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We receive many calls for help through the South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter Community Outreach program, but this week I received one of the most difficult. The obviously upset owner, clearly desperate, needed help finding a home for his dog. The dog was showing some aggressive behavior and the family was fearful for their children.

Strike one. As we continued talking, they explained that the dog also didn’t get along with other animals. Strike two. And finally, the dog had bitten someone during an incident. Strike three.

Each strike makes my heart sink further.

In between each strike, the family described a dog with some wonderful qualities: Very well-trained, perfectly housebroken and a wonderful companion. If only he could find a home with no other pets, with no children, with someone who understands him, they are sure he would be fine.

There has to be options, right?

And this is how it goes for too many dogs … 80 percent wonderful, but that other 20 percent potentially dangerous.

Every time a call like this comes in, I want to have a solution to offer the family. Just like when an aggressive dog comes into the shelter, we want a solution. We want that magical place where dogs can be “fixed,” where they can be “saved,” where we can feel good sending them, knowing that they won’t hurt someone and they will be happy. The sad fact is, we are looking for a miracle, and not a likely one.

It’s called behavioral euthanasia and for some dogs it winds up being the only option, the last resort. It’s not evil, but it is heartbreaking and devastating. It’s made worse when an owner reaches out to their veterinarian or clinic and is turned away because they won’t euthanize healthy animals. A family may have to contact multiple veterinarians in order to find help.

When we stigmatize the decision, or make families jump through hoops to do something that is already incredibly difficult, we increase the chances that the situation isn’t handled responsibly.

We increase the chance that these dangerous dogs are let loose and brought into the shelter as strays. We increase the chance of the family lying or downplaying the dog’s issues in order to find placement.  We increase the chances of someone getting hurt.

If you are trying to figure out what to do about your dog’s behavior issues, your first step is a visit to your veterinarian to rule out any medical issues that may be contributing to their behavior.

If the behavior persists, I always recommend a trainer or behaviorist as the next step. Most behavior issues can be addressed through these avenues. Behavioral euthanasia should only be considered when aggressive behavior puts other animals or people at risk.

If, after trying everything they can, a family is still faced with behavioral euthanasia, they should be treated with the same grace and respect we afford a family who lost a pet to sickness or age. Making and following through with the decision to let a loved pet go in order to keep others safe is one of the most difficult decisions a pet owner could be faced with.

To submit an adoption form for one of the Pets of the Week or another animal at the shelter, visit https://southjerseyregionalanimalshelter.org

Source: South Jersey Regional Animal Shelter: What if my dog shows aggressive behavior?

Posted in 2021, SJRAS Articles