But first, a story.
Let’s imagine that there is a dog who was rescued from an animal shelter somewhere in Quebec. Let’s call this dog GP, because he was a Great Pyraneese. Let’s say he was first taken to the shelter because he was found by emergency services at a home where he couldn’t receive the care he needed. Let’s also say that he had a kill order on his head because he had bitten someone. But as anyone who knows anything about dog behaviour will tell you (and I know very little about dog behaviour, but I’m living with two people who know a great deal indeed) this is a normal and natural thing for a dog to do when he is protecting his home from an intruder.
GP came to live here with us for a short time. We found him to be a loveable, happy, playful, and friendly animal. We saw no evidence of the problems of which we had been warned. We were only fostering him, not keeping him, so we had him for only a little more than a week until a new home had been found for him. I got to like him a lot, and at one time my partner and I volunteered to take him ourselves if another home could not be found. Later on, however, at his new home, he bit two other people in the space of a few days, and therefore he was put down.
We who had fostered him for even that short time were very upset when we heard he had bitten a human for a third time. The dog being described to us in the accounts of the biting simply wasn’t anything like the dog we knew and loved who we fostered: the behaviour was very different. That, however, is what fostering a dog often entails. If you agree to foster a rescued dog, you will be opening your home to a truamatised and psychologically damaged animal, who almost certainly has a variety of unpredictable anxieties and fears, and may panic or attack or cower in fear for no obvious reason. The animal may have come from a puppy mill, for instance, and thus have been treated with brutality, contempt, and neglect. But it will almost always give affection in return for affection, and will pull your heartstrings in every way.
So my question is: if you could save an animal’s life by fostering it in your home, until the rescue agencies can find a permanent home for it, would you do so? It can mean falling in love with an animal who is fearful and anxious and hard to predict and hard to handle, and may have to be put down anyway. You would be signing up for frustration and heartbreak and trouble and expense. Would you do it anyway?
“Let the animal shelters and humane societies take care of them”, you might say. But that might not be the way to actually save the animal’s life, nor the way to give it anything like a desirable quality of life. For instance, a few days ago Toronto Police laid criminal charges for animal cruelty on five directors of the Toronto Humane Society. The Toronto Humane Society had a no-kill policy. But the animals kept there were so badly diseased and malnourished that arguably putting them down would have been profoundly merciful. As the CBC report said, the building was “absolutely disease infested”, and “one officer recalled a cat whose skin came off in his hands when the officer lifted the cat up”.
I’ve been informed from reliable sources that other animal shelters which do have kill policies are so overwhelmed with dogs and cats that any animals that arrive there are put down within as little as three days. They simply do not have the funds, the space, the personnel, or the food, to house any more. Moreover, people often drop off their animals there for frivolous reasons: the dog isn’t a puppy anymore, or it barks too much, or is too much “trouble” to look after. We have so many disposable things in our consumer culture as it is: your shirt looses one button so you throw it out and get a new one. Your radio gets scratched and dented so you throw it out and buy a new one. Why now throw out your animals too? A friend described to me how she saw a man came to an animal shelter, dropped off a dog that was tied up in a plastic bag, and left it there, and drove off immediately. It is perhaps because of stories or experiences like these, that some animal rights activists become very militant and misanthropic, prepared to commit acts of civil disobedience, vandalism, and violence in the service of animal rescue.
(Or, while we are throwing out our shirts and radios and dogs, why not throw out people? You have one disagreement or argument with your newly wedded husband or wife, so you get a divorce. But I digress).
If you were to foster a rescued dog or cat in your home, you would almost certainly be saving its life, and also making space in a local shelter for another needy animal. So would you do it?