Nikki: So we thought that you maybe be asking yourself why is Animal Farm Foundation, whose mission is to bring dogs and people together to end discrimination, doing a podcast on behavioral euthanasia? Right Regina? It’s a little weird. Regina: Yeah, we know some people may think it’s weird. But you know, we’re on the heels of our discussions about the comments coming from Roger Haston at Petsmart Charities and the recent Humane Society conference where we were hearing things like “shelters are full of dogs no one wants.” And we’ve addressed how ludicrous those statements are because we know that people want the dogs in shelters They’re being adopted out in droves to families who want them and who love them very much. Regina: But as we were addressing, this we realized that we need to also talk about why keeping or adopting out dangerous dogs is not okay Nikki: Animal Farm Foundation is not No-kill. And we’re also not anti no-kill because that sort of language pits people against each other and it really only hurts the dogs. We refuse to label or peg sheltering as one or the other. We have always taken the stance of seeing the individual – the human, the dog, and the situation. Regina:And that is a future podcast. So stay tuned! If you are a shelter and you were doing that right and not judging and you know, we applaud you no matter the category You may put your organization in. But we just we really need to stop passing judgment and start working together with respect Nikki: We know that this is a tough topic to hear and discuss but transparency and honesty is very important to us. And it’s how we move forward and improve So sit back grab a drink and when you’re done listening Let us know what you think. Regina: you’ll probably need lots of drinks while listening to this episode! Regina: Hi and welcome to the individual animal a podcast about dogs people and discrimination I am Regina and that’s Nikki. Nikki:Hi, how are you? I’m rusty. All right. Hi, I’m Nikki and today on our podcast. We are going to be talking about behavioral euthanasia with our guests Bernice Clifford, who you guys have all heard before.She’s our director of behavior and training at Animal Farm Foundation, well as Trish McMillan who is a certified professional dog trainer. Trish can you Start off by telling us a little bit about yourself and the work that you do? Trish: Sure, I run an animal behavior business here in North Carolina. And I do I work with dogs cats and horses and I live on a little tiny farm with also goats and chickens and There’s just the 14 animals and me! But I see clients, I Lecture nationally and internationally on various subjects mostly sheltering defensive handling, working with aggressive dogs… And I do some shelter consulting as well. Nikki: I think this is gonna be a pretty controversial topic I’m sure we’re gonna have people on both ends and people in the middle I want to start out by just talking to you guys about your experiences with having to deal with behavioral euthanasia, is it with the work that you do? and talk a little bit about some experiences that are very Memorable to you on the topic. So Trish if you want to start I know you have a couple stories for us today Trish:Yeah, when I first started in sheltering a little over 20 years ago I was a volunteer and at that point I had been apprenticing as a dog trainer. I think… I think I knew the most I ever knew about dog training a couple years in. Since then I’ve been realizing how little I know in the universe. It’s slowly humbling me. But at the point where I knew the most that I’ll ever know, I was pretty sure that I could fix any dog. As part of our apprenticeship. We had to take in foster dogs. So I, the overachiever that I am, I took in 24 dogs in 24 months. And I would just go… the shelter at the time didn’t really have any programming. So I would just go in and say “who’s the next one to be euthanized?” They just waited til whoever been there the longest got euthanized next. And I’d look into their little eyeballs through the cage and say “Can I figure you out?” And I brought them home and indeed, I did figure quite a few of them out! I was feeling pretty good about myself when a mother came in with… Actually it was a pair of dogs who came in they were a cruelty case. They were seized from a basement where the neighbors hadn’t seen them outside since they were puppies. They came and just emaciated no hair from the shoulders on back. The male was defecating in terror if you went in the cage with him, so they euthanized him for his own well-being. They held onto the female hoping to pin some cruelty charges on these people which didn’t happen, but she started getting fatter and she started making milk and we realized oh my god. she’s pregnant. Most likely a sibling breeding because they both looked very similar…. yes dogs will do that and it surprises some people. What a great opportunity as a baby trainer to take in a litter of puppies! I’m gonna do everything right with these puppies! They are going to have all the socialization and the training. I had to take them to my friend’s place and meet her cat and I had friends with kids come over. They’re just gonna see everything and they’re going to be the best puppies ever because I can fix anything I brought the mother dog home and of course, she’s semi-feral and climbing the walls and the puppies were born the night before I was able to get them. So one of them got stuck in the drain and died the first night so there were nine surviving puppies. And they were fat and happy she was still pretty bald and skinny. So I spent some time taming her and won her trust and she let me handle these puppies. I did everything according to plan. But one of them even at 3 weeks of age when I was just doing normal puppy handling just turning him over rubbing his belly feeling his paws, he would growl. His eyes had just opened and he was already growling when you handled him I thought whoa, I’ve done everything right with these puppies! Why isn’t he like the other puppies? So I kept him adopted the rest out and this puppy was he was abnormal from day one like even by a few weeks, after the rest of the litter and the mom had been placed. He was Coming out from under furniture and attacking my ankles because he had something under the chair with him. He was really hard to socialize because he just back away from everything. He was scared of strangers. He was scared of new situations and he continued to have behavior issues. I remember having him in class and he went after one of the other apprentices so he got banned from class. We tried putting a gentle leader on him when he was 4 or 5 months old and that was a rodeo. it was really extreme aggression around any kind of control of his opposed. So at six months of age, this is in the 90s, I found somebody willing to prescribe some meds to this dog. Of all the things I tried with him the meds made the biggest difference. Because at that at that point he was attacking me and or my boyfriend at the time up to ten times a day. It was just really low threshold and when he went off. You had to either get behind a door, which is hard to do where the dog was. He would bite and release multiple times. Or you would have to get him into a hold where he couldn’t bite you and just hold him there until the demons had passed – which I got pretty good at. But I’ve still got scars up and down. I remember once we were out for a hike on the beach and he found a semi-liquid dead seal sort of half submerged in the sand. And he’s in there chomping away at it. I’m like, ah, he’s gonna eat that whole seal. He’s gonna be here all night. So I waded in, grabbed his collar and he bit me multiple times as I pulled him away from that and Inoculated me with dead seal! So he was he was really really…. despite the fact that I had done everything from birth as a professional baby dog trainer… Regina: this is a really good time to interject something that I think