Painfully Honest Truths of Owning a Rescue Dog

Gillian Sisley

If you’re not ready to hear or accept these truths, then you’re not ready to rescue.

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Photo by Jay Wennington on Unsplash

During a call with several friends last night, we spent part of our Skype date discussing our fur babies.

All three of us each have our own rescue dog. And each of our rescues have their own unique and complex personalities/issues.

Many of us watch heart-warming videos on social media of rescues who come from difficult pasts, and once they find their Forever Home they became grateful, sweet angels who are just thankful to have kibble in their bowls and a roof over their heads.

When our rescue Berkeley came into our home, we knew very well that we weren’t likely to that same heartwarming experience.

The two other people in my life who also have rescues can agree — this is not the reality of our little rescue pooches.

As we lamented about the struggles and difficulties of raising our little pups, we realized that many people have very romanticized views of rescuing an animal or pet.

Here are some hard realities about having a rescue dog.

1. You truly don’t know what you’re signing up for, until you’re in it.

And to be fair, I don’t just mean with rescues in general.

I’m a long time dog owner — I’ve had one my entire life, give or take a year in between each one. I’ve trained two dogs from puppies, and they became lovely family companions.

I thought I knew dogs… but rescues are a whole other ball game.

And small dogs? Well, with my background of only medium-sized dogs, I was even more delusional about what I thought I knew.

As is the case with most rescues, you don’t usually have very much information about their past. So, you’re kind of going into things blind.

Every little reaction or behavior is a learning experience. More information to collect, and fill in all the important blanks.

Sometimes you learn about triggers in a rescue after you’ve been bitten or they ran out into the street in a panic.

You have to be aware that you’re going into the situation a little blind, and it’s going to be a learning curve.

2. You play a massive role in this creature’s little life.

We live for 80+ years.

These guys get 15 years, if they’re lucky.

A trauma that happened to a dog, or tough conditions they lived in before your home, have decades of impact when equivalent to a human life.

That’s both substantial, and highly intimidating.

I’d always romanticized rescuing a pooch someday — the Facebook videos led me to believe that a rescue would be forever grateful for just having a stable home.

Grateful to be loved by someone.

And then I met our little Shih Tzu, Berkeley. His breed is ironic, because he truly is a little sh*t.

Entitled. Disrespectful. Ungrateful.

He came from an unstable household full of neglect to a stable one overflowing with love for him. And yet, he remains a slight menace.

Why do we put up with it? First and foremost, we truly care for him and are committed to him. Second?

Because just like his Mama (me) he suffers from trauma — and that breaks a creature.

The healing process also takes a hell of a lot of work. And believe me, we’re putting that work in!

You’re their whole world… and that’s a massive responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

3. Be prepared to spend a hell of a lot more money on a rescue, than a bred and bought pooch.

First, there are the behavioural issues that might come along with them.

Obedience training is expensive — then again, so is replacing the possessions they destroy.

Not to mention the odds of your precious rescue having been mistreated, resulting in a myriad of physical and mental health issues.

Trauma aside, our little Berkeley was fed a cheap dog food he was allergic to from Day 1. For over a year, he lived constantly broken out in hives, which means his brain was just as inflamed the whole time. Our behavioural specialist suspects potential cognitive setbacks because of this. This damage will likely be permanent.

And not only that, but the food messed up his digestive tract, as well.

You’d best believe we put pure pumpkin in his food for every meal these days, if it means we can avoid another bought of colitis accompanied by a $700 vet bill.

Because that’s what every newlywed couple needs directly after their unimaginably expensive wedding.

I have one friend whose rescue has such severe separation anxiety that he has clawed/chewed/barreled his way through multiple doors over several years in this hysteria (here’s looking at you,

Jessica Lovejoy and Neville!).

Rescues are not cheap. You might save on the initial adoption vs. purchasing from a breeder, but you’ll spend a hell of a lot more on their rehabilitation.

4. There will be some very difficult days ahead.

I’m not ashamed to say that there are days when I find it tough to love Berkeley.

Here’s why:

In most cases, even with rescues, owners try to find a dog who will be the “right fit” for them.

We didn’t have a choice in the dog who landed on our doorstep — either we took him, or he’d go to some unknown stranger who probably would have no idea what to do with him.

Fact of the matter is, Berkeley didn’t arrive to us as the “right fit”. In fact, there were a lot of reasons why he wasn’t a good fit for us.

Aside from us not being ready, financially or in our lifestyle, for a dog, he also had a severe a history of vicious biting. This is not ideal for young couple who are planning to start a family of their own in a few years.

Truthfully, he still has a severe biting habit. There are days we don’t feel safe around him.

It has taken an indescribable amount of work and rehabilitation to try and make this dog a safe fit for our future family. We are still in the midst of an intensive rehabilitation program — this is our last hope to be able to keep him.

Whether or not he will be safe around our kids, in the long run, is still up for debate.

Final word.

I would caution those without any experience in owning a pet to not rescue straight out of the gate.

I am a firm supporter of rescuing pets, rather than purchasing from a chain pet store or puppy mills.

There are a lot of animals out who don’t have a loving and safe family, and entirely deserve that security.

While there are many pets in need of rescue, it’s not a decision to be made without serious consideration of the responsibility and commitment one is signing up for (for both rescues and pets purchased from a breeder). But, even further, there’s a more enhanced responsibility and commitment when one decides to rescue.

Raising and training a dog is a lot of hard work.

Raising and training a rescue is even harder work.

Individuals who rescue pets are inspirational, beautiful people. I thank any and all of you who have or are currently providing a safe and supportive forever home to a precious creature.

And for those who have rescued or fostered before, I’m sure you can agree that it takes one hell of person to see that process all the way through.

You guys are superstars ❤

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