Where do dogs in animal welfare come from?
There’s a common misconception that all dogs in animal welfare are somehow faulty or broken and should, therefore, not be adopted as they will not make good pets. In reality, the vast majority have absolutely nothing wrong with them. Most are absolutely wonderful pets just waiting for the right home. If you adopt from a reputable, responsible animal welfare that takes care in assessing behaviour and health before considering rehoming a dog, you should be just fine.
These are some of the most common reasons, in our experience, why dogs are surrendered. Some of these are specific to FAW work and the area in which we work; others apply to animal welfares everywhere.
- Finances. Owner can’t afford the dog/s anymore. This is the main reason why dogs get surrendered to FAW, particularly since the Covid-19 lockdown has left so many people jobless.
- Lost dogs. Many wonderful dogs get lost and are never reunited with owners. These make up a large proportion of dogs in shelters and it is why microchipping your pet is so important.
- Dumped dogs. We have rehomed several dogs that were literally just dumped by the side of the road or even in Fisantekraal, often by people from the suburbs. Check out Bibi, Vlekkie, and Caspar and Tazzie‘s stories.
- Boss’s dogs. There are many dogs (and cats) in Fisantekraal that have been given to an employee living there by their employer from a wealthier neighbourhood (such as Joe the Dachshund). Sometimes the employee doesn’t feel that they can say no and will take the dog to make their boss happy…and then bring it to us to rehome it. We feel that it is unconscionable behaviour from people who have resources but choose to dump their problems onto people who are already struggling.
- Roaming. More often than not, homes in the areas in which we work have no or insufficient fences or walls to keep dogs in. Many people chain their dogs up to keep them safe but there are also people who do not want to do this to their dog. The dogs then roam and are at risk of being hit by cars, attacked by people and other dogs, or running off. In order to keep them safe, the owners may surrender them.
- Biting. The vast majority of dogs surrendered for biting have either never actually bitten anyone (mostly, these are ‘mouthy’ dogs which are misinterpreted, or they snap to warn people off but don’t actually bite). In the vast majority of cases, on further investigation, it turns out that the dog was provoked into biting. In almost all cases, basic training and a calm, experienced home resolves the issue. We always try to assess the behaviour before making decisions and, if dogs that are surrendered to us for severe or unprovoked aggression are not rehomed.
- Threats from people. Dogs in the township, particularly those that roam the street, tend to be pretty territorial (bearing in mind that those dogs don’t have a defined yard and, therefore, see the street as part of their territory), often forming pack-like groups to guard ‘their’ block. When people walk or cycle past, some dogs will chase or even bite them. Some dogs do attack and injure people badly but, in most cases, they are an annoyance or they frighten people (understandably so), or they nip at and damage people’s clothing and belongings. In some cases, the victim will then expect the dog’s owner to reimburse them (which many people in this impoverished area can’t afford to do) or threaten to kill the dog. Some of these dogs do get attacked after harassing passersby – FAW has treated plenty of dogs that have been stabbed, hit with a panga, kicked or beaten, had rocks or boiling water thrown at them, etc. because of this. Their owners may choose to surrender them to keep the dog safe and to prevent them from scaring or harming people.
- Chasing, harassing, or killing livestock. We operate in what is still a fairly rural area and many people in the township keep chickens, goats, and pigs. For many of these people, those animals are their income stream and only means of feeding their family. Therefore, dogs which chase or kill chickens, etc. are generally not tolerated. We’ve dealt with cases where the dog has killed a neighbour’s livestock and its owner has to pay for the killed animals, which can run into hundreds or even thousands of Rands. In some cases, dogs are killed, often hung, because of chasing or killing livestock.
On the farms around our area which keep livestock OR which welcome members of the public (e.g. for wine tastings) there are a few farmers who have been known to shoot roaming dogs on sight because of the threat that they could pose to sheep, cattle, pigs, etc. or because they don’t want them wandering into the public areas. Loose dogs that harass large animals like cattle are also at risk of injury from being kicked. Farm dogs that can’t be fenced in securely are often placed on chains; if the owner doesn’t want to chain the dog or it keeps getting off its chain, owners may surrender it in order to keep it safe.