is going to shock a lot of our listeners: It is not all in how they are raised. Trish: Oh my god no, I just I hate that phrase! Both because it it works against dogs like my current dog, who’s from a fight bust and lived on a chain and he’s amazing! He loves everybody and because some of us do everything we can and I did do everything right. I did not abuse this dog. I did not beat this dog. He had nothing wrong with him, but the combination of prenatal starvation, sibling breeding, less-than-ideal later pregnancy with his mom still in the shelter. And you know, his mom was a fearful dog. She was telling all those puppies every time someone came over, “run away be scared!” Several of the puppies had problems as well So, um, yeah, so we put him on medication which worked for a while until it didn’t. I ended up being trapped in my own house with my boyfriend on the couch and me in the office… and Chinook sort of going between the two of us. If anybody moved he would he would lunge towards you and try to bite, so we yelled through the doors and made the decision to take him in and have him euthanized. We already had an overdose of sedatives, we had muzzle trained him, and once he calmed down, we were able to get the muzzle on him and get him to the vet and have him put to sleep. It was a really really humbling experience. I did so much training with targeted behavior. We worked so hard from birth and I couldn’t fix him. I kind of think that’s the reason I went on and got a master’s degree in animal behavior and have been working with all kinds of awesome trainers That was actually 20 years ago last month that we put him to sleep. I think part of why I’ve been so obsessed with behavior has been trying to figure out “What could I have done differently?” And you know what? I don’t think I could have. I don’t think I could have fixed him. Even with what I know now. Regina: It’s hard to figure out how to follow that up I feel like we should just say “okay Bernice now, what’s your bad story?” (everyone laughs to break the tension) Trish:I have a good story too! While this was going on with Chinook, a young Doberman came into the shelter. She was a stray and she was not showing well in kennels, as many of the guarding breeds tend not to… Because they yell and the person goes away. And they yell and the person goes away… and it gets worse and worse. So the shelter had decided to euthanize this dog for behavior – which you know looking back on it made total sense. But I still felt that I could fix everything. I called a doberman rescue and said, “please please please can you take this dog?” It took a month because the city had to draw up a contract and all these waivers and knowing that this dog is showing aggression you will give her 30 days of evaluation… and I kind of think she was my penance for not being able to fix Chinook. Because she went to doberman rescue and she did her 30 days there, and I went to visit her once and after I left, Kaylee with Doberman rescue called me and she said, “do not come and see this dog again unless you’re going to adopt her because she was really upset after you left!” I did have her in my house for a couple of days before she went to Doberman rescue and she decided I was her person. Her name was Sara. Three days after Chinook died, I was down in Washington signing papers to adopt Sarah. I brought her home… the difference between the two was that Chinook had so many triggers and they were so shifting and subtle. I remember once I set his bowl down and he exploded at me and then just stood over top of the bowl and peed right into his food Like I’d never had any trouble setting food down before or after that, but that one day it was food. Another time, he attacked my boyfriend just for walking out onto the back porch. All we could think of was that he’d gotten into some trash on that porch the day before. You just never knew with him what it was what was gonna set him off. He would do the same to our other dogs. But Sarah’s triggers were very specific. She did not like men. She did not like certain types of handling – toenails, collar grabs, being removed from beds. She was a little bit guard-y with her food. But she was very predictable. And the other thing that was different was Chinook would bite really hard. He would fight multiple times going up your arm and then heading for your face. They were the kind of bites that would leave deep punctures and deep black bruises that would take about ten days to fade. Whereas Sarah would growl and air snap and not make contact. So although both of these dogs showed aggression, that type of abnormal aggression that Chinook was exhibiting was so much harder to work with. Whereas, with Sarah, I just put together behavior modification plans for this specific thing. She was worried about. It was touch her elbow, give her cheese. Touch her wrist, give her cheese. Touch her paw, give her cheese. Pick up her paw, give her cheese. You worked your way up to being able to cut those nails. Towards the end of her life, I could turn on the dremel tool and she would come running from any room in the house, Just like, “oh my god, this is the cheese machine!” You can really change their mind to that extent if the triggers are specific and if the bite inhibition is good. She had both of those. She never did bite anybody in the ten years I had her By the end of her life, she was able to compete in obedience and compete in agility even with a male judge following her in the ring with no collar on. So she was she was a great success story and she was really nice penance I felt. Nikki: I think we will probably say this a couple of times, but I think each case is so individual and your individual case is a lot different with Sara because of all the experience that you have and the capability you had of managing Sara and her issues and knowing what to do to work with it. So I think each case is going to be individual to the person and to the dog. Trish:Yeah, and to enter the shelter and that shelter was entirely right to want to euthanize her. They didn’t have the personnel to do the behavior modification she needed. Would I take in a dog that difficult again right now 20 years later? Hell no! Absolutely, not. The three dogs have now ,one of whom is still a Doberman.. she did hook me on Dobermans They are The happiest, wiggley dogs who coexist with all the other farm animals completely peacefully. I can have them in with the chickens, in with the goats, in with the horses, and with the cats! Everybody gets along. I’ve done my time with difficult dogs and I will not do it again. It was a learning experience with Sara, but I’m not taking that on again. Nikki: And it’s very hard for a lot of people to have to take on something like that. And I don’t think that the shelter should expect for their you know regular everyday adopters to be able to manage something those behaviors. Trish: Sara Sara kept me single for a really long time! I think the reason that I don’t have children now, is that I had a dog who is not entirely safe with men for quite a few of those years, and absolutely I wouldn’t have her around kids Even with all of the work that I did. So I don’t think that’s a fair thing to inflict on people. I took It knowingly, but I would absolutely not second guess the shelter that decided to euthanize a dog like Sarah. Nikki: We’ve talked a little bit about the adoption side of it with the two dogs that you adopted. Bernice, do you have any sheltering examples that you want to share. I don’t mean to put you on the spot… Bernice: Yeah, you mean as far as the dog still we’re still talking about yeah behavior dog, yeah, absolutely absolutely. I mean I have lots of them, but I’ll keep it to two more recent and similar…. what would appear to be similar dogs. Um, we had had a dog named Basil, Nikki, which you had known. And Basil actually did get adopted. So this is a happy story! Basil had come from New York City Animal Care and