When is pet rescue really theft?

Clifton Benjamin is suing a New York animal shelter for stealing his dog and giving it to another person. Benjamin seeks a million dollars in damages, according to most news sources.

 

What happened?

 

It appears that Benjamin lost his dog in the Fall of last year and the shelter held the Belgian Malinois, named Eto, for about three weeks. According to his lawsuit, Benjamin made several attempts to repossess Eto and provided photos of himself with the dog.

 

On their part, the Town of Islip says that Benjamin did not provide paperwork that proved he was the dog owner, the microchip number he provided did not match the one on Eto’s chip, and that there were multiple people claiming ownership of the dog, who is the same breed that brought down a known ISIS leader.

 

The language used by Benjamin’s team is troubling. His lawyer refers to Eto as “chattel,” a term that was used for wives back in the middle ages when both dogs and women were the legal property of men, not their loving companions. Benjamin also founds it outrageous that the shelter neutered Eto, making it impossible to breed him and sell expensive puppies.

 

Bad news coverage

 

There are many holes in the news coverage of this story. Did Benjamin not provide veterinary records or a rabies certificate? Did the shelter advertise the lost dog in the newspaper? The shelter claims that Benjamin had already transferred ownership of Eto to a third party. We need to know more about that.

 

Many animal lovers have rescued and adopted dogs and cats, so it behooves us to consider when a dog has been forfeited and when a dog has been stolen.

 

A dog has been stolen if …

 

  • He has been removed from the owner’s private property without the owner’s consent.
  • The owner has presented proof of ownership, such as rabies vaccination documents or a receipt of purchase or adoption, and the dog has not been returned to the owner.
  • The owner has a microchip certificate that matches the animal’s chip, and the dog has not been returned to the owner.
  • If the shelter holding the dog has not made a reasonable effort to locate the dog’s owner. In most cases, the shelter must, at minimum, publish a notice in the local newspaper stating that a dog has been found and describing the dog.
  • If multiple people claim ownership of the dog, the shelter must make a reasonable effort to determine which claim has the most convincing evidence. Unless the animal has been abused, the shelter should give benefit of the doubt to someone who can document ownership.

 

A dog has been forfeited and may be given in adoption to another owner if …

 

  • The dog shows signs of abuse or abandonment, especially poor nutrition, parasites, damaged paws, scars, or injuries.Someone claims to own the dog, but cannot show a record of veterinary care, minimally vaccinations or proof of purchase or adoption.
  • No one claims the dog within a week of the dog’s first day in the shelter. 

 

 

Pictured above is a Belgian Malinois who was trained to serve in the U.S. Air Force 673rd Security Forces Squadron. Photo courtesy of Justin Connaher.

Ace your rescue dog application: 15 tips

You want to rescue a dog that’s had a hard life. Maybe his first owners kept him lonely and chained up. Maybe he didn’t get good veterinary care. You are a generous person who wants to do the right thing. 

Then you take 45 minutes to fill out a dog rescue application and find you were declined because you don’t have specific “breed experience.” Or some other reason that feels wrong. Understanding the concerns behind pet rescue questionnaires can really help you navigate the process. 

Tip one: Understand rescue sites. 

A lot of people end up at Petfinder.com because of its search rankings. However, it is not the only, or even the best, platform to find a dog. Rescueme.org is a great, nationwide site. Also research specific breed rescues, like Husky Haven of Florida which specializes in the husky breed. There is a rescue for almost every breed of dog or cat you are interested in. 

Be aware that most of the dogs on these sites are already owned by rescues. And you will have to navigate their unique processes. Some dog owners get frustrated and put their own dogs on a rescue site, directly, instead of finding a rescue organization to take them. These ads read like, “I’m having a baby, and it kills me, but I have to give up my fur princess.” Or “I’m moving and can’t take my dog.” These listings may offer you an opportunity to adopt a dog without having to deal with a rescue. 

Tip two: Keep filling out applications

If you don’t receive a reply to your query or application within 48 hours, there’s a good chance the rescue has lost your application or they adopted out the dog while you were filling out your application. It’s likely they will not circle back around to the other people who applied and let them know that the dog now has a home. You should not waste time trying to figure out what happened. 

You do have the right to ask an adoption agency how many applications they already have for a specific dog. If they won’t tell you, there’s a good chance you are dealing with shady people. There are good rescues and bad rescues. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to separate them out when all you have is a name and website. 

Tip three: You must have a fenced yard for a big dog.

The rescue dog application may give you the impression that a fenced yard would be a nice thing to have.