- Old age. Sometimes dogs are surrendered because they are ‘old’ (which doesn’t always mean it is actually old – some of them are only 4 or 5 years old!). This can be because the owner wants a new dog but, in many cases, being an old dog in the township is dangerous because young dogs, particularly those that have formed a pack-like group, often attack elderly dogs, sometimes killing them.
- ‘Not doing their job‘. Dogs are often kept purely for security, not as pets. We have had many dogs surrendered over the years because they were ‘too friendly’ and made poor watch/guard dogs.
- Accommodation / Moving. These days, there is less and less pet-friendly accommodation out there, especially in the lower-priced category – and particularly for dogs. Sometimes body corporates change the rules and people have to rehome their pets unexpectedly, or the person is forced to move and can’t find pet-friendly accommodation. We also take in a few animals belonging to homeless people who have to move due to area development, and then aren’t able to take their animal with them.
- Greenville. This is the new low-cost housing development growing alongside Fisantekraal. Many people are moving to Greenville now, some from Fisantekraal, others from Klipheuwel or other areas. The Greenville homes were not built with boundary walls/fences and they have very small yards. Therefore, dogs either get chained up or they will roam the street, and, in cases where people have many dogs, there may not be space for all of them.
- Farmer has banned dogs. The dogs belonging to farm labourers are sometimes problematic due to breeding, terrorising livestock, barking, or intruding on areas where the public would visit. On some farms, the farmers get tired of trying to resolve all the issues and bans all dogs. Some of these dogs end up surrendered to us. This is why we desperately need volunteers who can assist us on the farms to get these situations under control.
- Pooing in the yard. Yes, believe it or not, this is a pretty common reason why people surrender dogs to FAW.
- Digging up the garden. In Fisantekraal, this is particularly problematic for people who grow vegetables which are food for their family or sold as an income. Often, the dog will be chained up to stop it from damaging the crop. If the owner doesn’t want to chain the dog or there isn’t space to do so, they may surrender it to us instead.
- Behavioural issues. Very often, these are simple issues that could be resolved with training, such as jumping up on people or mouthing (which is misinterpreted as biting).
- New puppy. The owners get a puppy and don’t want the adult dog anymore. We also often get dogs that have had a litter of puppies and the people decide to keep the babies and ditch the mother.
- Divorce/separation or other personal problems. Life happens and sometimes it is impossible for the pets to stay with their owners.
- Owner/family illness or disability. People with compromised immune systems are sometimes advised by their doctor to not keep pets due to risk of zoonoses. Disability may make it tough to care for a pet due to mobility issues. Additionally, illness and disability also impact on finances and accommodation.
- Death. The owner passes away and there is no one to take their animals. We recommend that everyone has a will in which it is clearly stated what should become of their pets.
- Baby. People either don’t want a dog around, or they think the dog won’t like the baby or will harm it. Having a baby and a dog at the same time is a lot of work and people may simply not have enough hours in the day to walk, train, and interact with the dog when they have a new baby.
- Children. More often than not, on investigation, the children have been chasing or harassing the dog, which retaliated by snapping or biting.
- Just one litter. Many of the dogs and puppies that end up in welfare are from the people who thought that their dog should have a litter before being sterilised (a myth), or wanted to ‘experience the joy of having puppies’, or they didn’t think they needed to sterilise their dog, or they waited too long, or they thought they could sell the puppies but nobody bought them, or they really just didn’t think about it. These may often be well cared-for household pets but their owners were just misguided. They then struggle to find homes or they find what they think are good homes but those people then let the dog breed, and so on. It does not take long to have a huge amount of homeless dogs as a result of that ‘just one litter’.