Control and what we were told when we took her in was that she was just shy, but that they were having trouble adopting her but she was great with dogs. And so we figured we would give her a shot. Our environment is very different than New York City and when she got to us her behavior really escalated. She stayed excellent with dogs big small male/female didn’t matter, which to me with a dog that’s got some human issues is is always um a necessity if it’s a shelter animal because you have to have something to be able to work with. But she was severely aggressive towards strangers when she arrived here. So if she met you on the first day you were her best friend. Everybody else was a stranger. She resource guarded her food and had handling issues. What we discovered with her was that another really good thing about her was her bite inhibition was beautiful. She did tag a staff member one day who wasn’t paying attention and reached to pick up her empty food bowl and didn’t leave a mark and that’s that’s huge. So we decided to start working with her on all of this stuff and just see, you know, knowing that she may not make it but she improved constantly. If you taught her something she picked it up really nice. And so we did start working with her on on touch so that she could eventually put the sticky note on a person’s leg. So she could go up and sniff the bottom of your leg. No hands and fearful dogs faces The really awesome thing that we learned about her was that once she met somebody in the right manner, you were in. So you could come back a week later and you were still in. So we were able to work her through most of the guarding and handling type stuff with just food. This we found adopters that had two other dogs And were willing to work with her and actually follow instructions. That’s a really hard part because you can do all of this work and then somebody doesn’t follow the Instructions when the dog goes into a new environment and all of the behaviors come back again. But these people actually wonderful followed all of the instructions, like go to your place when new people came in. And they have had zero issues with this dog, and actually one of their other dogs had passed away about a year later and they came in and adopted another super dog-friendly dog from us. So and we made sure that he was super human friendly so that we didn’t set her back. And so that was a really really good one. But we recently had a dog that would appear to the average person to be the same as Basil. And I think that’s always hard for volunteers. I remember it being really hard for me when I started out. This particular dog had all the same behaviors except that you could work with him all day, you would think that you made friends… and the next day he would go after you again and you had to start all over. And this went on for months. We worked with him for about four months. He had a couple of people he liked and he couldn’t he just could not get over it with some of the rest of us who had been there You know five days a week for four months doing these routines with him, he just couldn’t do it. Then he started, even though he was dog friendly in the yard, he started to getting super reactive to dogs whenever there were people around. So if there were people around he might actually tag another dog just because somebody showed up that he didn’t know So he is one that we did have to let go because now we’re gonna have to place him in a home. now if he were somebody’s personal pet and they wanted to continue to work on that. Of course, we would obviously teach them management type things. But as a shelter dog, we had decided that this was a dog that we were not comfortable placing. Nikki: And he was really popular with our volunteers right Bernice? Bernice: Absolutely, absolutely. Yes Nikki: And I think we’ve seen this in multiple locations that we visited we go out to shelters across the country and we’ve seen dogs in facilities where we’re like, “why is this dog on the adoption floor?” And it’s well – it’s a volunteer favorite. Bernice: Yeah, and we’re lucky enough at Animal Farm… I have a very small group of volunteers and we’re very honest with them. So even though sometimes they may be upset, they never cause a stink they never cause a problem. They always ultimately understand. I will also answer any questions That they have no matter no matter what that question is. I’ll answer those for them and help them through it. But when you have many many more volunteers and many many more personalities in the mix and everybody wanting to wanting to have their Opinion heard it gets a little bit complicated. Regina: yeah, and this kind of segues into one of the things the main things that I think we want to talk about which is the shame that people can inflict on shelter workers or individual dog owners because they euthanized an animal. I’ve seen it happen online with volunteers who work at a shelter Say that this dog…. I’ve seen it happen
several times, so I can’t even think of one specific instance…. where they say Well this dog… all the volunteers loved this dog but the dog was euthanized. I think that goes in line with what you’re talking about Bernice and then that creates a big… Trish I know you’ve seen this and experienced this on social media. and I know Nikki and Bernice are not on social media as much so you probably thankfully miss out on all this joy Bernice: Sadly, we don’t because we end up working with shelters who are suffering through it. Regina: It’s very and you know, I mean, we don’t know Me just being somebody who’s just reading in the comments and not knowing this situation, you know I don’t know, but it’s also important for volunteers and for people at home reading the comments from volunteers that the that they understand that the volunteers really don’t know everything That’s going on behind the scenes. Nikki: and I think it’s important for everybody listening to hear that nobody wants to euthanize a dog There’s not… Trish: That’s not why we went into sheltering Nikki: right exactly Trish: Quite the opposite. Nikki: It’s a very hard decision for anybody to make whether you’re in sheltering or it’s a family pet, especially That you have a you know volunteers have great connections with dogs. They get to spend a lot of times with the dogs But also, you know family dogs and the backlash that they sometimes… you know families receive when they’re faced with making that decision is really it’s really difficult for them. I think we all need to really take a step back and realize that nobody is making these decisions lightly. Regina: and I think it’s important to note that every shelter situation is different too. For us we were able to help Basil, but we’re kind of privileged and that we have the staff to do that. I don’t know that every shelter would have those resources to dedicate to a dog like Basil. They might not Bernice: Right and you know that the tough part with a dog like basil in in a big busy shelter. She clearly was shut down Because what they saw was sort of a shy fearful dog without reactivity So she would be a dog that might go home, and then you have people when she comes back you have folks that are angry at the adopters because they didn’t see that behavior. And now these adopters are bad because they’re returning this dog because they can’t handle it. Nikki: It was the same with the male dog you discussed right Bernice that dog in the previous shelter reacted differently, is that correct or not? Bernice: He was just yeah, he was just quiet but that was a shelter with you know 400 dogs in and he was living in a kennel with dogs covered in urine and yeah, they saw a totally different dog. He wasn’t a super friendly outgoing Whoo-hooo dog, like he just seemed like a quiet quieter kind of guy. Trish: Yeah, there are behaviors that don’t show up until the dog is in a home situation Sometimes right like three weeks later. Suddenly. Nobody can come in the