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Ethical Dog Question - Not Hypothetical!


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The year I got my dog, an old man in my neighborhood got Joey, a husky puppy. Joey's owner was probably 70ish then, and that was 9 years ago. Since then, he's walked Joey twice a day past my house. Joey and my Buddy became friends, and I always knew when Joey and the old man were coming down the street, because Buddy has a very specific Joey-bellow of excitement.

 

A few times in the last year, the old man fell in my driveway when Joey tugged him too hard. The old man is too frail and unbalanced now to restrain Joey or keep himself up - Joey's gotta be close to 100 lbs. of strong dog. So... this winter... the inevitable happened. The old man slipped on some ice and fell, breaking his hip in several places.

 

The man's cousin is a fairly wealthy local businesswoman who doesn't like dogs. She's his only relative. Joey went to animal control, and then the woman put him in a kennel. The old man had surgery, pins put in his hip, and then a month of rehab. He's home now; it's been 3 months.

 

Now... all the dog-walking neighbors know this man, and his dog, and have been very concerned about the whole thing. A daughter of one of my neighbors (lives a couple miles away) called the business woman and offered to adopt Joey. So, he was neutered and rehomed, but still in this area.

 

Meanwhile... I stopped by the old man's house yesterday, and he's doing quite well. He stood and talked to me for about 15 minutes, leaning only on a cane. He's walking fairly well. Not well enough to control Joey, I'm certain. (And he's cantankerous enough that if he got Joey back, he'd be right back to trying to walk him.)

 

So: Old man has no idea where his dog is. I know exactly where his dog is - I found out immediately after visiting the man, when I ran into the mother of the woman who adopted Joey. We could probably broker a reunion or visitation at the ball field where Joey and all the local dogs have met every day for 9 years. The old man could probably visit the dog on a fairly regular basis if the local dog-walkers worked it out.

 

But the question is - yes or no? Is it better to let Joey settle in his new home and get to love his new owners, and to let the old man learn to cope with this loss? Would it be more painful to have them see each other, then have to separate again? I can see both sides, but in my heart it seems very, very cruel that the old man and the dog can't see each other. It's like a terrible dog movie with a sad ending. ::Sigh::

 

Mary

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Gosh, what a sticky situation. And unfortunately I have no answers.

 

All I can say is that I hope when I am old and no longer able to fully care for my dogs, that nobody would ever have the audacity to take them away from me without my consent. It is obvious that he is unable to fully care for his dog, but would it be impossible to find someone to help him? If I were the person who adopted Joey, I would never be able to essentially steal a beloved pet from this man. I would be offering to help walk and exercise the dog every day and do the basic dog care chores, but allow the rightful owner to enjoy the rest of his life living with his family member.

 

It seems downright cruel to have taken Joey away from his owner, and then not to inform the older man of the dog's whereabouts. If I were him, I'd be dying to know where my dog was. He doesn't know if Joey was dumped at the shelter and put to sleep a few days later. So to somewhat answer the actual question, I think the least that could be done would be to allow for visitation rights with the dog. He at least deserves to know that the dog is ok. It seems downright disrespectful for the current owner and the cousin to have fully deceived a valued elder of society and taken away such an important part of his life. That poor, poor man...

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How does the man not know where his dog is? His cousin adopted the dog out to this woman you know but the cousin never told him?

 

I would let the new owners decide what they want to do. And obviously they know whose dog it is (since they offered to adopt him from the cousin) so why haven't they been in touch with the man?

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That's a tough question.

 

Some dogs adapt very quickly to a new home and while they are overjoyed to see the old owner, they are just as happy to walk off with their new owners and their new life. That would be the idea situation for a reunion. But, if either Joey or his old owner (or the new owners) would be distressed by a reunion, then it would not be a good thing. How would you know which scenario would play out? I don't know. I do know that one of the dogs my daughter has fostered still, after several years, is overjoyed to see her when she visits and has absolutely no problem when she leaves (the dog was adopted by family members and so sees Lisa several times a year).

 

I guess I would first discuss this with Joey's new owner(s) and see how they felt about giving Joey and his owner one or more opportunities to be able to greet each other, like at the ball field if the old gent is up to going there. Supervised and set up that Joey couldn't hurt the old man, like having the gent sitting down and Joey under control and on leash (if he would be prone to jumping on his old owner or otherwise being too rough). I think that a "no" answer from them would provide the answer to your question.

