Policies 2012

DOG LIMITS POLICY 4/2012

1) If there is more than 1 pet in the home, we must check local dog limits in the community before placing a third. (Some places only allow 2 dogs and some only allow 3 pets including cats.)

2) Going forward, foster homes cannot adopt if it will take them over legal limits (any current situations grandfathered as of 4/12).

Note: Any exceptions must be approved by the “Advisory Board”.

BITERS

There are still some rescues that will place a dog with a biting history. Westie Rescue Michigan will take a dog who has bitten a child, as long as it is not repeated, attacking kind of behavior. If the dog goes out of its way to attack children or other dogs, we won’t take them. Since many, many Westies do not do well with kids, we feel this is a reasonable stance. We will try to place them in homes without much exposure to kids. If the dog has bitten an adult and drawn blood, we will not knowingly take that dog. The fact of life is that there is great liability in placing a dog with a biting history. If sued and insurance covers, it is almost certain that the insurance will then be canceled. Then where are we? We go out of business entirely and no dogs, not even the “good” ones, get help. Yes, it is often “not the dog’s fault” due to the way the dog was raised and treated in its youth. But a person who is bitten, really doesn’t care what in that dog’s past may have caused that behavior.

Now, people think, well, you just have the adopter sign a waiver. But consider this. You adopt a dog with a biting history. You take it home and you show it off to friends and relatives and neighbors. They ask where you got the dog, and you tell them the wonders of Rescue. Then the dog bites a friend, neighbor or relative. Guess who gets sued for placing a known biter! The person bitten is often not the adopter. And suppose it is a child who is bitten and suppose that bite causes scarring. Do you want to live with the knowledge that a dog you placed, knowing it had a history, did such damage?

LIABILITY ISSUES

Sportsman’s insurance company used to insure many of the various Clubs and rescue groups. Then a couple of years back they dropped all rescues and all Clubs who had associated rescues. It is very hard to find insurance these days. I understand that Sportsman’s quit because of the number of dog bites they were getting through Rescues. It is ever more important that Rescues not place biters or there will soon be no insurance available at all.

If insurance companies stop insuring rescues because of bites, the next step is what we are already seeing….breed specific insurance bans and breed-specific city bans. Westies are not yet on this list but the day could easily come when they are. Even in states where insurance companies are not allowed to discriminate or cancel due to a breed of dog, they can raise insurance rates to a point where you can’t pay it anyway. This is personal insurance. It affects everyone, whether you have a rescue or not. Well-bred, well-mannered dogs of breeds that insurance companies choose not to insure, are almost impossible to place these days. Try doing rescue if you have one of those breeds! It is almost impossible. Shelters will automatically put that breed down and won’t allow anyone to adopt or rescue. Rescues can place only in homes that are able to get insurance and are in cities that don’t have breed bans.

Rescues need to be sure they don’t contribute to that problem by placing biters. We are working for the betterment of the breed. By trying to “save them all”, we are risking the breed as a whole.

It is amazing the number of people who will criticize a rescue for not taking on every single dog regardless of its behavior. Of course, these are often the same people who have a dozen reasons for not fostering themselves. Now, it is reasonable to say that the rescue should take in the dog and see if it is actually as the person surrendering says it is. This is wonderful in theory but in reality it isn’t so great. Last year we had 3 foster home bites. These were from dogs who came to us with claims that they had never bitten. But were obviously aggressive when we got them. How long are these foster homes going to continue being bitten before they quit fostering. How long would you foster if you or your family were at risk? And these were from dogs who were not supposed to be biters. If we had taken the biters we were offered last year, we would have taken in another dozen dogs. What would we have done with them. We can barely find enough foster space as it is. A biter, is either going to be with us for months before we could place the dog or it is going to be up to us to put it down. Have you ever put a dog down? Do you know how much that takes out of you? I can tell you that if I had had to put down even half of those dozen we didn’t take, I would not be doing rescue any longer. It is a huge drain in a “function” that is very emotionally draining as it. And if we kept the dogs and tried to “reform” them, how do we know when we are successful. All too often, we can get a dog to behave with us but it will revert to previous behavior when it goes to a new home. As a result, we put questionable dogs through at least two foster homes. We are not professionals. Who are we to say that a dog who was previously a biter, will not now bite in the future? The whole idea of evaluating and reforming sounds good but it does not work in the real world, in my opinion

We ask people who surrender a dog to us to sign a document called “Limitations”. It was written after the three bites we had that year along with several dogs that we turned down. We hope that by asking people to read and sign this, they may think twice about lying to us about their dog. I am sure some lie to us because they think it is the only alternative to putting their dog down. I fear that it may cause some to not give us a good dog but it is a risk we have decided we have to take to protect ourselves and let us continue doing what we can for these guys.

SPECIAL CIRCUMSTANCES:

ILLNESS OR PHYSICAL INJURY/DISCOMFORT: When a dog is sick or in pain, we will take that into consideration. Any dog, in these circumstances, may try to protect themselves from further pain. We will take that dog and try to address the conditions that are creating the pain. If we can treat them, we will. If the dog cannot be brought to a place where physical discomfort is eased to a point that they can live comfortably, we will euthanize because the dog is not enjoying a good quality of life and because the humans around that dog are at risk. However, if we can ease or remove the pain and the dog stops the biting, we will live with that dog long enough to be sure the condition is now reversed and the dog can safely be placed.

