Can a pet dog truly be incorrigible to the point of being unadoptable? How about when a New York shelter names him the “fire-breathing demon dog?”
Most would think this must be a big dog. Certainly, it must have a spiked collar, too. It probably has some history of abuse or neglect in his behavior, right?
Nope. Meet Ralphie. He’s a year-old, 26-pound French bulldog that has flunked out of three placements and is in a $6,000, six-week, live-in training program. The Niagara County SPCA hopes this will be funded by gifts.
Yes, Ralphie has the same name as four-time NFL champion Rob Gronkowski’s French bulldog, but they are two different dogs.
Before we take a deep dive in this, let’s square a couple of things. Let’s assume, as do the rest of the sources on this story, that Ralphie is otherwise “normal.” This means Ralphie does not have some physical or medical reason for the unwanted behaviors.
Next, we have to assume that the reeducation camps he has been sent to are competent. They may or may not be.
And finally, we are left to assume the prospective owners who took Ralphie in each time are competent as well. Again, maybe or maybe not.
The first set of owners took Ralphie to boarding and training classes, but Ralphie insisted on being the boss of everyone, according to the Niagara shelter and the canine educator. Strike one.
The second owners took in Ralphie after a competency examination by the shelter and gave him up after only two weeks. They say he annoyed their older dog. Strike two.
The third adopter allegedly had the right household mix but “Ralphie proved to be more than she could handle,” according to National Public Radio. Strike three.
So now, while Ralphie cools his heels again in doggie prison, we have time to dissect this situation.
The dog weighs only 26 pounds. Yes, it’s true that Chihuahuas can be some of the most vicious dogs out there but, to be frank, they aren’t going to rip your throat out. It’s hard to believe that scientifically based dog obedience could not be employed here and make a change if the three assumptions above are valid.
Could it be that the cute photos of a “free” (not ever) black and white French bulldog in the shelter system has attracted the wrong people for taking ownership? This is likely a big part of this story that has gone unspoken.
The vetting that shelters most often do is based on emotion in most cases, not science or economics. Case in point, currently pets are being returned to shelters in record numbers in many cities.
The influx of returns is said to be due to inflation and care costs encountered post-COVID-19. Could it be the people that took in pets to be companions during COVID-19 were not vetted well? Was the return-to-normal future that was inevitable not considered? Are most singles and two-income families really a good situation to place a pet in without economic vetting? Especially a pet that may need some work. Were the hard questions asked and hard decisions made?
Ralphie keeps getting passes because he is small, cute and his eyes are in the front of his head. Meanwhile the bigger snarly breeds get the needle, often after one strike.
So here’s a suggestion, how about the veterinary behavioral organizations and the American Veterinary Medical Association put their heads together and develop a universal vetting kit for prospective pet owners seeking a homeless pet?
Powell is the retired public information officer for Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. This column reflects his thoughts and no longer represents WSU. For questions or concerns about animals you’d like to read about, email firstname.lastname@example.org.