 

If they were amenable to meeting Joey's old owner at the ball field, then that means a decision on your part. Joey's old owner, knowing that he could not care for Joey any more, might be glad to see him happy and in a new family - and therefore not worried about him or where he is - and content to go home knowing that Joey is loved and happy.

 

Or, maybe the best thing to do would be to tell the old gent that Joey was adopted to a family that loves and cares for him. That might be all he needs and wants to know to be content, or to at least know in his hear that Joey is happy and well.

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I would think that one should talk to both parties first. It may just be the very best of both worlds. Maybe he can join them on walks. After all, I suppose getting out is good for him as well. Having a reason to get out of the house?

I am certain that I would be furious if someone made that decision for me. Granted, a dog that large would probably not be the right choice.

 

If he actually wants a dog for a companion, and yes, I know, he has raised Joey, has anyone thought to check with the local rescues? Often they have a place a senior with a senior program. Something smaller that would be easier to handle for him? Yes, not his dog but that way maybe he could join dog walks and not be so focused on Joey.

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I really have no answer as to how Joey will respond, but I would chat to the new owners and see what they think. Who knows maybe they might be up for a timeshare arrangement, dogs have been known to adapt to two homes after a divorce.

 

I do want to share this link http://www.cinnamon.org.uk/, it is a charity in the UK that helps the elderly keep their pets at home, through volunters providing care assistance and if they are no longer able to keep their pet to help with rehoming, the stories on the site are very touching. I think it would be a great charity to replicate.

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Yikes. Did the man's cousin have financial power of attorney? And, the other legal question is is he living independently - making his own decisions, caring for himself - even if he's getting some housekeeping help here and there.

 

If he's currently living mostly independently, then he's got the right to know what happened to his dog. I know I'd be really p****d off. Has the gentleman himself brought up the issue of where Joey is? Was he trying to control Joey when he fell?

 

Based on just this information, I'd be tempted to let things be. Joey is in a good home, and if the gentleman isn't pining away, or saying how much he misses Joey, maybe it would be best to let things be. If he starts to ask around about where Joey is, all bets would be off, that's a different thing.

 

Good luck, this is a tough one.

 

Ruth

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Many years ago we had to give up a dog. We found her a very nice home in our town where she was a much better fit for the household. They said I could come visit her anytime. I did visit three times over about 6 months, but I didn't really think the visits were beneficial for either me or the dog so I stopped. I did however still want to know that she was happy and well so I drove/walked by whenever I was over that way just to see her. Sometimes she would be in the yard and I'd see her playing with the kids or the other dogs. That was much easier for me. I knew she was well and I didn't have to say goodbye again. For about ten years I would look for her in the yard. After that, I didn't see her anymore so I assume she died (she would have been 14-ish). I'm happy knowing she had a good life.

 

I would not arrange anything, but I would mention the dog. Perhaps just simply say you saw Joey or talked about Joey with 'so and so' and he's doing well. Then if he wants to know more, he can ask and maybe you can put him in touch with the the new owners and let them figure it out from there. This dog was his family and he has a right to know that his family is well.

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A lot of things occur to me.

First, it may be a mistake to cast the cousin as a dog-hating monster. For a person who is not into dogs, I think she may have done pretty well.

 

Put yourself in her shoes. She is the only living relative of an elderly cousin. She may or may not be close to this man. She has been called upon to act in his best interests.

 

For her the facts are these:

  • She is responsible for making arrangements for an elderly man who was seriously injured while walking a large dog.
  • The man has fallen several times while attempting to manage a big, strapping dog.
  • She is not a dog person. She may simply dislike dogs or she may be afraid of dogs. In any case, she is probably a poor candidate as an owner for this dog.

Given these facts, I think she did pretty well. What to do with a big, strapping Husky that is 9 years old? This dog is getting on in years and is probably well over half of its expected life-span. Many relatives would have surrendered the dog to Animal Control or simply had it euthanized. She did not do either of these things. She boarded the dog, very likely at her own expense, until someone stepped forward to ask for it.

 

As a “non-dog person” she is probably unaware of the strength of the bond between an owner and his pet dog. She was, however, aware of the danger that such an animal could pose to an elderly and invalid relative. Added to which, an aging dog and its attendant vet bills may have been expected to place a financial burden upon the man that was onerous.

 

The dog has a home. It is evidently settling in well. Although the dog would probably do OK with seeing his former owner from time to time (once he has bonded with the new people) the same may not be true for the elderly man. Might it not reopen the wound of separation over and over?