Please note that for this reason we want to 1) Get the dog to the vet as quickly as possible for an exam and 2) do a dental as quickly as possible. We have had situations where the dental was delayed and we later found that there were serious dental issues not found on the intial exam. The dog was living in pain. A dog like this could easily be put down because without the dental, the issue was not recognized and we could chalk up a bite or threatening behavior to temperament when all along the dog was in pain.

MISTREATMENT: If the dog bit before coming into foster care but we can clearly recognize that the bite was caused by mistreatment of some sort, we will consider taking this dog as long as this has not become habitual AND as long as we can find a foster home willing to work with this dog.

NIPS: If the dog is nipping but not biting (not breaking the skin beyond that of a scratch), we will also work with this dog IF we can find a foster home willing to do this work. NOTE: Special circumstances will be determined by the Surrender Coordinator who is free to consult with the Advisory Board if the situation seems questionable.

AGE OF CHILDREN IN ADOPTER HOMES

We don’t place with kids under the age of ten. Some Rescues choose age 6 others choose other ages. We choose ten.

Many of the dogs we get who are not doing well with kids, are not doing well with kids who are 7, 8, 9 years old. Around the age of ten this problem tends to go away. Maybe it is that the kids are old enough then that they have figured out how to behave around dogs. Maybe the dog senses their “coming of age” through the smell of hormones changing. Maybe they are finally big enough that the dog sees them as an alpha rather than an equal. Maybe a lot of things. We don’t know why, but age ten seems to be a fairly safe minimum. There are some dogs we would not place with any kids at all. Others might be fine with younger kids but once you make a rule in an area such as this where there are such serious consequences, it is best to follow that rule. If you don’t and something happens, you get to explain in court why you didn’t follow your own rules regarding the age of the children.

People will say to us, “But my kids are very mature for their age.” “My kids have always been around dogs and know how to behave around them.” etc. We are NOT saying that your kids are not good or mature etc. We are saying that this is a breed that was bred to “go to ground” and kill critters…not necessarily small critters either. This “Work” required certain characteristics. Because of this work they cannot be “laid back” and be successful. They must always be “on”. They are small and more easily hurt by things that a big dog could shrug off. Fast movements, squeaky noises, and many other things that children do, can trigger a “critter” response in a Westie. The dog isn’t being bad. The dog is responding to its instincts to do what it is bred to do. It is in critter mode and isn’t “thinking”.

Also, your kids may be fine and the dog does well with them. But what about your kids’ friends? Every child who enters your home or yard has to be taught how to behave around your dog. And some dogs become very protective of “their children”. They will go after the friends who are simply roughhousing with the kids who belong to your dog.

We find that we get Westies into Rescue because either a) the dog is nipping at growling at the kids or 2) the dog won’t play with the kids…he avoids them. This is not unusual. Westies are just not the best choice of dog for children.

If you are looking for a dog for a young child, do you want a dog that was bred to kill or a dog that was bred to retrieve an object with a soft mouth? The job the dog was bred to do is a crucial part of the decision of what breed you choose. This is much more important to the overall success of the dog in the family than is size, shedding, etc.

FOSTERS PLACING DOGS

This is in regard to finding homes for our foster dogs. I want to make sure all of our foster homes understand our procedures.

. First, a person must fill out an application to adopt.

. We get the application, check it out, check references and put it on file.

. We send a lot of information to the applicant so that they can review it and understand what to expect if they do adopt.

. From there, there is usually quite a long wait. This is because we have many more applicants than we have dogs available.

When a dog comes in for fostering, he goes to the foster home to have the medical taken care of and then for evaluation. If there are no medical issues or real behavior issues, after a couple of weeks*, we generally have a pretty good idea of what the dog is like and can decide what type of home to look for. The foster home goes through our existing applications to see if we have a home that might fit. If it is the “usual” dog, we generally have several homes to pick from.

*During the first two weeks, the dog is in a honeymoon period. The dog will often not exhibit behaviors that will start coming out later, when the dog is comfortable and feeling a part of the home and pack. Placing a dog before this has a chance to happen is risky. Two weeks is a bare minimum for a foster stay. A month is much more realistic.

Occasionally we have a dog that is harder to place because of particular needs. Rarely, we find a situation where we don’t actually have an appropriate home and have to start looking at other avenues of finding a home for that dog. Usually this is a dog with a behavior problem….one that is not aggressive to the point that we need to put them down but is more “borderline”. Rarely it might be one with a health issue but we do have several applicants who are willing to take a dog with health issues.

Foster homes have a great amount of input into the placement of the dog. However, if you are fostering a dog and someone expresses an interest in that dog, it is okay to have them meet the dog and get to know that dog as an example of the breed. But please be sure they understand that there is a waiting list for dogs and that most of the time, they will not get the dog they are meeting. If they feel they are interested, they should fill out an application and get on the waiting list. However, they need to understand that it is likely that we have one or more potential homes for the dog already and it is only fair that we use our waiting list as the first resource. If they get their application in and it turns out that we happen to not have an appropriate home for the dog on our waiting list, then they would certainly be considered. If the application from the friend is “better” than any other on the waiting list, then it is reasonable to chose the friend. But if there is a better home on the waiting list, then that home should be given first chance. So, DO NOT make any promises. Let them know that while you have a lot of influence as to the final decision, there are others involved. This will take you “off the hook” in case it doesn’t work out for them this time. And it will give us another potential adopter on our waiting list.

I hope this makes sense to everyone so that people are not meeting foster dogs and anticipating that they will likely have a chance to adopt the particular dog they are meeting. We sure want to encourage them to apply but the application is for a “generic” Westie as opposed to a particular one. Remember that making a promise that you later cannot keep does not reflect well on our organization.