A Forever Home – The Dogma That Isn’t Always Good for Dogs

(post updated August 4, 2013)

Allison Benedikt sent ripples of outrage through online pet lover communities when she admitted in an article at Slate.com that having children caused her to stop loving her dog.

As you’d expect, animal lovers commented that she should burn in hell and worse.

Honey the Golden Retriever tells foster dog Cherie how to find her forever home.

Cherie, the first thing you have to learn about getting your own forever home is to always hold the furniture down. No one would ever get rid of a dog that has that skill down pat.

Luckily, we have several thoughtful and eloquent writers who have shared their personal feelings:

I’d like to take another approach. Because regardless of whether people should have kids and dogs at the same time, there’s a bigger issue lurking in this discussion, like an elephant trying to hide behind a potted fern.

A Forever Home – Does It Always Make Sense?

I know why “a forever home” has become a rallying cry for the pet rescue community. But does it always make sense? And are we unexpectedly preventing dogs from having their best lives by insisting on it?

What if Alison Benedikt, instead of writing an awful post about how she neglects her dog after having three children in four years, found a new home for him when she had her first child? Would her dog be better off today?

Hey, I’m an idealist too.

I understand the hope that every person will think about the commitment they’re making before bringing home that cute puppy or kitten. But people are stupid, inconsistent, and fickle. We have messy lives. And we make mistakes.

In our idealism to persuade people to give their pets a forever home, do we sometimes make things worse?

Abandoned Babies

Twelve years ago, the press started reporting horrific stories of infants being abandoned.

This wasn’t a new phenomenon. But it was the story du jour for a while.

Several states passed Safe Haven Laws that protected a parent from prosecution if she gave up her baby in a safe place, like a police station or hospital. Instead of leaving the baby strapped to a car seat by the side of the road or in a public toilet.

Is it ideal? Certainly not.

But if fear and shame cause parents to abandon their babies in conditions that cause them to die of exposure, maybe we need to fight the fear and shame while we’re still figuring out how to make sure that every child is born to parents who love and can care for him.

What does this have to do with dogs? Shame leads some people to give up their dogs by tying them somewhere, dumping them, or leaving them outside their local shelter in the middle of the night.

Or, it might have them keeping their dogs because it’s WRONG to re-home a dog for any reason, and the dog suffers in the end.

Honey the Golden Retriever tells foster dog Sadie how to find her forever home.

To have a forever home, you need to floss your teeth every day. No one likes doggy breath.

A Forever Home – The Personal Side

When I adopted my first dogs, Agatha and Christie, I didn’t know much. I didn’t know

  • adopting litter mates might be challenging
  • how to prevent fights
  • how to train
  • the importance of getting knowledgeable help
  • how to read canine body language.

But I did know one thing: adopting a dog is for life.

As a result, I had two highly stressed dogs who got into frequent bloody battles. Our last week with Christie found me covered in blood while I tried to figure how who was injured and where.

The day Christie died, her sister Agatha became a new dog. Finally, she felt peace.

If I had known then what I know now, I would have gotten help.

But if that didn’t work, I would have fought past the shame and the forever home dogma to find a loving home for Christie. She was a lovely dog who deserved better than to be bullied by her neurotic sister.

A Forever Home – Back to Kids and Dogs

Yes, I’m saddened to even read a stranger stating that she loves her dog less now that she has children. And I’m angry at human irresponsibility and fickleness.

But that’s life.

So how do we navigate between the forever home ideal and the messy reality of people’s lives?

Titus, the pitbull mix wants to find his forever home.

Honey says she hopes I find my forever home but that it won’t be with her.

When a pet person we know goes through a major life change, maybe we can offer some support. For instance, offer to walk their dog. Bring him with us to the dog park. Or give a dog and baby care basket as a shower gift.

Or, if the worst happens and the person decides to re-home their pet, help them. And maybe, just maybe, if we don’t blindly follow the forever home doctrine, the worst might just become the best–at least for one pet.

Your Turn: Do you think the dogma of a forever home helps people think more carefully about the responsibility they’re taking on when they get a pet? Or can it as likely keep people from doing what’s best for their dog?




