Guest Column: Dog owners need to be responsible

This is in response to the article in The Rock River Times (Feb. 15-21, 2006) about Winnebago County Animal Services (WCAS). This is what we got from the letter: Sheila Demus adopted a dog in August 2005, and brought it back. She got another dog, and brought it to WCAS. She then adopted a dog in September 2005, and brought it back. Then, she went out and bought one at Petland.

This does not sound like a responsible pet owner. She is teaching her kids that dogs are disposable; when they aren’t perfect, you just get rid of them. Whether the dog was euthanized or not, her children should not have been told that at their ages.

Some questions to her are:

Did you ever call a training club, your vet or even a groomer to ask for advice about how to housebreak the dog or about any other “reactions”? The most crucial time for a pet to bond to its new owner is during the first four to six weeks. Look at it from their side: they had a home (possibly an abusive home) and then end up at Animal Services with people they don’t know, in a cage with other barking dogs around them. Then, they go into a new home with people they don’t know. They don’t know the rules yet, and are probably starving for love from their new family. There are new smells in the house, new rooms, new sounds. Many times, it takes a while for a dog to adapt, and they may mark in the house until they learn the appropriate place.

Did they get hit when they had an accident? Did that show the dog it was being accepted, or did you take the time and patience to really teach the dog where to go? Did you crate it when you left the house, did you try to get the dog on a schedule, and did you take the dog to a training class? There are many really good training facilities in and around Rockford, and it helps you bond more quickly to your new pet.

If you did all of these things, gave the dog a few months to adapt, and the dog still wasn’t working, maybe it wasn’t meant for you, but to blame Animal Services is not the answer. If you adopted a dog from any rescue organization or from a pet store, they would not let you bring the dog back and give you another one; you only get one chance.

As far as signing the forms, don’t you know that WCAS is under the rule of city, state and county rules? WCAS Director Gary Longanecker does not make his own rules; he has to follow the rules he is given.

We have seen Animal Services go through many changes during the last 20 years, and right now is the best we have seen. They have employees who have been there for years, a very dedicated auxiliary that raises funds for Animal Services, and on their own time, they go out and clean cages, take animals to the vet, heavily promote adopting the homeless animals, and Longanecker is very involved in the day-to-day operation of the facility. He is not sitting behind a desk waiting for people like you to call him. He is out in the city trying to save animals from being used for dog fights or to guard houses that are used for selling drugs. He sees the animals used for “baiting” (which is why you should NEVER give an animal away; it could end up used for bait)—animals that have been trained by the owner to attack any human or other animal it gets close to.

Maybe you should try to be in his shoes for one day. What would you do with an animal that is so aggressive it would kill another animal or severely attack a human being, or an animal that is terminally ill, and the owner doesn’t want to take care of it, so they bring it out there? Is it more humane to put it in a cage for the rest of its life? Would you like to have one of these dogs roaming in your neighborhood with your children outside, or would you like to take them to your house for the rest of their lives? I doubt it.

We would all like to live in a dream world where all animals had good homes; they weren’t trained for attacking or used for bait, and they weren’t hit by cars or get sick. But the reality is people do abuse dogs, they do throw them away like garbage, and there is only so much that can be done to correct these situations. Animal Services does the best they can with what they have; they would love to have outside runs for all the animals and in-house veterinarians and groomers, but that takes a lot of money. Their employees and volunteers are very caring people who really look out for the animals, and foster animals in their homes with no compensation. They spend most of their free time with the animals to care for them and help them get adopted.

Instead of teaching your children that dogs are returnable, you should have them volunteer at Animal Services or any other adoption center when they are old enough. They will see that all animals need love, compassion and patience. When you choose to bring an animal in your home, it should be for the rest of that animal’s life, not until you’re tired of taking care of it. By the way, how’s the new puppy doing on housebreaking?

Dena Campoli and Sally Johnson are local residents.

Editor’s note: Sheila Demus was told she must sign a form stating “This animal will be euthanized in a humane method.” Winnebago County Code, Article IV. “Impoundment,” Sec. 14-115 of the Animal Control Act, “Disposition of unclaimed or disabled animals,” part (c) says: “Stray animals suffering from severe physical disabilities may be disposed of at the discretion of the administrator. No animal left by its owner for disposition is to be regarded as unclaimed or redeemed, but is to be disposed of as authorized by its owner.” (emphasis added)

From the April 19-25, 2006, issue

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