door and you won’t see that in a shelter where he doesn’t have the person to be attached to and in the location that is home and There’s a few things feeding into this I think one is the expectation that every dog can be rehabbed, which I blame some television trainers for that everything can be fixed thirty minutes or less and that is… Regina: You can’t fix everything with an alpha role are you serious? Trish: You can’t fix everything period. It doesn’t matter what situation you have. The thing I thought about was Chinook was If he was a human going around stabbing people and dogs the way that he did with his teeth many times a day sometimes, he would be in jail or he’d be in a psychiatric institution. He’d be somewhere where he would be safe but he’s a dog and we don’t have a place for dogs who were that dangerous. I’m not sure that being chemically restrained in a psychiatric institution is a better life than the peace I gave him from his demons. I do not think he wanted to hurt me. I’m not sure where it came from but 99% of the time he was a happy friendly bouncy dog with me… Trainable dog, really smart like a across the board. I find a lot of these dogs are super smart, and he was the best trained dog I’d ever had because he had to be, you know, until he wasn’t. So I think it’s hard for people to reconcile the wonderful dog that you see in the shelter, who is amazing with you and think well, he’s got to live in a home where it’s not just one hermit coming back to the cave every night It’s like even me I’m kind of a hermit on the farm, but I have guys coming and working on the farm. I have occasionally friends come out to visit. I know I do have a family and nieces and nephews and There is nobody who lives by themselves on a farm who likes wearing chainmail and getting bitten occasionally! That’s the only home that Chinook could have gone too and I think giving him peace from those demons was ultimately the kindest thing that I Could do for him Nikki: Yeah, we get those… I hear that a lot from people calling in to the farm to see what their options are, you know, for their pet dogs. You know I hear often “He’s or she is an excellent dog With me but hates XYZ people.” so it’s really hard for them to To make a decision when all they see is this great, Great dog with them. Bernice: Yeah. Yeah, I think sometimes people need permission as well So I think sometimes when people are reaching out They’re looking for someone to understand and actually give them permission to make the decision that they probably know in their heart is the right decision. Trish: Yeah, it’s a hard decision to make like in our society. We don’t even Kill animals for food anymore. It’s very rare person, who doesn’t just go to the supermarket and pick up a piece of meat or give up eating meat entirely. Like we’re that removed from death. My mom was a social worker for a lot of years and she never once had to go and say to a parent listen I’m really sorry But Jimmy’s gonna have to go to the doctor and be put to sleep Because we have no more options for his behavior with humans. There are places to go but with dogs there is no psychiatric institution that we can we can put the Chinooks of the world into. And we do have to either keep them in a backyard and throw food out once in a while or put them to sleep. I think the kinder thing especially with a dog who is so clearly troubled is to give them peace. Like I think that’s a kindness. Regina: I Want to make it clear because that you you’ve said this a couple times, Trish, But I know people do think that there are that there’s all these sanctuaries out there that take dogs in for free or it’s something and we talked about this I think on our rehoming podcast also that these places are not as ubiquitous as people think they are. Trish: there are far far far more severely disturbed dogs than there are sanctuaries to take them. And far far more disturbed dogs than there are good ethical sanctuaries I worked for the ASPCA for seven and a half years and I have seen what happens when sanctuaries go bad and I will tell you if you are taking your dog to a sanctuary go there in person look in all of the buildings, the ones in the back too. Go Google’s Spindletop. Bernice: Yep, I evaluated all those dogs Trish: Google One More Chance in Ohio, I worked at one These places that will take in your dogs. It’s not a great model like there there are a couple of good ones out there who have good funding but they they can’t take all the dogs. The model for sanctuary is often, you bring me your dog. You give me two hundred or a thousand or two thousand dollars I will keep this dog for the rest of its life. But the only way to keep money coming in is to take in more dogs. If you have one person running the sanctuary and you have to keep taking in more and more and more to keep that place operational. That’s not a good model and I have seen that in really badly. So I’m not saying all sanctuaries are like that but Go see them go look at them Go back every single year and look your dog in the eyeballs and make sure that they are still there and they’re still ok, because I’m sure you guys have seen it – there are horrific situations out there Nikki: Yeah, it’s not always the best option and I think for me coming in working…. I started at animal farm foundation without any animal welfare background, so learning about how people make decisions to euthanize dogs and sheltering and learning about, you know, families that have to euthanize their dog It was a whole new experience for me because you know I didn’t see it often in my you know everyday life outside of animal welfare. But one thing that really was an eye-opening thing for me was to try and realize, what’s the better option for the animal? Because a lot of times the dog is suffering is not living a happy life Trish: yeah, I’ve seen their life getting smaller and smaller and smaller. And the smaller their life gets the more frustrated they get. Then you get these sort of shifting spreading triggers for aggression because the dogs needs aren’t being met and it’s just a sad situation. but and I think another thing that the other moment that really changed my mind on behavioral euthanasia was Again, that sort of two years in when I knew everything… and I was absolutely persuaded there was a “lid for every pot.” I think this was this was a little before Chinook… There’s a dog that was returned for growling at a man and I went in and I played with her and she was fine with me. I took her to the training center, and she was not fine with other dogs, but I thought fine I’ll just get her an only dog home. And I persuaded some friends of mine who didn’t have kids and didn’t have pets. I said, please please please take Rosie in she’s a great dog. She’s wonderful with me and hey did. Of course, they fell for her and they adopted her, foster success! Then I promptly moved to San Francisco after the whole Chinook slash Sarah event. And I was not able to give them any help with this dog And it turned out she was not just a little iffy with other dogs. She was severely dog aggressive. She was also severely predatory. And in this four years that they had her, I heard the stories from John and Mindy that she had killed three of the neighbors’ cats, one of them in full view of the neighbors. She had started going after kids. She had to be walked on a muzzles and On her last day on this planet…. and she had broken leashes and chewed John up just trying to break her off other dogs… because as soon as she got loose she was going to grab another dog and try to kill it… on her last day, dog walker had her out without her muzzle on for some unknown reason and a little cocker spaniel stuck his head under his gate and barked at her and quick as the flash, she grabbed him by the head pulled him under the under the gate with such force that the gate came off the hinges shook him and almost killed him and John was just like enough is enough and took