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  1. goldenrescue says:

    I have, when assessing dogs for our organization, come across some very responsible people to whom life had dealt an unexpected blow (or series of them). And I have tried to assure them that I wasn’t there to judge them, just to assess the dog to try to get it into the best possible foster home for that dog. They were so grateful for those few words–one broke down and cried. I try to make it clear that we know that what’s best for the dog is what’s important to them, that we are not going to disrespect their decision.
    I have also met with callous indifference. The parents who let the child run around the house screaming, instead of teaching the child self-control and kindness, while the 7 month old puppy who had been crated in the basement wanted to chase him, were glad to see that dog go. And I was glad to take her and tell her that her life would be so much better.

  2. At our house a pet is forever, but there can be circumstances that make it impossible to keep a pet. Some kids have to be sent to a special school because they get in so much trouble, but there is no such place for a pet. A pet should be forever and given up only as a last resort, not because you decide to replace it with kids. Mom had to give up a cat once but that is because he lost his mind and became a danger to humans. The vet had no answers, so he ended up moving to a farm. Mom tried everything but he was a fourteen pound cat that would launch from across the room and land/biting into a human, and he also tried numerous times to kill another cat he had lived with his entire life. Sometimes there is no other way, but just because you have a baby, sorry, that is no excuse!

  3. well darn, i wrote a long comment and it got eaten up in transit :( the gist was that I can’t figure out why “AB” wrote the piece in the first place and why on earth didn’t she try to find Velvel a home 5 years ago since a younger, happier, healthier dog would have been so much easier to rehome

  4. I also got a comment lost forever.

    Anyway…I have more dogs than the city…um, thinks I have so I have to keep some anonymity. But all of my dogs were given to me with a lot of tears from people who were doing the best thing for the dogs. I know there are people who swear they would live in their cars before they would lose a dog. But that isn’t a wise course for a family or for a dog. Some dogs don’t fit well with other dogs or people and can be a perfect fit in the right situation.

    I really wish people were not so quick to judge others without knowing the back story.

  5. I think all the posts that have been written based on this piece are great posts. Sometimes when we are passionate about something we tend to react strongly and quickly. However when a little distance is allowed and talking can begin, we can actually get somewhere. And there has been a lot of talking on this subject. Which is great!!

    Last week I would have been appalled at the thought of someone giving up their dog because they had a child, BUT now after all the posts and comments I think re-homing an animal, when done with love and thought for the animal is sad but sometimes necessary.

    I can’t speak as to why AB wrote the piece that she did, but if it was meant to incite, it certainly did. Still I think it’s good because it shows that people are passionate about animals and hopefully some good will come from the discussion that has taken place.

    I think she’s choosing (and I think she has a choice) to ignore her dog and is losing a great opportunity to teach her children the love and joy of sharing your life with an animal. I’m with Gizmo, wondering why she didn’t try and re-home him when the first child was born.

  6. As usual, you manage to see something from a new angle, Pamela, and it makes perfect sense. I wrote on Jodi’s comments that we got our Beagle Kobi from a family member who was overwhelmed with four children and a dog who she felt just wasn’t getting the time and attention he needed. It was the best thing they could have done for all of us. It was difficult for Kobi initially, and for them to give him up, but once he settled in with us, he was a perfect fit. They never would have brought him to a shelter, they would have kept him. Dumping a dog at a shelter is a far cry from finding a loving home for him that makes his life better.

  7. I didn’t read the original story. I just wasn’t in the mood.

    I’m semi-active on a bird forum and I have to say of all the different species owners, bird people are the most understanding when it comes to having to someone having to rehome a bird. Maybe it’s because when you accept an animal into your life that has the potential of living 50 years you know you can’t control everything in life. Maybe it’s because birds aren’t as adaptable as dogs and often an environment just isn’t right for a bird, not due to anything awful on the owner’s part but the bird’s comfort is the main concern.

    They make an effort to get in touch with people posting their birds on places like Craigslist and direct them to the forum to post away from the whack jobs, bird flippers and breeder bird collectors. I was very impressed at how they react and work to give a bird a soft place to land.

  8. I didn’t read the original article either. Mostly because it would have made me angry and judgmental. But like Jodi said, when we distance ourselves from it we can have a good discussion about it.
    I’m the last one who has any right to wear judgy pants when it comes to re-homing a pet. You know how frustrated and impatient Ducky made me feel in the beginning. How close I came to seriously looking for a new home for her. How Ducky’s attitude improvement after just four hours of doggie daycare started us on the path to re-thinking our next move. I’m not saying doggie daycare is the magic answer for every dog because it’s not. It was just the right answer for us, for Ducky, and for Callie and Shadow. And it continues to be. Nearly 10 months later, we all — Callie & Shadow included — love Ducky and she loves us. She belongs here with us, and she feels safe with us. The couple who adopted her before us brought her back saying she was food aggressive with them. Maybe so, but she never has been with us. What’s meant to be eventually comes to pass. I can only say Ducky was meant to be with us all along.
    Sorry that was so long-winded!

