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TRIGGER WARNING: Graphic photos of an abused dog appear in this blog post

This topic comes up a lot in rescue work. It’s very much on my mind as I watch puppy millers and backyard breeders dump their dogs on rescues and shelters. And it came up again due to a couple of high medical pugs that ended up with us. And foster folks are, rightfully, feeling a great deal of anger about the lack of care their fosters received in their previous homes. So, I wanted to talk about this as it is prevalent, and we need to know how to grapple with it.

Pugalug rescue, Dexter, surrendered for euthanization. Pugalug took him in and paid for his enucleation surgery.

A couple of additions to this, given the times we live in….the pandemic has NOT helped. We are all stretched very thin. We are all feeling the impact of two+ years of uncertainty, isolation, frustration, unending free floating anxiety and the constant need to assess risk. Recognize that having less of a grip on your emotions is a perfectly normal response to an utterly abnormal time.

Recognize you’re likely tired. So tired. Take care of yourself. You don’t need to have an immediate response to everything. Give yourself time to process and to exhale. And remember…….while we can’t save them all, we can sure as heck change the world for the dog in front of us.

Rescue work, sadly, has a lot of anger attached to it. Anger from owners who surrender their dog, anger from folks who didn’t get selected to adopt a dog they wanted, anger from adopters when a dog they adopted doesn’t turn out to be the dog they imagined. And anger felt in the rescue community about all of the above.

Dexter recovering from enucleation surgery and head trauma that likely caused his eye to pop out of its socket.

Feeling anger about a dog that has clearly suffered, sometimes horribly, at the hands of humans is a natural response. However, it can also end up consuming you and making you less effective at dealing with the animals in your care. Anger can eat you up and can have ripple effects across your life. Anger that piles up and is not somehow channeled will, ultimately, burn you out. Ask any veterinarian, vet tech, shelter worker, rescuer or animal behaviourist.

What do we do with our anger?

I’ve been involved in rescue/shelter work for 30+ years. I’ve seen some stuff that will curl your hair. I’ve had to grapple with anger or resign myself to being consumed by it. Here is my advice, for what it is worth.

Permanent scars down Dexter's left side. Signs of past trauma from his old life.

1. Find a way to channel it. Direct that anger to giving the dog in front of you the best care you can. Use the anger to begin to look at best practices in behaviour modification and training. Put your energy into becoming skilled at this work.

2. Remember, you likely cannot change the person who caused this damage, but you may be able to change the world for the dog in rescue.

3. Write about it. That’s my primary outlet. But if writing doesn’t work for you, talk to folks who will understand. Channel the energy anger can give you into another outlet….crafts, sports, music, learning. Make no mistake…in its early stages, anger can be very energizing. Over the long haul, however, it will suck you dry

4. Be really clear about the anger. Is it really at the person or organization? Or are you also resurrecting old unresolved anger from something else? I say this because I spent a LARGE chunk of my life as a social worker…and I know that anger is often suppressed and can pop up in unexpected ways…so don’t be afraid to take a hard look at the anger and what may be its root cause.

5. Be aware of the ways in which many of us, especially women, are trained in our lives to suppress anger. That suppression may also mean that when it does rear its head, it overwhelms us.

Dexter's exterior wounds have healed, but he has a long journey ahead of him healing from the pain and trauma of his early years.

6. Start to recognize good anger from bad anger. Good anger motivates. Bad anger consumes and punishes.

7. Get help if needed. There are many folks who need some safe place to blow off their emotions. Recognize that while emotions aren’t aberrant or wrong, they can be terrifying to us and to those around us. And it can be VERY hard to remember that you are there to drain the swamp, when you are up to your arse in alligators.

8. Hang with folks who have developed a successful relationship with their anger. They do exist. They have to or no one would be able to function.

9. Pick your struggles. Evaluate what makes you angry. Is it every damn thing or only some things? Has your ability to not get outraged at everything diminished? Why is that? What can you do about it? 10. Last, but by no means least, DO NOT take your anger out on your vet or their staff. They are stretched to the absolute limit and have put up with way more rage and aggression from humans than anyone should have to.

Dexter's world has been changed by the love, care and support of Pugalug's donors, his foster family and the compassionate care of his wonderful veterinary team.