Wrong. It is an absolute requirement.

The rescue dog application may ask how tall your fence is. If you are looking at any dog bigger than a mini, you need a fence of at least six feet in height. It’s a good idea to have your fence built before starting the rescue process. 

Tip four: You must have your other animal(s) up to date on shots.

While evaluating your rescue dog application, the rescue agency will call your vet and ask how many pets you have and whether they are up to date on all vaccines. If they are not, you will not get the pet.

It doesn’t matter if your indoor-only, twenty year old cat has not gone outside for eighteen years. If you want to adopt a rescue dog, you will have to take your cat to the vet and get her shots.

Tip five: Pets are not disposable.

If you have ever dumped an animal, you are not eligible for another pet. Dumping can be defined as: leaving your dog or cat behind when you move or opening the car door and letting your pet run off into the wilderness.

If you have taken an animal to the pound or given it away to another person, you should carefully think through your reasons for getting another pet. 

Think about what you would do to protect a child. If you won’t do almost as much to protect your pet, don’t get a pet.

  1. This means, for instance, if you have to evacuate for a storm, take ALL YOUR PETS.
  2. If you are moving from New York to California, TAKE YOUR PETS. Don’t give me this, “He’ll be happier with ….” bullshit. No he won’t. Just figure it out, people.
  3. If your fiance says, “me or the dog,” choose the dog. Talk about a bad trade.
  4. When you have a baby, keep the dog. If the dog ends up liking your four year old more than he likes you, keep the dog.

Tip six: The retractable leash question.

The correct answer is “No, I don’t believe in retractable leashes. I do not own and will never use a retractable leash.”

Yes, your rescue dog application will contain some items that are trick questions, designed to trap the unwary.

Truth: If you get a forty pound dog or a bigger one, you will quickly learn not to use a retractable leash. Especially after your dog has circled your legs three times with the leash and left you unable to walk.

I see people using retractable leashes and not breaking a hip. It’s always a tiny dog. It’s still a dumb idea, but not as dumb as walking a malamute on a retractable leash.

Tip seven: The crate question

The correct answer is: “Yes, I am familiar with crate training, and I will crate my dog for short periods of time in conjunction with house training. I will place treats and toys in the crate to make sure it is a positive experience for my dog, and I will never use a crate as a punishment.”

Truth: No matter how nice you make a crate, it’s a crate. Any dog who is crated every day comes to hate his crate. You really do need a fenced yard where your dog can go potty when you’re not up for walking him. 

If the rescue dog application specifically asks you how many hours a day you plan to crate your dog, waffle madly. “In general, not for long. I would appreciate your guidance on this matter,” might be the only safe answer. There is a wide range of opinion on how long you should crate a dog. 

Tip eight: The “How will you discipline your dog?” question.

The correct answer is: “I subscribe to positive dog training methodology. Dogs should be rewarded for good behaviors, but never hit or yelled at.” 

It might be a good idea to line up a dog trainer in advance, so that you can put her name on your application along with contact information. If you have a nice, long conversation with this trainer, you can even put her down as a reference. 

Note: If you plan to beat up your dog, don’t get a dog.

Unlike a child, your dog will not understand why you are punching or kicking. Don’t get a dog as a punching bag. And, if you need a punching bag, don’t have children either.

Tip eight: The “Do you plan to move any time within the next six months?” question

The correct answer is no. Just no, not maybe or “I don’t know.”

Truth: You can safely move with a dog or cat, so long as you use some common sense and advance planning. My dog has changed houses with me four times in the past eight years. She doesn’t like it, but she didn’t get lost or have a psychotic episode.

I would also note that dogs are often more resilient than people, and they don’t hold grudges like people. “I can’t believe you moved me to a place that doesn’t have a Forever 21!” is something you will never hear from your dog.

Tip nine: the “who is this animal for?” question

The correct answer is “me.”

If you are getting an animal primarily because you know that your husband will be devastated when your current dog dies, the correct answer is still “me.”

Your rescue dog application will be declined if you disclose that you are getting this animal as a gift or for your children or for your grandmother or for your other dog or cat who is lonely during the day while you are at work.

Tip ten: the “Where will this dog be during the day when you are not home?,” “How many hours a day will this dog be alone?” and “Where will this dog sleep?” questions.

The correct answers: Your dog will be in your house during the day when you are not home, and not in a crate and not in your back yard or front yard.

When calculating how long the dog will be alone, consider the other members of your family. Could your husband work at home? If so, add those hours to the hours your dog will have companionship. Similarly, if your daughter comes home for lunch, calculate that time.