her to the vet and had her euthanized. He wrote a really, he’s a professional writer, he wrote a really poignant letter to me and just said, you know, I’m done with rejected dogs, I’ve done my duty to society. I’m looking at a litter of vizsla puppies and He went on…. and I just think about all the people in those four years that John and Mindy talked to… They worked in the film business in Vancouver and all the people who heard Rosie stories and I could have given them a dog like my pitbull Theodore now who loves everybody. There are plenty of those. I could have sent them with home with a really nice shelter dog who would have spent 12 years convincing all these Vancouver film people that shelter dogs were awesome. But instead, they heard Rosie stories. You know John bought the vizsla and dammit he was a perfect dog! And he went to the beach with them. He went on vacations with they had a child. He raised their child like he was the perfect dog. I think about all the dogs who have died in shelters because of all the people that I convinced never to give a shelter dog a chance because I placed one iffy one that I was personally attached to so yay me! if I didn’t know these people I would have thought yeah, I saved a dog and gone on with my life. But because some of my early placements, as she was not the only one, were with personal friends of mine, and I got the long term follow-up and I saw what that dog did to that family and their friends and Just thinking about the repercussions of sending out one iffy dog when I could have I could have given them a really nice dog…. And I I could have had a very different outcome. But I wasn’t tough enough to euthanize a dog who was you know little iffy with other dogs, a little crumbly with men…. whatever we can we can place her. Then I wrote that story up. It was published in Sheltering magazine it’s called the “Perils of placing marginal dogs,” and I’ve recently updated it on the ia ABC Journal website. It has changed a lot of people’s minds. So Rosie did not die in vain but boy, I wish I hadn’t traumatized my friends like that. Yeah I’m hoping to save people the learning curve that I’ve been through by telling these stories. and I know that article has changed a lot of people’s minds I know shelters that just hand it out to new volunteers with “this is why we don’t place dangerous dogs.” Regina: Yeah, and that’s why we’re doing that’s one of the reasons why we’re doing this podcast though too is that we know people feel guilty and then and then the public certainly makes them feel guilty. You know your story is one of the reasons why people shouldn’t feel guilty making the best decision for, Not just that dog, but maybe all dogs and all people the sheltering system animal welfare in general, some big picture stuff. Trish: It’s a learning curve for sure Nikki: So, I don’t really know if this question can really be answered or if we should even keep it in but what if I have a dog and I don’t know what to do Like what steps should I take to decide whether or not…. And we can answer this question in two ways. Probably one for personal dogs and one for animal shelters because I think they’re probably very different circumstances, but Do you guys have any advice or experience about you know, “how do I come to making that decision? And what are the things I should look at? What things? Should I pay attention to” or is it such an individual circumstance that it really depends? Individually, I don’t know if it’s really something that can be quantified on this podcast But I figured I’d go ahead and ask it. Trish: Well, I think we’ve raised some of the points I do think the bar has to be different for un-owned dogs as opposed to owned dogs. Because if I have raised Chinook from a puppy and I really want to put everything everything I have into him, That’s very different from asking people to take home a dog who’s going to randomly attack them several times a day. So, I think that’s a big piece and the other thing is look at the home because there I do aggression seminars with Mike Acacio and he sort of contrasts, like a dog who is level three or four biter might be okay in a home with somebody like me if their triggers are very specific if they can be tightly managed around them. Whereas a dog who’s just a level two fighter who is a severe resource guard or steals things guards toys and is that in a home with five small children and the level two bites are two children’s faces. Like that’s that nuts and not safe in that home So looking at whether to rehome or euthanize, or work with is very much dependent on the family, but I think when you’re looking at the really abnormal aggression, the ones with the shifting triggers with the hard bites. I really think those are something that’s organically wrong with their brain. They tend to be, in my years of experience, that’s been a lot harder to work with. Idon’t know, Bernice, if you’ve seen differently Bernice, Yeah, no, I agree. My experience I actually got lucky because before I worked in sheltering I actually started with Amy Marder at the veterinary clinic. I got to see the families with the animals with behavior issues before I had those animals in front of me in a shelter. So so I I got a different experience than most people who start out with the sheltering stuff. So you know and like you said a bite to a child’s face is very different than you know a bite to an adult’s hand, even if the bite is harder. So it’s just it’s it’s so hard because everything is so individual. But if if the triggers aren’t predictable in my experience, most people even if they start out wanting to work with the dog they’ll do it for a while and ultimately you end up with the original decision to euthanize that animal because you can’t… every time you think you’ve made some level of a success, something else comes up and no one that I know or have ever worked with can control every situation every time Regina: I’m looking back over the outline to see I feel like we’ve missed a lot but I think that’s such a loaded topic. Nikki, I want to go into a little bit about the no-kill… Trish: yeah the keyboard worrier. Yeah should be addressed to because that’s that’s forcing a lot of shelters into keeping dogs for weeks months or years. Regina I think one thing and so I have the… we at Animal Farm have the privilege of saying this right because we don’t rely on donor,s so we don’t really care what the public thinks that much…. but I do think in a lot of ways, animal welfare workers just have to stop caring what the public thinks if they know they’re making the best decision for the dog. They just they can’t hold on to a dog or start outsourcing euthanasia to adopters because they’re afraid of what the public may think of them. And I realize I’m saying the sort of privileged perspective because my experience is totally different. Trish: There are scary people of there. There are people who threaten. There are people who picket the apartment buildings of the trainers who have had to make these tough decisions. I think just getting the word out that not everything is fixable is super important But there are there are people who have serious problems with death and maybe maybe this is the time to talk about Lulu because that’s kind of launched a bit of a revolution Regina: Please talk that. Trish: Yeah, so I’m on the board of directors of a really awesome bully breed rescue her mostly bully breed rescue called Bully Project NYC run by Jennifer Bristol. Bernice: Yep. She’s a great friend of Animal Farm. Trish: She was the subject of my first shelter consult ever many years ago and we’ve stayed in touch ever since. We’ve had many conversations about behavioral euthanasia. So she allows me to do bully project South where I occasionally Bring in a dog that I like foster them fix them up and rehome them around where I live here in North Carolina. And I’ve got a pretty good record. I’m pretty good at picking nice dogs. So I