My journey in dog adoptions
When I first started actively volunteering and helping animals, it came from a place of love. “I love animals so I want to help them”. As innocent as that thought is, I’ve now realised that it is also a dangerous one.
Love is an extremely strong feeling, one which often makes you act without rationale. We have seen so many movies, heard so many stories and perhaps even experienced it ourselves - the crazy things that we do when in love.
Love does make a great story to tell. It brings about strong emotion within ourselves. It makes us tear up when things fall apart and rise from the ashes with the feeling that hope springs eternal.
But when it comes to animal welfare, is that the best course of action? I’m not so sure. The funny thing is, if you didn’t care for animals you would make excellent rationale decisions when it comes to serving them. But if you didn’t care for animals, you wouldn’t get join the welfare circus to begin with.
We’ve seen love impede people’s decision making when it comes to animal welfare. There have been far too many incidents of homes hoarding dogs. Even in my own case, I have picked up puppies and got them adopted only because I love them. I honestly thought I was doing the best thing in their interest. And thankfully they are well looked after even today. But does that happen with every dog that gets adopted from the streets? I’m not so sure.
The role of death
The primary reason why I used to be so fixated on getting pups off the road and into homes is because the threats they face on a daily basis - traffic, illnesses, other animals to name a few. The stories of pups being run over by speeding vehicles still brings nightmares. Living in that frame of mind isn’t healthy and also possible why I feel counselling and therapy should become common practice for all animal volunteers.
To ensure the dog doesn’t die would make me go to great lengths to remove the dog from the threats he is facing. But now as I reflect, I begin to realise that these actions also come with a cost.
Perception of death
Death in itself is natural and beautiful. It is only extremely painful when it happens to ones we love. And I love dogs. Love is once again taking away the objectivity of death. A single dog rescued from the streets and into a home is going to directly cause the death of hundreds if not thousands of chickens, fish and other animals for food. How do I justify saving one life that I love at the cost of thousands others? Why do I get to value that life more? I don’t have answers to these. I understand why animal activists would outright brand me as spiciest and they wouldn’t be wrong. If life is about finding balance then I wouldn’t be against a vegan diet for dogs. The options on the market might not be full-proof yet. But I am hopeful science will solve that problem with time. The species appropriate diet debate also discounts the fact that we aren’t really allowing dogs species appropriate behaviour. Wild dogs and other wild animals killing each other is natural. But pet dogs aren’t living in a natural environment. We have interfered and continue to do so in how dogs eat, move and think. If there would be an option to feed them without killing more animals, shouldn’t that be a thought that is encouraged rather than dismissed?
The cost of freedom
I’ve tested covid positive twice. Once with symptoms and once without. Both times I was isolated but the experience was completely different. When I had symptoms I was entirely thinking of being nursed back to health. So despite my freedom to wander being taken away, I was still relatively okay because I knew I wanted to get better. But in 2021 when I was asymptomatic, I had 17 days of isolation without any illness. I felt fine physically but emotionally it was torture.
Now I think of our street dogs who have been so accustomed to full freedom over their life for thousands of years. Because of my love for them, I have been shifting them from the bad place - the road to the good place - a home. But it pains me to write this now knowing that I have shifted them from the place of freedom - the road to the place of captivity - a home.
How to weigh freedom and safety?
We all know that the lack of freedom can have such a negative impact on all species. Even if people treated their slaves with love, the slaves still had little to no freedom over their actions. A pet dog, who spends most of his time in captivity, goes through a similar life because we’ve taken away so many opportunities for the dog to adapt and meet his natural needs.
Despite being fed meals with all the right ingredients why are so many dogs still falling ill?
Let’s take a look at a common scenario.
A friend’s dog kept getting loosies accompanied by sporadic vomiting. She was given antibiotics, natural treatments and a bunch of other meds. But nothing would work. The veterinary then asked the parent to do an allergy test and they found out their dog was allergic to chicken. For four months the dog was always fed chicken until they found out that is the problem. The dog has no freedom over what she’s been fed, despite the thousands of options out there in the world.
A street dog has limited options, has to scavenge for whatever he can find. But he knows he can stop eating something if that’s making him sick.
