I can’t remember another time in my adult life that I’ve been faced with such a heart wrenching and difficult decision. Working with dogs and families the past few years, it has been imperative that I keep an open mind and consider the best outcome for everyone. Sometimes, it is to encourage and support families through training and management that cultivates a forever family. Sometimes, it is to rehome or return a dog to the rescue or breeder they were acquired from. No matter what the situation, it’s never an easy or simple process.
There can be a lot of judgement and stigma that comes with rehoming a dog. I’ve experienced quite an earful of passionate views and opinions on this topic over my 15+ years as a professional dog trainer. No question, I’ve even grown as a person and altered my own beliefs on this matter as well. However, one thing I never understood, and was certain I would never have the experience of, was returning a dog after several months or years.
I wish I could still be wondering about this anomaly. But, now with tear-filled blurry eyes and an immense feeling of emptiness, I can say that I do understand. We adopted Dolly, a beautiful Great Pyrenees Border Collie mix, from a rescue after she had spent her first year of life malnourished and neglected in someone’s backyard. She was scrawny, unsocialized and nervous when we drove the 4 hours to meet her. (You can read more about that experience here). She was also adorable, young, and confused.
The next 17 months we rearranged our home and lifestyle to accommodate her needs, train and nurture her. Our only expectation was that she would be a part of our family and we could earn some of her trust. I didn’t consider that a lofty goal because I’ve guided hundreds of dogs and their families in developing a mutual bond and relationship. Yet, somehow this was different.
I spent countless hours talking to and messaging colleagues about Dolly’s progress – or lack thereof. I was convinced that I just had to be missing something or doing something wrong. Challenges kept arising, but I was committed to making it work. I was sure we just needed to give it more time. So, there’s the crux. That is the reason I now understand rehoming, returning, and owner surrender after the initial adoption adjustment period of 3-6 months. We were committed to making it work, doing everything we could, and just needed to give her more time. In my career, I have repeatedly seen more time, tenderness and training transform dogs and families into the right fit for each other.
Unfortunately, in our case, time would never be enough. There were too many variables out of our control. Her genetics and trauma before coming to us shaped who she is. Some things just couldn’t be altered to help her cope successfully and fit into our family. Unquestionably, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. After many tears and consultations, we made the heartbreaking decision to return Dolly to the rescue. I assure you, there is much more to this story. There are multiple living, breathing, thinking, feeling beings that are considered and affected in these situations. Sure, there are cases where people respond rashly, and irresponsibly dump a dog. Yet, there are also people who seek to responsibly rehome or surrender their pet because of deeper issues. There are layers to our experiences and things are rarely what they appear to the outside eye. I bet that’s true for others who have been faced with similar circumstances.
Thankfully, I am surrounded by supportive professionals and friends who have also been in the same boat. The funny thing is, I had no idea! I’d never heard of their heartbreak and struggle until I dejectedly reached out to discuss our options for giving Dolly her best life. It was through their conversations and kindness that I could recognize the strength and courage it takes to release a dear fur friend to find a better fit for her needs. I’m thankful for the rescue that took her back, and the foster family that is caring for her until she finds her forever home. I’ve learned the lesson firsthand that time and training aren’t always enough, and now I understand.