was I’m doing some consulting at a shelter in a BSL town And I thought well, I am NOT. I’m driving home. I am NOT leaving this town without a Bully breed of some sort. So I had picked one out when I was in playgroup. So I found this nice young female. It was friendly with every single dog and they said do you want me to put her on hold for you? I said no. No if she gets adopted, that’s great But I think I’m going to take her home. So of course she gets adopted minutes before I’m ready to leave town. So I’m walking through the kennels trying to remember who did what in playgroup, and a kennel worker came up and said, oh, you’ve got to meet this dog. She is so amazing. She shows me this dog, who had clearly recently had puppies, and she’s just lying there sad and the in a little tiny shelter cage in the corner. You know, shelter workers know what a good dog is. so I took her out and I walked her around and she was kissing me and sort of pulling towards the humans and trying to kiss children. Well, this is great! She’s very people social. I took her around to back to see some of the dogs in the outside play areas and she went Up and sniffed them. I thought well, she doesn’t seem bad with dogs. She’s had a litter of puppies. I am biased to think that dogs who’ve had a litter of puppies Are often good with other dogs because they’ve recently been around a lot of them. So I took her back to my hotel. I walked her in the door and Theodore was already…. Actually, we took them… we met outside in the parking lot. And as soon as she saw Theodore unleashed, she went “grrrrrr!” Theodore is my fight bust dog who loves everybody loves I thought oh crap. I just made a bad mistake. I’m already four hours out of town. I met my assistant who had brought Theodore down to do an aggression and dog seminar partway between where I was consulting and home and I Put Lulu in the x-pen and thought well, we’ll just take this a little slowly. I can’t believe she’s that bad. And we slowly introduced her to Theodore and brought her home and she was coughing, So I kept her in Quarantine in the dining room and slowly introduced her to my other dogs. And it seemed like she was alright with a slow introduction I thought well, that’s okay. And the Bully Project accepted her and we had her in our care for about ten months I ended up getting divorced moving into a tiny house, that’s 160 square feet. I hoisted her on my friend Pia who fostered her on and off. We adopted her out twice and she bounced back both times, no fault of her own. And we’re still marketing her heavily, and she She stayed she came back to stay with me over Christmas just last Christmas. And it’s a little crowded in the house. Okay, there’s three dogs two cats and me and a hundred and sixty square feet But Finally finally finally Theodore got her playing. I thought holy moly! This is such a breakthrough for this dog who’d always been standoffish but not aggressive. It we’ve unlocked the door, we can maybe place her in a home with another dog. And this is wonderful but she started fixating a little bit on my older dog, and I Thought you know, I got to go away for a couple of days. A pet sitter came in I said you’ve got Lulu and Theo and Maggie and I’m gonna just take Lele my smaller dog with me because Lulu’s just been a little weird with her and I came back late at night a couple days later. And as soon as Lele walked into the house Lulu just grabbed her by the face and started shaking her, Luckily, my assistant was still there. Kat Ross, she’s an awesome handler knows how to break up a dogfight. She hops on top of Lulu, sprays her with water from the kitchen sink, which has zero effect, and she’s stabilizing her head so she won’t keep shaking and damaging my little dog – who’s you know, is trying to get loose and trying to bite her back at the same time. So I luckily I had a break stick in the car. I ran out to the car got the break stick. We got them separated… It felt like an hour, but it was probably two minutes. In that time she did seven hundred dollars worth of damage to my little dog’s face and I think if there hadn’t been two dog trainers and a break stick in the house at that point, I do think she would have killed her. So the rule with Bully Project is dogs with offensive aggression towards humans or dogs will not be adopted out. So I knew immediately what her fate was going to be. So I called Jen as we were driving the two dogs to the emergency vet. This is New Year’s Eve, of course, in separate cars and I called the emergency vet to say do you do behavioral euthanasia because I’ve got nowhere to keep her in this 160 square foot tiny house overnight and The next day is New Year’s Day…. It’s not going to be any easier. I needed to get Leelee stitched back up. So, luckily, Jen called in a credit card to the emergency vet and We arrived there separately. They stitched Leelee up and they put Lulu to sleep right then and there. You know Kat and I went back and forth over what to do because my Theodore has a webpage with 20 thousand friends called Pibbling with Theodore. It’s a fun page. He invented the word pibbling and Regina:Wait… hang on. I didn’t know that you came up with that… Trish:. I’m not sure. He’s popularized it. It’s in urban dictionary now. Go look it up anyways, I think I’ve been heavily marketing Lulu on his page for 10 months at this point and Kat and I went back and forth like Should we say anything? because in the past Bully Project has euthanized dogs and we tend to just quietly remove them from the webpage and let people assume that they’ve been adopted and not get into it with a keyboard warriors. Which is what a lot of groups do, which unfortunately makes people think that all dogs are fixable and all of them got placed and that’s not true. Kat said yeah, that’s what you should do for sure you don’t want to deal with it. And I waited three or four days before I said anything on either of my pages. I’m just such a bad liar and people were asking, “where’s Lulu?” Because I posted all these pictures of her playing with Theodore. And I finally just came clean and on my personal page. It was nothing but support. But on Theodore’s page, which is just a more random sample of pit bull lovers, I did get some really offensive comments just…. you know, I should have kept her for life and just crated and rotated. I got called all kinds of names. You know I can take it. I’ve been in animal
welfare for a long time. I don’t know these people. I don’t care what they say. But this is something that happens to regular people who euthanize their dogs for behavior – which yeah causes a lot of people to just lie about it. Oh, he had a seizure. We had to put him down or it was cancer or I gave him to a farm. This amazing thing has happened…my friend, Sue Alexander in Canada, shot me an email and she said, you know we need a place for people to talk about behavioral euthanasia. You’re not alone there. I’ve been through it lots of people have been through it and there is no place where you can get support. I said I just said yeah, of course. That’s great. We do need that and went about my day and later on that day, Sue sends me a link to a group that she has started that says Losing Lulu. And I thought okay great signed up for it and that it has just been this phenomenon. it has blown up since January 4th when it was started. We now have two thousand members worldwide. And there’s so many people have been just stifling the pain of having had to do a behavioral euthanasia and having been judged for it and having just all of these emotions… like you have grief But you also have relief. Like I remember the first time I had friends over after Chinook was dead. I was like I shouldn’t be able to do this. I haven’t been able to do this for 18 months, but You know, I’m sad that he’s gone, but I my life can go back to normal. So there’s strange things that happen around a behavioral euthanasia that doesn’t really happen when it’s an old dog