Someone told me I jinxed Mia by writing about her last week in such a celebratory way.
Sad to say, she is back and not because I jinxed her but because she was set up to fail. I’ve agonized over how to explain what happened. I don’t want to throw Mia, the adopter, or the rescue under the bus, but I’d say that we all deserve to be runover on this one.
When a dog is newly adopted, the rescue has a process called a 2-week shut down that we tell adopters to follow if they want to have a successful adoption. The adoption coordinator spells it out in their final interview. The process is simple: for the first two weeks, keep the new dog’s world small. This means don’t invite people over to meet her. Keep her crated or on a leash at all times. Give your dog time to adjust to the new family and new life. Supervise your dog around children and other pets. Most important: PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR NEW DOG.
For Mia, the shut-down was more important than ever. This adoption was a big adjustment. She’d been in foster care for 11 months. She is a sensitive dog with enormous energy- both physical and emotional. This would not be a simple transition. We, as a rescue, and me, as the foster, did not clearly communicate this to the adopter. We assumed way too much.
Maybe it’s misleading that I post so many videos of Mia playing and lounging with my dogs. They are the best of friends, but they are always supervised during those interactions. Even after 11 months, I NEVER leave Mia and my other dogs together if there is not someone in the immediate vicinity who can step in if the energy gets too high. The initial introductions to all of our dogs happened over a period of weeks, gradually, with a lot of walks together, a lot of sniffing through crates and gates. Mia dragged a leash for what seemed like months.
When new people come to the house (even my adult son who visited last night with his girlfriend), we put Mia in her crate until the initial welcome is over. Then she can come out and love on the new visitor when we are all calm and paying attention. I do these things to set Mia up for success, and she succeeds. We have never had a bite incident with her at this house. The biggest issue for Mia meeting new people is keeping all four feet on the floor and not licking people too much.
My friend Tracy wrote a fabulous post about introducing a newly adopted dog to your home and your toddler. If you are considering adding a new dog to your family, read this. I sure wish Mia’s adopter had taken the same careful, deliberate hands-on approach that Tracy did. In her defense, she’s a good person and a busy single mom. The rescue, including me, did not do our due-diligence to be certain she could handle adding a dog to her world right now.
Mia now has another bite addendum on her record, although once again, it’s a bite that could and should have been prevented.
Bronwyn Dickey in her incredible book Pitbull: The Battle Over an American Icon wrote:
The incident that clinched Mia’s return happened immediately following an episode where Mia got out of the house and ran loose in the neighborhood on a kind of joy ride before the adult in charge (not the adopter) was able to catch her.
I’ve seen the video of the encounter (home security camera) and clearly there was no adult supervising Mia as she had this interaction with a new child. One of the children is actually shrieking at Mia in excitement and leaning over her.
Let’s look at this from Mia’s viewpoint: She’s hopped up on endorphins from her freedom run and frustrated and likely frightened at being dragged back to the house by an angry, unfamiliar adult. She is in a home that is still new to her. The one adult who she has begun to trust to look out for her is not around. She is being verbally assaulted. A stranger is staring at her (Mia’s point of view). She doesn’t know what is expected of her. She is frightened and confused, so she does what many dogs would do—she lashes out at the new face and runs away. (Fight because it was the only option and then flight when the opportunity arose.)
What could have been done to prevent this incident? Okay, so she got loose. It happens, especially if you are unfamiliar with Mia’s ability to open doors and seize the opportunity to explore. But once recovered, she should have been immediately crated, at the very least put on a leash and held by a capable adult, not turned loose in the house with a 3-year-old to greet a new visitor.
It wasn’t a serious injury, but it was surely a scary one for the child involved. And it could be an encounter that seals the fate of this sweet, sweet dog who deserves so much better. Once again, people have failed her. My heart is sick about it.
Again from Dickey’s book, Pit Bull:
Mia is home again with us and seems no worse for wear. We did a careful re-introduction- crating her for a few hours in a quiet place, taking her for a long walk, and then letting her reacquaint herself with the three dogs who have been her long-time friends. It was a joyous supervised reunion.
Do we overthink dogs these days?
It seems like dogs used to be so simple. I remember growing up with lots of dogs roaming the neighborhood. Everyone had a dog. I don’t remember any dog fights.
I remember being bitten once by a little Shih Tzu because I tried to pull her out of her hiding spot. It wasn’t a capital offense; it was just a dog bite. No freaking out because, duh, lacking other communication skills like the ability to speak, it’s how dogs communicate when they are frightened and you’ve cornered them.
