, doing the dog a favor. I remember one woman leaning over the dog she was dropping off at my house, delivering a light pat on the Boxer's head, and saying, "Okay, go have fun with the other dogs!" Over the years we've had dogs surrendered for reasons such as: new baby in the home, no time, moving, dog runs away, dog forgot to train himself, "we're suddenly allergic to him," and so forth.

For the other type of surrender, the type where the owner had no choice, we react differently. I've cried right along with red-eyed dog lovers as they've signed the surrender form, doled out genuinely sympathetic hugs (I'm having a flashback to a woman who brought me her brother's dog after her brother was killed), and offered my business card along with the promise that I'd let them know how their dog was faring in the weeks ahead. 

In many cases, after one of our volunteers brings a new dog into rescue, some venting takes place behind the scenes. We call each other and grumble over various irritations such as the owner claiming the dog was "totally up to date on everything" but where a quick review of the dog's records (if the owner actually brought them) reveals that the dog has not seen the inside of a vet clinic since the Civil War. We complain about how the dog is wearing a rusty choke chain and how his ears are full of mites. We wonder aloud how it could be that the owner was surrendering the dog for financial reasons but still managed to pull up in a massive SUV, chatting away on an iPhone all the while.

And then, we get over it. We take the dog to the vet. We slip a brand-new collar around his neck. We kiss his smooshy Boxer face and say, "I'm gonna find you a great home! Who's a good boy? You're a good boy." The focus shifts, and we move on. Until now . . . I'm having trouble moving on from a recent surrender.

A family adopted two dogs from us, one in 2004 and one in 2007. Once a dog is in his new home for a year or so, the odds of the pooch being returned to rescue are typically very low. So, we could hardly believe our eyes when the adopters submitted pre-surrender forms for both dogs. The reason they needed to return them? The dogs are getting old and have been running up some vet bills. The forms came in before Christmas, so we thought maybe they would change their minds over the holidays. Nope. I mean, how do you look down at your elderly dog and say, "Okay, just a few more days and then you're outta here, okay? But, hey, thanks for being our loyal companion for over seven years. We're sorry it didn't work out."

The two Boxers, a male and a female, were surrendered last week. My friend (and fellow volunteer) Kathy brought them into the vet clinic where she works so that we can bring them up to date on medical care. Also, we are short on fosters homes so we have no choice but to board them until spots open up. The clinic staff is very attentive to the dogs and they get a lot of attention, but obviously it's not ideal.  These grey-faced dogs are now in kennels, wondering how the hell they became homeless.

The surrender (well, return) of these dogs makes me sick. I cannot stop thinking about it. The female is pretty spry but the male may have cancer and essentially has one paw in the grave. How could they not see him through until the end? I just don't understand. And I'm not the only one - this situation has been rehashed multiple times via email and over the phone between various volunteers. We are all just . . . incredulous.

I think part of the reason we can't get over it is because we don't get the satisfaction of giving the former owners a piece of our collective mind. We have a good reputation in the rescue world and with the public at large and we don't want to tarnish it. Our mission is to take in dogs that need help and, if at all possible, find new homes for them. It would serve no purpose to read someone the riot act because they made a decision that seems wrong to us. We pin our hopes on the intangible magic of karma. Still, it is hard. What we really want to say is, "Listen, I'm not sure how you justify this in your head, but dumping your elderly dogs because they're inconveniencing you is just wrong. I don't care if they are ruining your carpets or taking up too much of your time and money. You made a commitment. Why don't you try honoring it, you douche canoe?" Okay, I guess I wouldn't add that part at the end. At first I wrote "fuckety-fuck" but deleted that.

As I type this, there are three Boxers snoozing on the guest bed behind me. Two are mine, one is not. They don't ask much of me. Hell, I don't really even do all that much for them. I don't buy them gifts on their birthdays or for Christmas. I don't confuse them with my human child. They get bathed three times a year, tops. They may not have the latest in doggie couture, but they receive regular veterinary care, good food, a warm place to live and . . . the comfort of knowing that I will never drop them off with a stranger and wish them the best of luck. It's a simple bargain, this promise we make to our companion animals. And not so very hard to keep.