that dies. So it’s it’s been a really wonderful and healing place. We have three screaming questions that everybody needs to answer. We have zero tolerance for bullying or second-guessing. We do not talk about dogs who are still alive because it’s too much of a burden for people to try to make decisions on other people’s dogs. We don’t allow any of that, but we do have some people on it who are thinking about euthanasia. They just have to agree not to ask specific questions about their dog, but they’re welcome to read everybody else’s stories. And it’s it’s one of the most caring and wonderful places on the internet. And we do police it very strictly there is no… occasionally somebody will slip by the the guards at the gate and you know we block and delete. We do not allow any second-guessing or any armchair quarterbacking and it’s been wonderful. There’s people who euthanized the dog decades ago who are still feeling pain about it, who are able to read these stories of other people’s behavioral euthanasias and and find some peace. So it’s it’s been just amazing. Regina: Other than joining the group. Do you have advice for people who – either shelter workers or individuals – who’ve had to euthanize their family dog for dealing with…. I really don’t like to trim keyboard warriors, but I don’t know what else to say other than that so for dealing with that kind of backlash. Trish: I am not sure. I have this vision of this posse of Losing Lulu people who will just descend with love and support and help out people whenever this happens, and just drown out the naysayers. But I know even the handful of naysayers they really they’re still at the back of my mind and I’ve been through this a lot. This is not a… Regina: The comments you got with Lulu were so terrible. I mean you and I, we don’t even really know each other that well, but I know you posted some of them and I was so mad! I was like “I want these people’s addresses so I can go to their house!” Trish: They don’t know me they just assume that I’m some kind of… and Lulu was a bully breed she was probably… she looked like she had a lot of English Bulldog in her as well. so, you know people are assuming that I just hate pit bulls because…. No, you don’t even know me.You have no idea the work Theodore does for pit bulls every single day. I think these people are just very troubled themselves. I think people have that sort of extreme reaction to death have their own issues. And I don’t think fighting…. like the worst one was “please block and delete me and then bla bla bla,” more venom. And so I gave her her wish! Because there’s no point arguing with people who have that much of an issue. There’s something else going on in there. But yeah, I wish I had an answer. I say surround yourself with friends. Block and delete the naysayers. But I think a lot of it is, we need to talk about this. We need to let people know that there are these dogs out there who can’t be fixed and that’s okay. That sometimes behavioral euthanasia is the kindest thing you can do for a really troubled soul. Bernice: Yeah, and I think an important thing to remember for shelter folk is that when we keep dogs like that, we’re not only letting that dog suffer but the dogs that can’t make it to the floor, who may not have those issues. And those dogs are often being euthanized, especially if you’re in a crowded southern shelter. So so where we’re keeping this dog with all of these issues, who’s clearly uncomfortable himself, alive, well other animals in the back are dying. Trish: If you’re a limited intake shelter, if you take in one dog with severe problems who stays with you for two years until you either find that hermit or outsource the behavioral euthanasia or bite the bullet and euthanize them yourself …if your average length of stay is 14 days, that’s 50 dogs that could have been placed, that could have gone through that kennel that you did not pull form shelters surrounding you, so that you could keep the staff favorite. And also looking at the money like the average cost of care per day is $25 per dog per day and I hate for it to come down to dollars and cents, but if it costs you $9,000 a year, you have just put $18,000 just in food and staff time to care for that dog. And think about how many spay/neuters that is! Think about how many training classes that is. Think about all of the outreaching could do, all of the dogs you could save with $18,000 that you’re spending to keep a really difficult dog so that you don’t get backlash from social media…so that your volunteers don’t all leave. I think I think we need to be open and transparent. When when I was director of animal behavior at the ASPCA shelter I was like Bernice. I would talk to anybody for as long as they wanted to hear me talk, as you can tell! I have this arsenal of stories of what happens when we place these dogs because we get young people coming in as animal care attendants and and they didn’t think they’d ever have to euthanize a dog they loved. And these dogs love them more than anyone in the shelter. They’re the ones who watch them, feed them, who bring them toys, and clean them. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to very young people who have started their career in animal sheltering and I’ve been able to change a lot of minds. If we made a decision for behavioral euthanasia, it was never done lightly. It was done with a committee. There were a bunch of managers I would bring forward… if we had a dog for euthanasia, I would show video, if necessary. We would write a memo that would be placed in an area where people could either choose to see it or not see, it depending on what was easier for them. Before the euthanasia, we would book the training room for an hour and they could come down and they could feed that dog .hamburgers They could feed them chocolate, take them whatever they wanted. And they could be there for the euthanasia if they wanted to. I tried to go to every one I could. I didn’t want it to ever be a snap decision or an easy decision for me. I can I can hold off a front vein. I can hold off a back vein. I learned a lot of the defensive handling that I’m teaching now working with these dogs. And it was really often just the shelter veterinarian and myself, because I tried to make these calls sooner rather than later once I saw the dog was dangerous. I think being open and transparent and anybody could come and talk to me if they were having trouble with a decision. And I would show them the video of… I would try to get videos of the behavior, because it was often in context that the shelter staff wouldn’t see. Nikki: Now you mentioned outsourcing euthanasia a little bit. I know that’s something that we wanted to talk about. I have experience with people that that call us to say, you know, they have a dog the dog, you know has bitten somebody or whatever it may be. And they wanna give the dog to the shelter. So I’ve had experience with that where, you know, sometimes you need to say “well the dog is probably better off, if the end result is going to be euthanasia, with the the people that the dog knows well and not have to go to a shelter and then you know, have to go through that stressful experience and then be euthanized. But there is the opposite Regina and I know you wanted to talk about the opposite end of that which I don’t really have experience with but I thought maybe you… Regina: The opposite end of that you mean You mean shelters adopting dangerous dogs?I think we did touch on that. Not euthanizing dangerous dogs and adopting out dangerous? I think we did touch on that. Trish: That’s what I did with Rosie essentially was I out sourced her euthanasia to my friends. And it should have been me. I should have been tough enough to do that. But I’m seeing this more and more where shelters know that a dog is dangerous…. They will look for that person living on a farm and adopt the dog out and cross their fingers. And I can tell you, if you