This should not be a touchy issue but it has become so given the state of rescue and shelter space right now.

Those of us who have been in the rescue world for some time knew that we were headed for a cliff when the pandemic restrictions eased up. We knew that surrenders would skyrocket. That we’d be seeing dogs with significant behavioral challenges who might not be readily adoptable. And, of course, that is exactly what has happened. Not only are people surrendering their dogs, but adoptions have fallen off significantly. And the really telling thing? It seems that backyard breeders and puppy millers are expecting rescues to take in their unsold puppy “stock” and/or their retired breeding dogs. Not because of medical or behaviour issues, but because they can’t sell them.

This creates a number of problems for rescues…..most of whom are swamped as it is……what do you do when an unethical breeder wants to give you the dogs from which they can no longer profit? Is there a way to intake these dogs and not enable the breeder? Is this basically the same as buying puppies from a pet store and calling it rescue when basically what you’ve done is clear “inventory”?

I have no quick and easy answers here. I struggle with this one a lot. We have taken in puppies that were injured and needed immediate care and the breeder claimed they couldn’t afford that care. What we found was that in many of those cases, the breeder then used us to dump any puppy or adult dog that needed any care beyond basic vetting. They would call us and say “I need you to pick up this puppy cause they need (insert medical care here) and I can’t afford it”….and in most cases, it would happen over and over again. We took in the puppy needing care and the breeder kept on breeding and just assumed that rescue would take in the dogs he/she didn’t wish to treat medically. Could they afford it? I don’t know. Ultimately, I don’t care. I do believe that if you are profiting off the backs of the dogs in your care then you do, in fact, have a duty of care and it is NOT the job of rescues to take in puppies/dogs you choose not to care for properly, can’t sell or for whom you just can’t be bothered finding an appropriate home. IF you can’t afford the vet care for your dogs, then the ethical thing to do is to stop breeding.

And we need to stop being a market for these folks. And by we, I mean all of us. The dog owning public. We need to get our heads in the game and stop just wanting what we want when we want it. We made it easy for unethical breeders to make a fortune during the pandemic. The demand for dogs, any dogs, was staggering and the mills and backyard breeders made out like bandits. And then when the restrictions eased, the very people who bought their dogs from these unethical breeders found themselves with a dog with a host of behavioural issues and they surrendered them in great numbers to rescues/shelters.

Those of us who have been in rescue for long periods of time predicted this. We knew this was going to happen. This was all predictable. While I understand that many people got dogs with no malign intent, they also didn’t give a lot of thought to where they got the dog, what to expect and how to prepare for the fact that there would be a return to a more normal life and many dogs would suffer from separation anxiety/isolation distress, poor/limited/no socialization.

To be fair, there are some damned unethical rescues out there as well. But right now, what I’m seeing are a staggering number of puppies and adult dogs coming into rescue from puppy mills and backyard breeders. Largely, I suspect because they can’t sell them. There is no market and no profit as a result. These aren’t dogs that an owner or purchaser is surrendering….these are coming directly from the breeder. And I have NO reason to believe the breeders doing this are going to stop breeding. They are just getting inconvenient “livestock” out of the way.

How a rescue deals with this is individual. Each rescue makes the decision that works best for them based on their role, their ability, and their own guidelines on what they consider a legitimate rescue job. It’s not easy and it’s not fun to have to make these kind of decisions and leaves us overwhelmed and guilt ridden and angry. So very angry.

Please. I beg of you. Don’t keep providing a market for these folks. DO your research on where you are getting your dog or puppy. There are many, many resources out there on how to determine if a breeder is ethical or not. There are resources on how to spot an unethical rescue as well.

In the final analysis, we created this. Our desire to have a dog. Now. Regardless of who is breeding or how they do it. We created the mills….our own fault. No market? Less likely for a mill to succeed. Think. Don‘t impulse buy. Don’t be mad because rescues can’t take in the impulse dog you now can’t afford or manage. We aren’t being jerks, but we are swamped and tired and may not have the space to take in your dog right this minute. And yes, I do realize that I’m closing the barn door after the horses have gotten out, but I did want people to know what is happening on the ground and it ain’t pretty. Resources:

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