If you live alone, you should really try to adopt two dogs, preferably litter mates. Sibling dogs love each other for ever, and they take the pressure off you to provide all the companionship your puppy needs.  

Your dog will sleep in a dog bed. If you are applying for a puppy, your puppy will sleep in a dog bed which has been placed inside your bedroom.

Truth: If you actually get a puppy, he may cry all night long, allowing no one to sleep, unless you put him on your bed or in a crate with another dog.

Tip eleven: “How much does it cost to own and care for a dog?”

The correct answer is: “Between $1000 and $5000 a year, depending on the size of the dog, its age, and health issues. However, I have also set up an emergency fund of $2000 to cover teeth cleaning, emergency care, and treatment for any chronic health issues that might come up.”

Truth: If you don’t have are struggling financially, it is not a good time to get a dog. If, however, you are financially stable, if you own your home, if you have savings and a paid off car, it is a good idea to mention those things, whether the application asks for them or not. Rescues do, legitimately, want assurance that their dog is going to a secure home where financial problems will not endanger her veterinary care or stability. 

Tip twelve: “In the past ten years, have you owned any pets that are not on your list of current pets? What happened to them?”

The correct answer is “Princess died in the vet’s office after a heroic struggle with cancer.” It is okay to have euthanized your animal, if he or she had a fatal illness.

If you reveal, on your rescue dog application, that you ever lost a pet, you will not get another animal from a rescue. Even breeders have a problem with lost pets.

Truth: If you plan to lose your dog or let your dog run wild in the neighborhood, don’t get a dog.  The good people on Nextdoor.com will crucify you if they have to go looking for your dog more than once.

Similarly, if you disclose that any animal of yours was killed in traffic, you will probably be disqualified by the rescue organization.

Tip thirteen: “How old are you?”

The correct answer is: Under sixty and over twenty.

Age discrimination continues unchecked at rescue organizations. Their reasoning is that your adopted dog may live to be twelve and your adopted cat may live to be twenty. It is true that, as we age, we need to have plans in place for our pets, should they outlive us. However, many rescues don’t actually “sell” you a dog. They adopt it out to you in return for a donation. If that item is in your adoption paperwork, your orders are clear. If you have a terminal illness, you take your animal back to the rescue organization. 

Truth: If you are getting a puppy or a high-energy dog, this dog will need a LOT of attention and exercise. Retirees can be great adopters if they have the energy to walk a dog every day and get him to the dog park for six or more hours a week. You can also put agility equipment in your back yard and teach him to run up and down the ramp, through the tunnel, etc. The issue is: Are you still fit and energetic enough for a fit and energetic dog? If the answer is “no,” you will want to adopt an older dog, at least six years old, with a resume of couch surfing. 

Older dogs and cats need homes, and rescues can do a good job of matching your needs if you say you want a low-energy dog.  

Tip fourteen: “Under what circumstances would you surrender this animal?”

The correct answer is something like, “Only death will part us” or, “If I am diagnosed with a terminal illness.” 

The main thing is not to say that you would dump your dog at a shelter if he pees the rug or if you get married or have a baby or get a new job or move to California.

See tip five, and don’t make me get on my soapbox, again.

Tip fifteen: “What will you do when the puppy pees the house?”

Correct answer: I will clean up the pee without scolding the puppy. I understand that house training a puppy involves praising the puppy for peeing outside, and making sure the puppy has adequate opportunities to go outside. I will be patient and understanding. And pee does not freak me out.

Okay, the puppy IS GOING to pee the house. A LOT. Puppies and inappropriate peeing go hand in hand. You don’t get the cuteness without the responsibility. Honestly, many of those You tubes about cute puppies need to be replaced with films of puppies peeing the house. Over and over and over again. There’s a good chance it will take six months or more before your puppy does not pee the house at least three times a week. If you are not prepared for this, do not get a puppy.

Similarly, if cleaning up urine is absolutely the worst thing you can think of, do not get a puppy. or a dog. Or a cat. And please don’t have children. They pee too.

In conclusion, there are good rescues and bad rescues. The good ones respond to questions, read applications, make phone calls, and start a dialog with applicants. Unfortunately, you cannot always identify the bad rescues right away. If they don’t get back to you after you have asked a question, that’s a sign of an irresponsible rescue. Also look at their application. If it’s more than two pages, and you can’t fill it out on line, they don’t respect your time. If they ask for an unreasonable number of references, in addition to your veterinarian and dog trainer, they don’t respect your time or your relationship with your peers.