For many of us, owning a family dog is a cherished childhood experience. Playing with your fury brother or sister in the backyard and cuddling on the couch make up some of the most vivid childhood memories. So when you hear of people abandoning their dogs in a field or giving them to animal shelters, the thought is almost incomprehensible.
Unfortunately, this is becoming a rising trend among some dog owners according to volunteers at a local rescue society. Unable to dedicate time and training to their dog, or becoming financially unfit to own a dog, is a social issue that those involved with Windy City Rescue are seeing more often.
According to a study in the Journal Of Applied Animal Welfare Science; The Bond That Never Developed: Adoption and Relinquishment of Dogs in a Rescue Shelter by Mondelli et al, the major reason that dogs are in shelter’s care is due to behavioural issues. Of the people relinquishing dogs to shelters, a large number were found to have limited or no experience in caring for a dog previously.
Wendy Devent, owner of local doggy day care, Paws on the Run and photographer, volunteers her skills for Windy City Rescue. Devent snaps photos of the pooches who are in the rescue society’s care in order to promote them to potential owners.
I joined Devent on a blustery Saturday morning to watch her work her magic behind the lens with the newest Windy City recruit, Lucas. Lucas is a Boston Terrier and Pug cross. This timid little guy was surrendered by his family after being with them for two years.
“It’s sad when it’s an owner surrender because this dog has had a home and a family and then they’re just abandoned,” said Devent.
It was immediately evident how scary this process was for Lucas, being in a new environment and around new people. Lucas had also suffered some kind of trauma to his back end. His tiny tail and back legs have some serious mobility issues, which is the suspected reason why his family surrendered him.
The financial burden of dogs needing extra medical care can be the breaking point for many families says Amy Kiefuik, the foster home coordinator for Windy City Rescue. Kiefuik is the permanent foster mum to two dogs that came to the rescue society. Harper, a Labrador cross and Sully, a Newfoundland dog.
“Sully came to us when he was found on the side of the road with beebee gun shots to the head, a severe nose infection and had evidence of being tied up for a long period of time. We assumed that he was bound and tied in a kennel and left to die because his owners couldn’t deal with his condition,” said Kiefuik, barely holding back the emotion in her voice.
Sully is a big guy, weighing in at around 160 pounds, which is admittedly a lot for someone to care for says Kiefuik. Sully also suffers from epilepsy and has grand mal seizures when his condition comes to a head. Originally, Windy City had successfully rehomed Sully to a family but within 12 months, he was back in the society’s care due to his new family being unable to give him the time, money and attention he really needed.
Since then, Sully has been and will remain in Kiefuik’s care permanently. Windy City takes care of the financial burden of Sully’s condition which run over $100 a month in medication alone. In the time that Sully has been with Kiefuik, he has lost 10 pounds and has been seizure free for five months, a fact that Kiefuik gleefully relays to me, smiling from ear to ear.
It’s not just Windy City Rescue that aids with the care and rehoming of dogs in the Lethbridge area. Prairie Pit Bull Rescue comes to the aid of the pure and crossbred namesake. Natalie Kent and her family help run the breed specific rescue society and are fierce defenders of the breed. When discussing the stigma attached with Pit Bulls, Kent informs me of the realities that the breed suffers in places like Ontario where it’s against the law to own a Pit Bull.
“Pit Bulls are banned in Ontario so for most of them, they are always alone and have never socialized with other dogs before. They’re also usually walked when it’s dark so they never really get to see anything which is why Tugs is so interested on everything that’s going on!” says Kent with a giggle as she plays with one of her current foster dogs, Tugs, a spirited and inquisitive 10 month old fawn Pit Bull that was recently picked up by the rescue in Ontario.
Kent frequently flies across the country and down to the United States to scoop up these pooches who are almost always headed for the euthanasia needle. I met two of Kent’s other foster dogs, Wynter a nine year old, chilled out, senior girl from San Diego, Caiifornia and Keller, a one year old white, playful and deaf Pit Bull cross from San Bernadido, California.
When asked how the rescue affords to keep up with travel and training costs, Kent informs me of how they’re always in debt. She goes on to say how they are always in need of more money but are very fortunate to have members in their society who work for airlines like WestJet. These members are able to give her buddy flight passes to make the cost of picking up these beautiful dogs a little less cumbersome.
With the slow down of the oil industry and the tightening of provincial government belts, one can speculate that the number of dogs being surrendered is only going to increase. For anyone wanting to include a fury friend in their family in the future, perhaps pause for thought should really be taken before you make that leap of emotional and financial responsibility in owning a dog.