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For dogs, outdoors is a lonely life

February 17, 2003|by Maria T. Procopio

The humane society's policy of not adopting dogs to families who don't intend for the dog to actually live with them is based on both the dog's needs and our experience.

Like humans, dogs are social animals and need companionship. Living in a kennel, basement, or garage is usually in response to the owner's convenience, rather than the dog's preference. Dogs living by themselves are unhappy, and acquire physical, emotional, and behavioral problems. We believe that dogs should be welcomed into your home as part of your family.

We know, from lots of experience, that the life of an outside dog is usually a sad one. Every day we see the results of isolating dogs. They come through our door, like Bear, a five-year-old Rotti-Shep mix. Bear's family brought him home when he was two months old. His family believed that dogs should live outside. Knowing that tying a dog out is cruel, they bought him a nice dog house with a kennel. Though his nights were fearful, and most of his days lonely, when Bear saw the kids coming across the yard each morning, his tail would start wagging.

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As time went on and Bear's size increased, the family's visits decreased. It wasn't much fun getting jumped on or to find muddy paw prints on school clothes. It was even becoming a bit of a drag hauling food and water out there and having to clean up waste, particularly in cold weather.

The family continued to care for the basics, but didn't give him the companionship or social skills Bear needed, so mostly, Bear was miserable. He spent his days waiting, watching the cars go by. There were those moments though, each day, when someone would stop by the kennel to feed and clean up. Bear was living for those moments, hoping each time they wouldn't go away.

Bear's life was pretty much the same - day after day, month after month, year after year - until the vet discovered he had arthritis in his hips and told the family that living outside, in the cold, was only going to make the condition more uncomfortable.

Not wanting Bear to hurt, the family decided to let him in the house. Bear, who lacked in house manners, created chaos, reinforcing the family's belief that dogs should live outside. So it happened, his family decided they couldn't deal with living with Bear and brought him to the humane society to see if we could find a family who would.

A family looking for a pet, walks through our kennels and spots Bear - tail wagging, but growling (he's used to protecting his territory.) The father asks "What's his story?" The adoption counselor explains that Bear is a sweet dog, he just has some special needs like socialization skills, house training, and, oh yeah, he has health problems. The family walks on.

We can change the name - Lucy, Denver, Skippy, or may others. This story fits a number of dogs that have lived isolated lives before coming into the shelter and they have the same types of problems, and the same limited chance of finding a new home.

Our policy not to adopt dogs to live outside, in the garage, or basement is the least we can do to ensure a good quality of life, when they are no longer in our care.

To be healthy and happy, a dog needs to be your companion. He needs to see you, hear you and touch you. He needs to love and protect you. He wants to be with you. Unless you're prepared to accept his offer of this great gift, we suggest you wait to get a dog.

Maria T. Procopio is executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County.

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