I live in exurban, or rural if you prefer, Texas. This means that at 45 miles outside of Houston, my community attracts people who no longer want their dogs. They claim they come here to “set their pets free so they can live on a farm.” Which is the coward’s way of saying they dump their dogs. And as unbelievable as this sounds, it happens all the time. Those who do this, or even consider it, need to know what happens when you “set a dog free” in the country.
It’s not pretty.
The most likely outcome for a dumped dog is for her to be shot. In fact, when most rural people who are trying to do the right thing call their sheriff’s office — many small communities have no proper animal control services — the officer on the other end almost always says to shoot the dog if they are concerned about their safety or the safety of their livestock.
That’s it. No offer to help, just the advice to shoot the strange dog if he seems threatening. That’s what happened when we called about the first dumped dog on our property. And as I said, that’s what happens when people want to do the right thing. Most folks out here know that the authorities can’t really help them. And so they practice what it colloquially called “SSS.” They shoot, shovel, and shut up. It’s how predators are most often handled in the country.
But, but, but … my dog is not a predator, you may say. Well, tell that to the chickens, goats, calves, and cats in our neighborhoods. Your dog still has to eat, and since you are no longer feeding him, what do you suppose his food choices are? Because if your dear dog isn’t shot, his next most likely outcome — after being hit by a car — will be starving to death.
I hope you haven’t stopped reading. I know this all sounds awful, but it’s the truth. And the truth gets even uglier, but it needs to be known. The dogs who are killed with one shot really are the “lucky” ones. Some get wounded and die slowly and painfully, some are poisoned and die a gruesome death after consuming food laced with antifreeze or rat poison. Some are stomped to death by livestock guardian donkeys or brutally attacked by livestock guardian dogs. Others are killed by coyotes or mountain lions.
There are myriad horrible ways to die in the country. And the most likely outcome for any dumped dog is that he will die. You need to know this. Your dog is not going to happily live on a farm.
Well, unless she is. We got one of our best ever dogs, Little Chicken, from a dumping situation. We were at a friend’s party when her grandkids came running around to the backyard, yelling that they saw someone just dump a dog. They also said not to let MeeMaw see the dog or she would shoot her with her .22. (A claim MeeMaw strenuously denied, I should add.) Said dog — a 6-month-old Lab/Beagle cross — made a beeline to my husband, dropped to her belly to crawl the last 20 feet, and then flopped over to show that sweet belly to him.
We were sold. She was saved. But probably your dog isn’t going to do that right after you shove her out of your car and drive off. Probably your dog is going to chase after you for a while before totally freaking out and becoming an irredeemable mess.
We have saved other dumped/abandoned dogs, too. Lipton, a black-mouthed cur, stayed with us for a month or so while we had him vetted and neutered, and then we adopted him out. Mama Dog, our terrier mix, appeared at our local feed store after likely being dumped with her entire litter of puppies. The pups were all adopted before we took her to foster, and then we ended up foster failing.
But again, you CANNOT count on this outcome. Because the norm around here is SSS. And our farm is all full up on dogs right now.
I have great sympathy for people who have legitimate reasons why then can no longer care for a dog. There are plenty of avenues to rehome dogs in that case, absolutely zero of which involve abandoning them in the country to fend for themselves. Rehoming through friends or family would be the best. Rehoming through a community Facebook page would be your next best choice, as long as you properly vet the adopters. Bringing them to your closest animal shelter would follow that, and if there are severe medical or behavioral issues with the dog, then humanely euthanizing at a vet’s office would honestly be the kindest answer.
No dog deserves to be pushed out of a car in a strange place and left to figure out the elements, how to scavenge for food, and how to navigate/avoid the many horrible possibilities that I already laid out. No dog. And this message needs to be absorbed and spread. We, as a society, have to be better than this.
Have you ever encountered a dumped or abandoned dog? What did you do? Tell us in the comments.