But back to my initial point—do we over think dogs these days?
I would assert that we do and we don’t. We assume that dogs understand us. We anthropomorphize them, assuming that dogs have the same kind of emotional reactions that we do.
For instance, we think: this dog is so happy to finally have a home of her own. When the dog is likely still in the process of figuring out where her security comes from (food, bed, access to the outside, comfort) and which people are in charge (who keeps her safe, brings the food, allows outside access, gives the treats, closes/opens the crate).
We think that the new dog understands how much we love it because we pet it, hug it, kiss it, stare at it. When all of those actions are likely frightening to many dogs when received from people they have yet to bond with or trust, and for some even from people they do trust.
We don’t think about the dog when we shove new sights, new sounds, new smells, new expectations, new people and dogs at them all at once.
Consider for a minute that you are suddenly picked up, shoved on a plane and carted to China (or wherever). You are taken to a house that has another American (in this case, an old, nervous guy who is likely jealous that you are getting all the attention that was once his). Nothing is familiar to you.
The smells are funny, there are odd sounds, and everyone is speaking to you at once. You don’t speak the language so you can’t ask where the bathroom is or tell your new host that you are hungry or tired. The new host says something to you in language you don’t understand and leaves you to wander the house, avoiding the angry looks from the other American.
You try to make an escape, to search for the American Embassy or maybe to see the sights, but you are dragged back by a large guy you’ve never seen before and stuck in the house. Now you are more frightened by all that you don’t understand and to make matters worse, the host who brought you here has vanished. One of the new people you’ve only just met shouts at you, clearly expecting something. Then a new face appears over you, staring at you, she starts to reach for you, and you….?
If you are a person, you would say, “Get the heck away from me,” and maybe pull out your cell phone and call home.
If you are a dog, your options are more limited- you must choose fight or flight. Flight is out of the question as you are trapped between the shrieking small person and the unfamiliar person leaning over you and reaching for you.
Is anyone surprised that Mia failed when she was so clearly set up to fail?
I’m as guilty as anyone of assuming what my dogs think. It makes for funny writing. But Mia, and every dog I encounter, teaches me time and again, that I don’t know what dogs think. I can’t know. Because I’m not a dog.
But I do know that dogs need the same things people need: security, food, comfort, and exercise (mental and physical). If I want my dogs to be happy, it’s my job to figure out what that looks like for each dog in my life.
For now, for Mia, that looks like a routine and clear expectations. It means plenty of downtime (to counter her high energy), plenty of exercise and training challenges (walks and toys and learning commands and supervised playtime with her pals), individual attention on her terms (snuggling on the couch and accepting her kisses even though they sometimes give me the willies), and clearly communicated expectations that she should not jump on people or be too aggressive with the other dogs. Otherwise, like a teenager with no boundaries, she is all over the place mentally and emotionally.
Dogs are not more complicated now than they were when I was a kid. The world has changed and our expectations of dogs have changed. Was hasn’t changed are dogs. Too often we have unrealistic expectations and we don’t set up our dogs to succeed. We fail dogs. Time and again.
It is a good thing that dogs continue to be so much more forgiving and flexible than people.
Thanks for reading!
Until they all have a home,
For information on me, my writing, and books, visit CaraWrites.com where you can also find information about my book, One Hundred Dogs and Counting: One Woman, Ten Thousand Miles, and a Journey into the Heart of Shelters and Rescues, (Pegasus Books, July 2020) and my latest novel, Blind Turn (Black Rose Writing, Jan 2021)
If you’d like regular updates of all my foster dogs past and present, plus occasional dog care/training tips/dog news, be sure to join the Facebook group, Another Good Dog.
And if you’d like to know where all these dogs come from and how you can help solve the crisis of too many unwanted dogs in our shelters, visit WhoWillLetTheDogsOut.org where you can follow the blog that shares stories or find the link to our fledgling podcast!
Our family fosters through the all-breed rescue, Operation Paws for Homes, a network of foster homes in Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and south-central PA.
If you can’t get enough foster dog stories, check out my book: Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs . It’s available anywhere books are sold.
I love to hear from readers and dog-hearted people! Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of the pictures on my blog are taken by photographer Nancy Slattery. If you’d like to connect with Nancy to take gorgeous pictures of your pup (or your family), contact: email@example.com.