  9. PS I wanted to say thank you for posting your perspective. It’s fresh, different, and completely non-judgmental. If there’s one thing I’ve been learning from Ducky it’s to be more open to training ideas, to reasons for her actions & reactions, and to things in general. I always enjoy your take on “things” and the way you prompt me to think beyond my tunnel vision.

  10. As usual, you have offered a totally unique perspective on things. Perhaps we should stop using the term “forever home”, or as pet lovers often spell it, “furever home”. Not so long ago, when new homes were trying to be found for animals in shelters, etc., we simply used the term “loving home”… “Sadie the Kitten seeks loving home and family” – things to that effect. Maybe we should go back to “loving home”… which perhaps offers more implied freedom for a family who no longer feels they can provide a loving home for their pet, to be encouraged to find that pet a new loving home.
    The pet-loving community came out in judgment of AB not because she needed/wanted to rehome her dog, but because of her disgustingly offensive tone and comments. And she acted like everyone who had a dog, then had kids felt the same heartless way she did… “a near universal truth”, she called it. As I type this, there are 4,493 comments on the article… most of which refute her so-called “near universal truth” and call her out for being so cold and callous. If she had posted that she was just so overwhelmed with her children that it was causing her give her dog less love; and that she really wanted to find him another home where he could get the love he deserved – people’s reaction to that would’ve been totally different. Especially since she started the article with how great she and her husband used to treat him before they had kids. People weren’t judging her for the having the need to rehome the dog… in fact, I think most people reading the article *wished* that she had rehomed him instead of keeping him and treating him like nothing but a burden/nuisance. So yeah, that family being his “forever home” was the wrong thing for him. The worst part is that because she treated him with nothing but contempt after all her children were born, I would guess that they too learned to treat him that way instead of developing a bond with him. I hope as they all get older, that they don’t keep the same attitude towards dogs that their mother, wittingly or not, instilled in them.

  11. I haven’t read the article but I’ve got the general gist from all the comments I’ve read.
    And agree with most people have said. Although a pet should be for life, the home the pet has has to be best for them and if it doesn’t work then a solution should be found rather than spiraling into neglect.

  12. Moving my comment over from Facebook (glad you’re back up and running!):

    Well said, Pamela. It’s really hard to makes choice that is unpopular, even if it may be the right one in a given situation. When we put in our judgy pants, we sometimes discourage people from doing the right, if difficult, thing in a given situation.

    • And yet, in cutting and pasting, I still didn’t fix the typo that I created on my phone yesterday. Geez. *make a choice* not *makes choice*

  13. I don’t have a problem with the term “forever home” because it at least invokes a sense of responsibility in the owner. However, I also recognize that sometimes it doesn’t work out. My cousin went through this recently, and I fully supported rehoming her dogs. The difference between the author of the slate article and a responsible dog owner is the responsible dog owner will at least find a better home for their dog, like Jen did.

    Dr. V (who I thought had the piece that best represented my feelings on the issue) wrote:

    “I have no problem with people who refer to their pets as children/furkids/what have you, as long as they do so with the understanding that their pet is, in fact, not a human child surrogate but an actual animal. Loving your pet like a kid: fine. Expecting your pet to act in proxy for a human until an actual human comes along, then resenting them for not being a human: not ok. And therein lies the difference… If you truly are in a situation where it can’t work; severe allergies or safety issues or the like, do the right thing and find a good home yourself instead of placing the burden on a shelter (in which case it might be the end of the world for your pet).”

