Beyond the Fairy Tale

Photo Courtesy Patrick Danforth Photography

And they all lived happily ever after…

I’m a sucker for those stories too. I love to see the heroes and heroines overcome adversity and wander off into the sunset for their fabulous forever. Sadly we all know that happy ever after is just a fairy tale ending to a fairy tale. Neither are real, or even realistic.

When people selling dogs or puppies proudly announce the dog has gone to a great furever home, it’s a little too happy ever after for my liking.

I’m sure that plenty of people take on a new dog with the best intentions in the world, and some get re homed for very genuine reasons. Unfortunately the huge number of dogs in rescues and the growing number of organisations trying to care for them, tells us that far too many dogs are being born, not enough care is being taken to home some of them, and some homes simply cannot cope with the dog they get.

So what does a furever home look like?

At the most basic level a furever home simply means the dog will live to an old age and remain in the home its entire life. For some sorry creatures this means a life spent locked or chained in a yard with only the bare necessities provided. We might hear them bark and howl and see the digging they do to entertain themselves, but no matter how much we may report this to authorities, as long as they have food, water and shelter and don’t make too much noise - it’s legal. If they are neutered, at least they won’t add to the unwanted dog population.

Before you stereotype, I have known some very nice, educated, well off, experienced dog owners who kept their dogs this way. The dogs were healthy and in good condition with adequate veterinary care, but they were socially and behaviourally neglected.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the home where the dog becomes part of the family, and lives a long enriched life in an environment where it is well fed, trained, housed, exercised and loved. Again, please don’t stereotype. These owners come from all walks of life and some are first time owners.

In between these extremes are a whole range of furever homes where dogs stay and live to a ripe old age. For some dogs and owners it totally works, for others - not so much.

As a breeder or rescue organisation, discovering a great sounding new home for a well loved dog or puppy is an exciting time. It’s a moment full of hope and anticipation marking the end of the care giving for the seller, but for the buyer it’s just the BEGINNING.

Going to a new home is an event, but staying there furever, enjoying quality of life is an ongoing process. Some lucky furever owners will coast along with cruisy dogs which were never a lot of trouble. Most will have their share of battles.  

The furever process will need careful management to minimize destruction of precious objects and furnishings (puppy chewing/ toilet training). Even so, the furever owners will need to be tolerant of the damage that will undoubtedly happen.

A great furever home will involve money - lots and lots and lots of money for good food, vaccinations, registration, micro chipping, vet visits, collars, leashes, harnesses, kennels, bedding, crates etc. Furever will need time and patience spent teaching the dog house rules, carefully socializing a puppy and making other adjustments to fit the needs of the dog/ puppy into busy lives.

What if the dog/ puppy isn’t a healthy, sociable pup to start with? Then the great furever owner will need to adjust the environment even more so that the problem doesn’t get any worse while they try and solve it. They will spend more money, time, emotional stress and effort on this dog as they wrestle with the problem. Plenty of medical and behavioural problems will never be solved. They might be kept under control, but they won’t be fixed, so the furever owner will have to make permanent adjustments for the welfare of their dog and/or of others.

What if the dog/ puppy is VERY healthy, active and sociable and the new owner discovers they have a much more demanding dog than they were expecting? The furever owner will find a way to enrich the dog’s life and provide the fencing, stimulation, training and exercise the dog needs.

I strongly believe that BOTH the dog AND the owner deserve quality of life. The dog has no choices - so the people need to do the very best they can. As a result I’m not against re homing dogs to homes which better fit their needs, and I’m not against euthanizing seriously medically or behaviourally unwell dogs. For some I think it’s a sensible, safe and totally merciful thing to do and their owners, breeders or rescue organisations should be supported in making that tough decision.

What we can’t escape is that there are more dogs available than there are quality furever homes available. This is ongoing and the rescues are the ambulance at the bottom of a cliff trying to catch the untold cats and dogs raining down on them. In their desperation to help, without doubt, they too will be making homing mistakes.

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE - if you are placing a dog or offering one a home…forget the fairy tales.

Be INFORMED.

Be HONEST.

Be SAFE.

Be FAIR.

Think LONG TERM.

Furever should be a promise, not a threat.

Furever should be a reasonable possibility, not doomed to failure from the start.


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Positively Expert: Diana Bird

Diana lives in NZ. She is intensely interested in behaviour, teaching, learning, and self development. She strives to generalise positive reinforcement ideas to her life and relationships with other people.


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