There may have been a time when schools only needed to be charged with teaching students reading, writing and arithmetic. But as society changes schools become responsible for instruction that either used to be provided at home, or represents a new field of study. When I was in high school we had a choice of taking home economics or shop. In previous years the option to take one or another was not available. Girls learned to use needles and thread, measuring cups and ovens and boys learned to use screw drivers and saws. Times changed and educators realized girls could benefit from learning to make bird houses and boys could learn to bake muffins. Changing the name of the class to bachelor arts may have convinced more boys to sign up for it, but I think the muffins alone might have done the trick.
There are subjects that some think should remain the purview of parents to instruct their children in, sex education for example. But teachers are often responsible for picking up the slack in the education children receive that will impact society as a whole. To prevent disease teachers will instruct young children in how to wash their hands after using the bathroom, and to prevent teenage pregnancy, provide reproduction and contraception information. We teach kids about the risks and hazards of cigarettes and drugs.
There may have been a time when shelters acting solely as holding facilities for homeless animals, until someone stepped up to the plate to provide one, was enough. I am no expert on the history of sheltering and rescue, but imagine as the population of homeless pets increased (fueled in the northeast by the creation of puppy mills in the 1960s), shelters had to become more proactive in efforts to advocate for the animals in their care. Rescue groups were created to help with the growing population of pets, in part to help minimize the number that were euthanized. Compassionate, thoughtful people responded to changing conditions.
Conditions continue to change. The population of pets that are brought into the sheltering and rescue system has changed. The chances of finding a survivor of the meat trade at a local shelter were non-existent a decade ago. Nor were we likely to find a litter of puppies that had spent the first two months of their life hiding under a porch 6 states away. Today, depending on where you live, there’s a good chance you might.
These dogs, and others like them coming from hoarding situations, victims of natural disasters, etc., can bring with them a special set of behavioral challenges. They may lack a skill set that is necessary for a pet dog to have in order to be successful. Currently the responsibility of providing a dog with these skills, is typically put on the new owner. Depending on their own experience, time and inclination, or availability of a trainer to help them, these skills may or may not get taught.
The role of shelters and rescue groups is changing. It’s no longer enough that they act as a source of pet dogs for the people who want them. These dogs need to be taught behaviors so they can be successful pets. Some may require very little training, others more. We shouldn’t expect that inexperienced and often unwitting owners are going to be able to train these dogs efficiently and humanely. It is not ethical for shelters or rescue groups to place dogs with known behavior challenges into homes without full and honest disclosure of what a new owner can expect to spend in time, money and energy to train their dog. It is also not reasonable to expect that inexperienced owners are going to comprehend what this actually means in regard to the kind of daily care and enrichment a specific dog may require in order to have a decent quality of life.
If we want to protect this special and deserving population of dogs, someone is going to have to pick up the slack in the system as far as addressing behavior issues are concerned. There is enough slack now that many are getting hung out to dry.
To see an example of how special needs populations of dogs can be handled in shelters to prepare them for life as treasured pet check out Kate LaSala’s Rescued By Training Facebook page.