Or: There are no bad dogs
Recently on Facebook a friend of mine posted: “Wouldn’t it be nice if dogs could take bad owners to the pound?”
No dog comes with instructions, especially a dog that was abandoned, kicked out, no longer wanted, sometimes even as a puppy. The lucky ones get adopted, and if they are not so lucky remain at the animal shelter, out of sight, out of mind. Recent statics have shown that most dogs brought to the Albuquerque Animal Shelters are euthanized, or “killed
humanely.” I think I read that 500 dogs a week are euthanized.
People sometimes wrongly believe that dogs wind up at the shelter because they are “bad,” and caused their owners to get rid of them. That’s like believing that children in foster care are bad, which some people do. But we don’t euthanize them.
The point is there are bad situations, bad events, bad actions, and bad decisions that add up to the making of bad traits in animals and people. There is no easy answer to the problems of overpopulation, whether of dogs, cats, horses, or humans.
And then come the dilemmas of those who adopt those unwanted animals and give them a home. Logic and practicality were not the deciding factors two years ago when I decided to acquire a Redbone Coonhound. Let me enlighten those unfamiliar with these dogs. Like all hounds, they are ruled by their noses, which were bred to be used for a purpose. In the case of the Redbone Coonhound, that was to track raccoons, cougars, and bears.
Coonhounds are tree trackers, and I have witnessed firsthand my dog’s abilities in this regard when my poor tabby cat got stuck in a tree, and the Coon, bred to sniff out animals in trees, alerted me to that fact—along with the whole neighborhood, so vocal was her announcement. Her barks sound like a baritone yodel.
I was impressed with her tracking prowess, but the alerting display was impressive too—shaking the tree with her paws and climbing halfway up, still yodeling. Neither creature was hurt, and even though I was annoyed with her carrying on, the Coon was doing what she was bred for. She was not being a bad dog. The breeder back in Tennessee would have thought she was a good dog. Yet some might think a good dog would not chase a cat up a tree and then stalk it for three hours.
I acquired this well-bred dog from my neighbor, a veterinarian, who had rescued her from a couple who had adopted
her from a local shelter, then proceeded t o leave her alone in the house all day long. They would come home to a shredded
couch, garbage overturned, their food eaten off the counters. They said she had peed in the house and that she drank out
of the toilet bowl. My veterinarian asked, “Did she break out of her kennel?” No, they replied, they didn’t kennel her. “Why
does it matter? She is a bad dog, and we want her put down.”
My veterinarian did not put her down; instead he brought her home and began calling all the Coonhound rescue sites. I was taking out my garbage that fateful day when our eyes met. The Coonhound swaggered to my side of the fence and stuck her black nose in, sniffing at the garbage, hoping for a treat. The last thing I needed was another dog, but love is unpredictable. I rationalized that I did have the acreage for the big red dog, and proper fencing.
Well, the fencing immediately became an issue. When Coonhounds get a scent, they are off and through anything.
If they can’t go through it, they will jump it or, in the case of mine, scale it.
I witnessed this fact one morning with coffee cup in hand, barely dressed, shocked to attention to see my 70-pound Coonhound balancing on top of the fence like a prehistoric bird with floppy ears. Six feet off the ground, she leaped, ears flapping and tail wagging, with a sound that can only be described as a Coonhound death cry. I dropped my coffee cup and ran half naked out of the house, screaming, “No, Maybelline!” But she was gone.
The problem is, that cold nose of hers for some reason can’t track her back to the house. I knew that before long I’d get a call from a neighbor to please come get my dog, because she’s running around, barking and whining to be let in. Coonhounds are sweet and loving by nature, but not particularly loyal, especially when it comes to food. If you feed my Coonhound, she will happily call your place home.
The last person blessed with such an appearance called in hysterics, saying the dog wouldn’t leave her alone and had gone through her screen door. This was puzzling, as I had recently added three feet to my fence. Then I saw the scuff marks, and realized in horror that she had climbed the wooden fence and squeezed between the 5-inch panels. I apologized profusely, saying I would pay for any damage, and listened to her lecture about what a bad dog owner I was, and that I must be neglecting the dog, because she was always starving and had to be fed to quiet down.
I offered to pay for the screen door, but she slammed it in my face, saying she never wanted to see that dog again. Maybelline, oblivious, licked my face and lay her head in my lap as we drove back up the hill. As I stroked her red velvet ears, I explained that she had to stop going to other people’s homes.
“It’s making me look bad. I mean, for goodness’ sake, Mabel, you are not skinny!” She moaned contentedly and began to snore. Oh, to be a dog, to live in the moment and have no worries! I laughed as I pulled up to my house and wondered what I would do about the fencing. Build it higher, because the lady did say Mabel was a sweet dog and looked
well cared for. She never said Mabel was a bad dog; she said I was a bad owner because my dog was wandering the neighborhood.
The next day, with wire clippers and more fencing, I filled those gaps in the fence as I watched Mabel race around in the snow with my aging Great Dane, howling at the neighbors’ dogs and getting them all to howl back. My Mabel sure makes me smile! Isn’t that all that matters? To some she might be considered a bad dog, but to me she is well worth the inconveniences of being her owner. Who really cares if she contributes nothing to the mortgage! She’s a dog!