A similar observation is of pet dogs swallowing things they shouldn’t be ideally consuming. Labrador retrievers, sadly, have become the face of this issue. Pet dogs are swallowing objects which aren’t edible - something which should be absolutely shocking but is completely normalised. I don’t remember a single instance in my entire life when I’ve witnessed a street dog consume a non-edible item. They know what is food and what is not food. The fact that pet dogs are still swallowing pencil tops means their environmental factors including the people living there are causing them to do it.
A look at our Indies/mix breed dogs/ mutts/ world dogs/ gavthi dogs/ village dogs/ streeties
For the sake of ease of language, let’s call dogs who don’t have a human home as a street dogs. They aren’t necessarily stray unless they’ve been abandoned or relocated. The road is their home, the cafe doorstep is their safe space.
Street dogs have autonomy over their entire body. They can eat, sleep, move and play whenever they want. The ones who haven’t been caught by the sterilisation programmes also have autonomy over reproduction. They are so good at adapting to situations and circumstances in order to give them the best chance at survival. This dog might have a higher chance of an early death as compared to a pet dog but the life isn’t terrible. Some might even say they live a happier and more balanced life.
How does this impact adoptions?
As I found the hard way, a dog who has lived with freedom for thousands of years, might not be able to fully come to terms with the life provided by a loving and caring family. One of the humans in the pet industry that I look up to is Kim Brophey who made this statement which has stuck deep in my brain - A captive animal is fundamentally handicapped.
If I am consciously taking a domesticated but free pet and shifting him to a captive environment, then it becomes my responsibility to be aware of the circumstances that have led to that moment.
There are two factors that I take into consideration - the existing environment of the dog and the family adopting.
The existing environment
In an ideal world, the human elements of an environment should be managed in order to provide a safe passage for street dogs. Stricter animal laws, stricter vehicle laws, speed breakers, education programmes with societies are some of the things which will help humans and street dogs co-exist better. But these are all long term solutions which will take time to come into effect, if they ever do. So until then, if the human elements in the dog’s environment is proving a threat, then I feel it is justified to shift the dog and into a home.
Is the threat of traffic big enough to shift them? I am not quite sure yet. Street dogs are quite exceptional when it comes to navigating cars and bikes. Of course, there are accidents. But is that threat valid enough to take their freedom away and move them into captivity? I’m on the edge so until I know better I will choose not to.
The adopting family
This part of the adoption process is also extremely critical in deciding the wellbeing of the dog. The dog is going to live there for his entire life. They better be good people. I do believe that people who choose to adopt are making a better moral decision. Adopters are somewhat aware of what they are signing up for. But that has changed because we, as a society, have changed how we look at dogs.
When we are taking away a dog’s freedom to behave naturally, there is going to be a reaction. We have been led to believe that these reactions are behaviour issues and can be solved by a trainer. The conversation of giving the dog more freedom isn’t even considered. I have seen so many posts saying Indie dogs are smart and easy to train. But this doesn’t mean they will get over the problems they face from being unable to perform normal behaviour.
Understanding what is best for the dog is necessary to know how to meet the dog’s needs. The adopter’s family needs to know this. Most adopters see dogs as pets, a companion for the family members. They even send their dog to training school just as a child is sent to kindergarten. But the school is making the dog live by our rules by forcing basic obedience. The school is not making the humans provide an environment for the dog in his best interest. Considering our rules aren’t that great, the dog is often unable to cope. We term these dogs as “acting out” or “misbehaving” and the family decides to give the dog back, blaming the dog.
Think of how cruel it has been for the dog, who for no fault of his own, has gone from the street to a home and then either back on the street or a shelter. Is this really in the best interest of the dog? If the dog training school claims that it solves this genetical and environmental problem then it is fundamentally erred in its philosophy and is flawed by design.
If you’re a volunteer, the blog isn’t intended to dissuade you from adoptions. But instead it is to make you more mindful about our actions and the consequences they have on the lives of the animals we so dearly love.
If you have thoughts on this topic, I would love to discuss! You can comment here or email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
About me: I'm Kapil, a certified Family Dog Mediator. Honestly, I am trying to live a boring, calm and uneventful life. A life which our dogs would be happy to live.
If you need help with your dog, you can book a session as well.