I just saw that meme on Facebook that drives me crazy, again. It’s this one…Please read on before you tell me off. There is a reason I’m running the risk of having people say I’m a heartless bitch who encourages surrendering dogs to shelters. The “Forever Dog” meme, at its core, is good-hearted and correct. Dogs are not hobbies to be tossed aside when new opportunities present themselves. Dogs are family, not possessions to be weeded out when things change. Same goes for cats. Or any pet. No one should ever take lightly the idea of getting rid of a pet.
The meme is flawed, however. Nobody goes to the shelter, looks at a dog, and thinks, “Oops. I can’t get this dog. I might have a boyfriend someday who hates dogs.” Because people can’t see into their futures, and because people certainly don’t want to imagine themselves being shits in the future, the primary message of the “Forever Dog” meme ends up being, “If you get a dog, you’d better damned well tough it out with that dog.” The honest truth is that not all dogs should be Forever Dogs. Some dogs desperately need more suitable homes.
During my time as a dog trainer, I met dogs who were tired of being Forever Dogs. It was written all over their faces. They lived their lives in crates or alone in back yards. Someone in their house hated them. Maybe EVERYONE in their house hated them. They looked at me with eyes that said, “Can I please go home with you? I really want to be YOUR dog.”
Sometimes, the tide turned. By the end of class, some of those dogs didn’t give a damn about me. They didn’t even give me a backward glance as they trotted out the door with their graduation certificates. I’d lost them, but I’d lost them to their FAMILIES. It’s what beginning dog training is all about. It isn’t always about who can sit or stay the best. It can be about turning a dog into a true family member and making the whole family happy. I LOVED THAT. I loved losing those dogs to their people, and I loved the people who worked to make it happen.
Sometimes, the tide didn’t turn. Some dogs went out the way they came in, looking pleadingly at me over their shoulders as they left. Nothing had changed for them. In a few cases, things had gotten worse. Either the families weren’t interested in working or the dog was such a terrible match with its people that there was little I could do.
Some people simply aren’t cut out to have dogs. They got their dogs for all the wrong reasons. They didn’t understand the commitment they were making, and they never accepted it. It would be fine for them not to be dog people…except they have dogs. Their dogs can end up in living in crates, or alone in back yards.
Even dog lovers can end up with the wrong dogs for them. I’ve seen lazy people with high energy dogs. Older, frail people with large, rambunctious dogs. Very social people with dogs that don’t care for strangers. These poor choices are sometimes based on memories of a beloved dog the owners had when their life circumstances were very different. Often, the poor choices are the result of selecting a dog based solely on appearance. Sometimes, people are just doing a good deed by taking in an inappropriate stray or getting the most needy dog at the pound. Poorly chosen dogs can make for trouble at home, and very poorly chosen dogs can end up being dangerous to everyone around them.
I want the Forever Dog meme to be more about making wise decisions in the present and less about what might happen in the future. None of us know what the future will be. All of us can see our present circumstances and what is right in front of our faces, if we will only look.
Perhaps some meme maker will see my post and make a better meme. I’d love that. As the meme stands, I don’t think it’s entirely productive. When I see the “Forever Dog” meme, I think about the dogs I failed. I think about dogs who are miserable prisoners, or dogs who don’t have the proper outlets. I think of dogs who would be better off and safer if they had a chance to find more suitable homes. But, they are where they are, and their owners just saw a meme on Facebook that says dogs are yours FOREVER. And forever can be a horribly long time.