  14. Thanks for a great post! The only thing in Benedikt’s article that I felt was a mistake was assuming everyone else would have the same experience; that everyone would love their dogs less once they had children. To share her personal experience and let people decide for themselves is one thing, but to outright tell young couples not to get a dog is another.
    I completely agree with your post. I had to re-home my first dog because my second dog was really too much for me to handle. My job relocated me to a place where I didn’t have my circle of support, and my 4-year relationship ended which left me with a very busy traveling schedule and no time-support or financial support for two dogs. Nobody would take Kayo – she had such intense behavioral problems. But Lucky was a different story – she was trained, well behaved and very social. The very last thing I wanted to do was send her to another home but I knew I wouldn’t be able to provide both dogs with the best care and rehabilitate Kayo to be a safe dog.
    I needed to find Lucky the best home and used everything available to me to do so. I found a home for her with friends that needed a dog like her. It was a perfect match and I still get to see her when I want to and get regular updates about her and pictures.
    It’d of course be ideal if everyone had amazing resources and lots of friends potentially willing to take a dog if they could no longer provide them the best care but that just isn’t realistic. I love the idea of being more helpful and it’s something that I’ve done for many friends. It really is very effective!

  15. Oh, my – incredible – your post, the links, and the woman who won’t find her dog a better home. I tell all my adopters their dogs come back to Silverwalk; I understand life isn’t fair (boy, do I) and that, as much as we want to keep our pets forever, it just may not worked. Several times in my life it didn’t work – I re-homed my dog and took my beloved cat to our local humane society. Now days, I know people who would help, I know where to reach out. This is very needed in the rescue community – compassion for the whole family and to not write them off forever just because life threw them a curve once. Many people do not want to give up their pets (addressed in a recent post) but we, as rescuers and sanctuaries, need to be open to the pet(s) and the humans. At work, I take care of my patients but also care for their families.
    That being said, with the number of dogs who want to come to my Sanctuary (at least their humans want them to), I don’t accept baby/dog controversy pets. I do send them resources and will send a recent inquirer a link to this blog tonight.

  16. Hello, I thought this is a great balanced view of the issue.

    We have adopted, and we haven’t got a child yet though we want one. And of course I worry about how we would cope when we finally manage to conceive (which is pretty pointless since its not happened yet!).

    Anyway, just wanted to say I do feel the responsibility that the words “forever home” implies. But I think people also need to do their best, and if they realise when doing their best is not working than do the right thing that will make life better for everyone/dog.

    It’s not just dogs get over threshold, there will be times when humans struggle and find it difficult to manage as well. If the lady is thinking that the dog is better off dead, then maybe she needs to take that time off to calm down and find her own sense of self as well.

  17. I can say that this is a really personal issue for us here at our house. I still struggle with doubts about whether we’re the right home for one of our dogs. Having her here causes a lot of stress and strife in our family and leaves us with a lot of questions. Before she was here, she lived in four different homes, and that hangs like a millstone around my neck. I know that she loves us, and loves us deeply, but sometimes I worry that her issues are greater than we can overcome. Actually, I’m afraid that they’re greater than anyone can overcome. The discussion has also come up about whether it’s right to dump her baggage on someone else, or whether she’d linger in limbo which would be even worse for her. If she were in rescue, would she just tie up resources that could be used for dogs that are a lot more suitable for adoption? It haunts me and keeps me awake at night. There’s such a hard balance between keeping her and keeping our other dogs safe, healthy and happy. It takes its toll in so many places and ways.

    I think if you’re a person who has a great dog and your lifestyle has changed in a way that doesn’t allow for the best life for your dog, then it is a good idea to find a place where the dog will be happier.

  18. I do strongly lean toward the “forever home” ideal. However, I agree that life is messy and sometimes people choose to give their dog up. Imagine if we forced that person to keep their dog. It wouldn’t change that the person didn’t love or gave up on their dog. Imagine how miserable that dog would be. I had a member of my Dachshund club get a puppy and contact me about finding him a new home a year later because he still wasn’t potty trained (Doxies are NOTORIOUSLY hard to potty train). Although I “didn’t approve”, I had the dog’s best interest in mind. I did ask him what he had tried and gave him a bit of advice but ultimately prepared to help him find his dog a home. Fortunately in this situation, the person decided to consult with a dog trainer and ended up keeping the dog. However, it could have gone the other way. My interest was in moving forward and helping to find the dog a better home if need be.

  19. I love your blog even more than before. I feel this way about the others you mentioned above (not the original one, which I can’t bring myself to read). When I worked at an animal shelter years ago, it was difficult not to comment on the silly reasons people left their pets with us. It was difficult not to judge and not to get angry. But one of the people there helped me understand something. Those people were going to get rid of their pet one way or the other. Isn’t it better that they bring them to the shelter? While a shelter might be a convenient way for them to get rid of their ‘problem’, at least they were doing it the right way rather than leaving the poor animals left for dead.