- Emigration. Not everyone can take their pets when they emigrate. Sometimes a dog is too anxous, too old, or has a health condition (e.g. flat-faced dogs like pugs and bulldogs don’t do well in planes), which makes it impossible to take them. It costs tens of thousands of Rands to send a pet overseas so it may be beyond the owner’s finances to afford this OR they won’t have a pet-friendly place to live when they get there. In some cases, people emigrate to countries with breed-specific legislation that prevents the dog from going there, such as pit bulls.
- Work. People start working long hours or travelling for work. They can’t keep putting the dog in kennels or getting pet sitters, or leaving the dog alone at home for 10 – 12 hours.
- Doesn’t get on with other pets or other pets don’t get on with it. We often have dogs surrendered because it is not getting on with other dogs in the household – more often than not, this is due to there being way too many dogs on the property, particularly where they are not sterilised.
- Nuisance behaviour. Fighting, roaming, leg lifting, humping, etc. are all cited as reasons for surrender. These are almost always unsterilised dogs. We’ve also had dogs surrendered for ‘stealing food’ or ‘digging in the bin’ and it turns out that owners didn’t feed them properly. Once they’re in a home where they get regular food, they stop this behaviour.
- Dirt and fleas/ticks. The dog makes a mess, is dirty, or muddy. Or it has fleas or ticks and the owner doesn’t like this and won’t or can’t afford to treat these things.
- Too much work. The owner will say ‘I can’t give them enough attention’, which generally translates to: it’s too much work.
- Allergy. Doctors will sometimes tell people to get rid of pets because of asthma or allergies; in some cases, they’ve had the pet for many years but the allergy is new.
- It’s not a cute baby anymore. They got it as a puppy and then, when it’s 6 to 8 months or older, it’s not so tiny and puppyish, and is a lot more work because it’s going through it’s ‘teenage’ phase, so they get rid of it (and get another puppy).
- Illness/injury of the dog. Sometimes an animal is surrendered because there’s ‘something wrong with it’ and the owner can’t afford to or doesn’t want to treat it. This can be anything from fleas and ticks, to mange, injuries, illnesses, and anything in between. A lot of these are treatable but the result may not be acceptable (for example, leg amputation or eye removal – three-legged or one-eyed dogs can become targets in the township). If the condition is not treatable and poses a lifetime of suffering for the animal, FAW will humanely put the dog to sleep and not rehome it. If the injury is treatable but may result in long-term issues (for example a broken leg that might later cause arthritis), we will always divulge this to potential adopters.
- Puppy mills/backyard breeders. FAW does not generally deal with these kinds of cases but many welfares do. There are occasions when unscrupulous breeders are shut down or decide they no longer want to breed dogs to make money. In these cases, it is generally purebred dogs that are rescued and end up at big shelters or breed-specific rescues – these dogs often require rehabilitation in order to recover from their treatment at the hands of people who did not care for them.
- Rescue. In our experience, actual rescues of severely neglected or abused dogs make up a pretty small proportion of the dogs looking for homes compared to all the strays and owner surrenders as above. Yet, when people think of adopting a ‘shelter dog’, they tend to think first of these worst-case scenarios and are, understandably concerned about possible behavioural or health issues. Yes, some dogs are rescued from bad situations in which they have been neglected or abused, or people move out and simply abandon their animals, or they hoard animals and end up with dozens… We at FAW do not deal with that many severe abuse and neglect cases, although they are certainly there (for example Namandla) but, even if the animal has been rescued from an abusive situation, this isn’t a guarantee that it will have behavioural problems or special needs, so we urge people to give them a chance too.
The most common ages at which dogs are surrendered are when they are juveniles (5 to 12 months) as they become a lot of work, and over 5 years old.
As you can see from the above, in almost all cases, the dog is NOT at fault! Think about it: if the worst happened and you fell on hard times, and ended up without a home, would that somehow change your personality or make you unlovable? Of course not! So, why should being homeless mean that a dog is unlovable or isn’t deserving of a chance? It is us as human beings which have created a situation where dogs find themselves homeless. It is up to us to be open minded enough to give them a chance.