read Losing Lulu, that These dogs are doing a lot of damage to the people that they are being adopted to. They are getting their pets killed. They’re getting their neighbors’ pets killed. They’re getting friends and neighbors bitten. They’re getting bitten themselves, and the dog still ends up dead, but you have traumatized the family and everybody that family knows whenever you outsource euthanasia to your adopters. Regina: And I think people don’t realize that’s what they’re doing. Of course, I don’t think anybody thinks, “I’m gonna place this dog with this family and then I don’t care what happens!” I think everybody’s genuinely hoping for the best and believes that it will work because they want to believe that it will work so bad. Trish:And they might not be doing the follow up to know that this is what’s happening with their dangerous dogs. They might be just blithely going on with life, like I would have if I had adopted Rosie to a stranger. And not knowing what what these dogs are doing…. Nikki:Yeah, and this is my own personal opinion. but with a country now that is so focused now on their live release numbers, we started to stop looking at the dogs individually and started worrying more about what dogs are exiting our shelter to get our numbers up. Trish: Yeah, that whole like 90% is no kill. It’s such an artificial number. Like if my shelter just took in 300 hoarding dogs with genetic aggression issues, and It may not be 90% for that month… and that if I’m still making the best decision for each of those dogs, then I am I am NOT a bad person. I did some shelter consulting with Dr. Cynthia Karsten a few years ago, and she just blew my mind. She’s always blowing my mind. And she said, you know, if we lived in a perfectly humane society, if we had fixed all of the issues with landlords, with allowing people to rehome their own dogs with you know pets who have medical problems… there’s a support network to take care of them….. If we get to that point… I’m not going to say “if,” I’m going to say “when”! Guess what guess what the euthanasia rate is going to be in shelters? If you’re doing everything right it should be close to 100%, because only the very sick and the very dangerous dogs are gonna end up in a shelter. You’ll have safety nets for everybody else…. And that just made my head explode. I’m like, yeah, you’re right. 90%, you know, it’s a nice member. But if we’re doing things right, it may have to become 80 percent and 70 percent and 50 percent. And then why are we even looking at numbers? Like, let’s just do do things right! Let’s do the best we can for every animal who needs it in our community and try to keep them out of the shelters when we can. Regina: I want to point out, since we’re on the subject of like outsourcing outsourcing euthanasia – that You know, a lot of people will see a listing for a dog on social media or maybe petfinder and maybe it says that there is a problem with the dog….. The dog has a bite history…. and then people have a savior complex: “I’m gonna save that dog! I’m gonna adopt that dog!” “I’m gonna convince a rescue to take that dog to dog this rescue only and then I’m gonna foster that dog” and they have no experience with dogs really other than looking at them on Facebook. I just I really want people to know that…. I don’t know… just don’t do that… Trish:Well, shelters don’t make these decisions lightly. If the dog is “Rescue only”…. I’m not sure why we think rescues are better suited…. Regina: I have seen this before. There was this one person, who was like, “I’m gonna take that spicy dog!” She called this dog spicy! It had bitten three people before yeah, and she found her asking to pull the dog and I don’t know what happened. I didn’t you know follow up it like this dog wasn’t spicy! Yeah, that’s not the word I would describe as dog. Trish: Yeah, I think a lot of us have this sort of Savior complex. I certainly did in my early days as well. Like, “only I can fix this problem!” and you know, you get you get humbled. The universe sends you the dogs you need. And I think any about any of us who do this for long enough will come to very similar conclusions at the end. But yeah, a lot of the Lulu people, our members, have taken on dogs or “the mean old shelter wanted to kill them” and “I’m gonna just take that dog in and and he’s just misunderstood” and a lot of us have learned the hard way that not everything is fixable. Regina: Yeah. It’s a really hard really hard tragic way to learn. Nikki: Yeah, and not to sound cold, but your average everyday adapter, they don’t want those behavior problems, you know? Trish: Yeah, even if you get…. a lot of us have euthanized our foster dogs because think about Lulu. Like what home would she be safe in now that I know she’s got such a hard fight? If I sent her to a home with no other pets and it’s a farm and it’s in the country… and farms have neighbors with dogs. Like if aunt Mae shows up at your front door over the holidays with her Pomeranian in her arms… like if I drop a leash or a unlatch gate… that means somebody else’s pet is dead or mauled or somebody’s kid is hurt. I don’t think we should be sending those dogs out. I think it is our duty as shelter people to to spoil them stinking rotten and let them go. Nikki: So that was a really tough topic, but I’m glad that we discussed it. I think everybody needs to hear. I think the more that we talk about this stuff the better and easier it’s gonna get for people to make these really tough decisions and for, you know, the the people on the outside to understand why shelters make these decisions and why families make these decisions and and understand it better and not judge people for something that they shouldn’t be judged for. Trish: if you have not walked a mile in their shoes, you should not be judging people for making these decisions. And if you have walked a mile in their shoes, you will not be judging people for making these decisions. Nikki: That’s very well said Trish: It’s a heavy topic, but I am really grateful that a voice and as big as Animal Farm Foundation is tackling this head-on. It’s just so important to talk about. There’s so many people suffering over a decision that we’ve made, whether they’re shelter people or individuals who’ve taken on these dogs. Some of the people on Losing Lula… there’s a veterinary behaviorist who bought a purebred dog from a breeder – like met the parents and did everything right and still ended up with a very dangerous dog that she had to euthanize. And I think that’s one thing that’s been really reassuring to the civilians who come to Losing Lulu is that there are so many trainers on there. And a lot of us have stories like this and a lot of us right really haven’t talked about it much in public. But having the support of the group and having all these people and realizing that you’re not alone has has really brought this topic out of the dark a little bit. It’s sort of peaking its way out of the dark and it needs to. We need to keep talking about it. Regina: Yeah, definitely because I think people have the assumption, too, that like you said, that people…. the way people attacked you… that you were heartless, as if you weren’t carrying your own grief over it. Trish: Yeah, and to be attacked in public on the worst day of your life where you have…. Like I didn’t go into rescue so that I could euthanize dogs! When you’ve had to make that tough call, the toughest call that you can make is as an animal lover, really…. and then to get attacked if you dare to say anything about it in public…. Staying in the dark just keeps the cycle going, where people think, “well dogs can be saved because nobody ever talks about euthanizing them.” So yeah, we need to keep the keep the conversation going. So I’m really glad you guys are tackling this. Nikki: Trish. Thank you so so much for being brave with us and taking on this conversation Trish: Thanks for inviting me. It’s a conversation. We need to be having.