Sunday, December 20, 2009

Of Hearts and Minds

(Picture Left: Diamond. Loving, loyal dog, adopted out to a good person. And yet, returned......)

Adoptions are complicated.

Far more so, than either the media or many of the large, established organizations would have one believe.

About a week ago, we adopted out a wonderful, fully trained and loving hound mix named, "Diamond" to a young woman who had grown up with dogs and currently has a cat.

"Ellen" told me she greatly missed having a dog, but it would be important that any dog she adopt, be good with cats.

When rescued from the pound, Diamond came with information from her past owners. Part of that information indicated that Diamond loved cats.

I recommended Diamond to Ellen and within a few days, Ellen went to see the devoted, mature dog in her foster/boarding home. Ellen called me that evening enthusiastic about adopting Diamond.

Everything seemed perfect. Good dog to a good person. Ellen had excellent vet references, a good job and seemed to be very committed and responsible.

But, after only having Diamond less than a week, I received a call from Ellen the other day.

She seemed upset.

"What's the problem?" I asked.

I anticipated hearing that perhaps Diamond was chasing the cat or having housebreaking or separation anxiety issues -- typical challenges that people can run into with newly acquired dogs.

But, it was none of those things.

Rather, Ellen had taken Diamond to her vet the day after adopting for a general check-up and it seems the vet overwhelmed her with too much information.

During the visit, the vet pointed out that although healthy, Diamond had a small scrape on her tail that she appeared to be biting at. The vet prescribed antibiotics and placed an Elizabethan collar around the dog's head (to prevent licking or biting). The vet also warned that if the wound did not heal properly, Diamond's tail might have to be amputated!

Additionally, the vet discussed other things with the young woman, such as Heartworm prevention -- an odd thing right now considering the temperatures in NYC are in the 20's and we are just about to embark on winter. Heartworm is derived from mosquitos and mostly occurs to those dogs who live in rural areas or spend most of their time outdoors. Ellen lives in a New York apartment.

All of this had the effect of somewhat alarming Ellen and apparently convincing her that she had gotten over her head with the adoption of the dog.

I tried to tell Ellen that it was extremely unlikely that Diamond would need her tail amputated, though it was understandable that a vet might feel need to communicate "worst case scenario." I also informed Ellen that if "worst case scenario" actually occurred, we would pay for any necessary follow-up vet care or surgery. Why the vet felt it necessary to discuss Heartworm prevention with the young woman as the city was about to experience a major snow storm is, however, still a mystery.

But, despite my efforts to try and reassure Ellen and support her through any challenges with the newly adopted dog, she kept saying to me, "I don't think I am really ready for this responsibility. Diamond's a wonderful dog, but I think I need to bring her back...."

Such throwing in the towel especially when having the adopted animal less than a week is particularly frustrating to those of us in rescue and placement. I had to bite my lip to prevent myself from saying, "Well, if you weren't ready for a dog, why did you adopt?"

But, ultimately, this wasn't a matter of a bad dog or bad adopter.

It was a matter, I believed, of a new dog caregiver/owner wanting to do "the right thing" but becoming intimidated, frightened and overwhelmed by "too much information" (in this case) given by an overly careful vet. What was the point in scaring a new dog adopter with all these worst case scenarios?

Instead of questioning Ellen's motives for adoption when she "wasn't ready," I once again tried to reassure the young woman that challenges and doubts are common when people first acquire a dog or a cat. Most of these problems resolve themselves with time, support, patience, care and confidence. It typically takes most dogs and their new owners about a month to six weeks to fully adjust to all the changes and new challenges.

But, nothing I said apparently had any effect.

Yesterday, Ellen returned Diamond to her foster/boarding home -- apparently very distraught and in tears.

But, the interesting thing about all this is the (real?)reason Ellen offered Chris (the foster caregiver) for both the adoption and return of Diamond.

Ellen told Chris that after her mother recently died, she felt a sense of profound loss and loneliness.

She thought that adopting a dog might help to alleviate her sense of grief and perhaps help to heal and fill the empty void in her heart.

But, of course neither animals nor humans can heal the grief in one's soul when there is major loss or hurt in life.

It is unwise to either bring in a dog or cat or have a baby when either animal or human has a "job" to do. (i.e. heal a wounded heart, a bad marriage, loneliness or anxiety.)

Had Ellen told me any of this from the beginning, I never would have adopted out a dog to her. I might have recommended grief counseling instead.

In this case, the adoption and return of Diamond had little, if anything at all to do with scrapes on tails, questionable veterinary advice or even feeling overwhelmed.

It had everything to do with adopting an animal for the wrong reasons.

Unfortunately, people don't always communicate to us, the subconscious or deeper reasons why they might seek to adopt a cat or dog. And, we can't read minds.

I just know that no animal replaces or "fills" the loss of a beloved pet or human. No animal (or human for that matter) "heals" a broken heart or shattered home.

Each pet brought into a home or baby brought into the world is his/her own special entity and has to be welcomed, appreciated, cared for and loved as such.

That usually requires a free and open heart; not one leaden and weighted down in grief.

Indeed, adoptions are complicated.

That is until the day we are able to peer into both, what is in people's minds and hearts. -- PCA


1 comment:

amby111 said...

What a sad post. I'm so sorry Diamond's adoption didn't work out. It's too bad the woman couldn't have transformed her grief into an act of loving kindness toward another living being. I hope Diamond finds a wonderful home soon.