Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Number to Ponder

(Picture Left: Gilbert -- One, very fortunate Chow Mix)

The past few weeks have thankfully seen some increase in adoption inquiries, adoptions and new rescues.

Perhaps these are the first indications that things might finally be turning around in the grim economy -- or, at least just a bit. There seems to be some room for new optimism.

One of our dogs recently rescued is Gilbert.

Gilbert is a 4-year-old black Chow who arrived at the city shelter (AC&C) early in November after being abandoned in an apartment after his former owners moved out and left him.

Gilbert is a peaceful, seemingly well trained dog who was put into Adoptions shortly after arriving at the pound -- something very unusual for a Chow. Due to their general aloofness and reserve with new people, most Chows don't make into the adoption wards of shelters.

Those times when a Chow does, it is something to behold.

Alas however, Gilbert did not stay in the AC&C adoption ward long.

A day or two later, the shelter conducted a SAFER ("temperament") test on Gilbert and he dismally failed the "dog-to-dog" part of it, garnishing a "5" -- the worst rating a dog can get.

Gilbert was immediately pulled from the Adoption Ward (located in a garage) and put into the main building where his fate was certain death unless taken out in rescue.

Workers at the shelter then called me asking if we could take Gilbert.

I, of course had concerns about the "dog-to-dog" behavioral rating, but long experiences with both the shelter and the controversial "Behavior Tests" have taught me never to take the SAFERS at face value.

I requested one of the volunteers at the shelter (who I know and trust) to do a separate evaluation and let me know her thoughts.

"Jane" (not her real name) thankfully obliged and later told me that Gilbert showed no aggression towards other dogs when taken for walks. Once again, the SAFER test was put to question.

"I don't know how they came up with a '5' on Gilbert's dog-to-dog," Jane said with frustration. "I've walked him by many dogs, including some who are dog aggressive and Gilbert shows absolutely no reaction."

Feeling more assurance with Jane's words, I went to the shelter to see Gilbert myself and my experiences with him and other dogs were exactly the same as Jane's. He seemed a very peaceful and mellow dog.

I then told Jesse, the New Hope Rescue Coordinator, that we would try to take Gilbert, but I needed a couple of days to advertise and try to find a foster for the black Chow.

"Oh, that's good," Jesse remarked. "He's already on the Euth list for tomorrow. I will pull him for now, but you need to get him out. How soon can you take him?"

"Jesse, I can't make promises!" I replied with some exasperation. "I will do my best to come up with something, but you know how this goes. Right now, we are full in boarding and foster. I have to hope we get lucky in finding a suitable foster. -- I will TRY."

"Oh, well you always find people," Jesse quipped cheerfully. "Just let me know," she smiled.

Jesse was a lot more optimistic than I was.

The following day we advertised Gilbert on several adoption sites, along with another dog, "Lady," an older, very sweet little Shepherd mix who had also hit the Euth list due to Kennel Cough. We had already committed to saving Lady.

As luck would have it, I did receive one very good offer for foster that day.

"Chris" and his finance, Jen are a youngish couple from Manhattan's Upper West Side who were thinking of adopting a dog, but saw our desperate foster "life or death" ads for Lady and Gilbert.

"We'd like to help," Chris told me. "Which dog is more urgent?"

"To be honest, they're both urgent," I replied. "I realize you can't take both dogs, but if you can take one, we can try to get the other one into emergency boarding."

Later that evening I met Chris and Jen at the shelter, along with a couple of my volunteers, Firouzeh and her boyfriend, Michael who were there to help with dog photos and other matters.

I was almost sure Chris and Jen would take Lady who is a smallish and very sweet and ingratiating dog, but for some reason, they took more to Gilbert.

Gilbert too, responded very well to the young couple.

Within an hour or so, Chris and Jen were on their way home with Gilbert in the back seat of their car while Firouzeh, Michael and I took Lady to a boarding facility on the Upper East Side, where a few days later, the affectionate, gentle mutt was successfully adopted.

At no time when we had the two dogs together, did Gilbert act anything but the perfect gentleman around Lady.

It was still a mystery on how Gilbert scored a "5" on his dog-to-dog behavior test. Nevertheless, it was something I had to point out to and warn his new foster people about.

"Watch him around other dogs," I cautioned. "Even though Gilbert was good with Lady and seems OK with dogs on the street, he must have shown some reaction to whatever dog they tested him with in the shelter."

Yesterday, I called Chris to inquire how things were going with Gilbert being that the couple now had the Chow for more than two weeks.

The news was nothing but positive. -- so good, in fact, that the couple is going to officially adopt Gilbert this Monday.

Chris told me that not only is Gilbert great with every dog encountered in Central Park, but also good with the family CATS in Connecticut where the couple and their new dog were spending the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

So much for Gilbert's "animal-to-animal aggression."

We will never know of course why this animal-friendly dog scored so deceptively and badly on the so-called SAFER ("temperament") test in terms of other dogs.

Is it the stress of being abandoned and winding up in a crowded city pound? Is it the unnatural way the test is conducted? (Putting two strange dogs face to face in a small room and then scoring how they "react.") Or, was there "something" about the tester dog that for some reason, put Gilbert on the defensive? The "something" about the other dog could be anything from a medical condition to sex of the dog to fear or some other "energy" emanating from the tester animal.

There are in fact, so many variables when these SAFER tests are conducted in a city pound that any kind of reliance on them is foolhardy at best and totally misleading and dog-condemning at worst.

Gilbert is simply a very fortunate dog that a number of people from a shelter volunteer, to myself, to his ultimate adopters were able to perceive the real dog underneath the inaccurate, disparaging and scary shelter "Behavior" label.

The question to wonder about is, "What if, one day, one of these negative behavior evals turns out to be right?" (So far, at least for us, that "What if" has never occurred.)

Another, even more important question to wonder of:

How many good dogs, not so fortunate as Gilbert have actually died due to faulty and inaccurate SAFER tests?

I shudder to think of that number -- or the faces and actual, gentle souls behind it. -- PCA



Anonymous said...

Wonderful insight into the world of dog rescuing and chow chows. I'd like to know what are the procedures and reasoning behind these temperament tests. Are there natural biases being applied by any given volunteer who happens to perform the test or is it the process in general?

Cubby's Daddy said...

lovely story with a nice happy ending....this time anyways. maybe you can enlighten us on what these SAFER tests are so wonderful dogs are not destroyed? is this an industry standard kind of test or just an NYC shelter thing?