 

If it were me, I would want to know about the man’s quality of life in general. Does he have friends? Visitors? Is he able to go out? Perhaps he would enjoy short walks with me and my dog. He could be driven to a park which would get him out of the house, and enjoy visiting with my dog – perhaps throwing a ball – and just getting outdoors regularly.

 

Perhaps these things could be discussed with the cousin. She might welcome a suggestion that would improve her cousin’s quality of life. With her help, it might be possible to get an idea what the impact of seeing his former pet would have on him.

 

I agree that the situation is very sad for the man. And certainly the dog will require a period of adjustment to his new home. But at least he has a home. It could have turned out very differently.

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Just to clarify: I do not think the cousin is a dog-hating monster. I do think she really doesn't like dogs, and absolutely doesn't understand the bond in any way. But she could have just left the dog at the animal control, and he would have been given to the local shelter and rehomed. She paid for him to be kenneled for some months, and also paid for his neuter surgery. And she's somehow the contact/caregiver for a cantankerous, stubborn old man, and I absolutely get that it's a thankless, difficult job.

 

I suppose I'll leave it up to the new family to decide what to do; they're the ones who have to live with the choices. (A background worry for me would be that the old man - in his stubbornness - might decide to try to get the dog back, and might end up back in the hospital again in the near future. And then what? PTS?)

 

Mary

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I agree with Geonni, and would also wonder about the mental capacity of a senior person of that age. As you have described, he can be stubborn. I don't think I would let him know the whole story of what happened to the dog until you have talked to the other parties involved - the cousin and the new adopters. My hope is that he could handle knowing that his dog is in a good place with good people, and maybe enjoy some visits with his dog without it upsetting him too much.

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All I can add is that if it were me, I would have wanted some say in where my dog went, but since he (apparently?) wasn't given that courtesy, then at least he should know that his beloved pet is in a safe, caring home. Yes, the coisin may not be a dog person, but if she didn't discuss the dog's placement with the old man, then shame on her.

 

I like the suggestion of perhaps getting him a more suitable canine compamion or the members of his community making an effort to let him visit/interact with their pets. Speaking for myself, if I were aged and my pets were taken away from me, I'd have no real reason to continue on, if you know what I mean.

 

J.

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I guess it's different for everybody. I'm 62, and my current dog is nearly six. I think my next dog, which I will probably get when Sugarfoot turns 8 will be my last.

 

I don't want to leave a dog behind, although that could happen anytime - who knows when their number will come up? But I don't want someone else to be saddled with figuring out what to do with a dog when I'm gone. And it's all too common that dogs get put down or inappropriately placed when their owner dies.

 

I have a lot besides dogs going on in my life, and though I would miss the companionship and love that a dog brings, I have had many years of rewarding relationships with dogs. Life would go on and I have my writing, my artwork and photography, plus other things to absorb myself with.

 

If I am able, I will do shelter visits and maybe some small dog or cat fostering in my later years. Then I would still get to run my fingers through the fur of a purring cat or wagging dog, and if my time runs out, that animal will have a safety net.

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Many people make arrangements for their dogs in the event that they're not in a position to be able to care for them any longer.

 

In my case, the rescues I've adopted from have a clause in the adoption contract that the dog goes back to them. I like that, as I know my dogs will be well taken care of when I'm gone, without it being a burden on anyone else. And I've made sure a donation will accompany them back to their respective rescues for their care.

 

Should I get another non-rescue next time around (as I'm considering), I'll still make a legal stipulation as to where the dog will go (probably one of these rescues), along with a donation for their care.

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Exactly. My close friends (those who would be getting my dogs) and family know what I want done with my pets, and my directive is in writing. It may not be enforceable, but as my siblings are animal lovers too, I am confident that they will respect my wishes should something happen to me.

 

J.

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We have one child who will be responsible for taking care of or making accommodations for our animals. She is very dog-savvy and would make good choices. Celt would go to her; Megan would go to one son; and Dan would be returned to Anna with her to rehome as she saw fit. The cats? I think Lisa or DIL would take Max in a heartbeat, and Lisa would see that Smokey was well-homed.

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I most certainly hope that when I am an elder no one makes a decision for me about my animals or takes one of them away from me without my consent and full knowledge. I find it appalling that this was done, but not at all surprising.

 

Having said that, I might be reluctant to get involved in a family situation and would be unlikely to inform the man where his dog was taken, although I would be very likely to talk to the dog's new people and feel them out to see if they would be comfortable contacting the man who had the dog.

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