A Rottweiler rescue

by Gautam Raja

The kennels of the Rottweiler rescue are in an industrial section of a town in the northern valleys of the Greater Los Angeles Area. Peeping over the trees in the area where you meet the dogs, is a line of car seats sitting high up in the automobile junkyard next door. A couple of doors down is the boxer rescue, and then the Weimaraner rescue. Directly across the street is a kennel devoted to small dogs.

This breed specificity on a single street should give you an idea of the scale of canine abandonment in this region.

When my wife and I met B. the representative of the Rottie rescue, we recognised a fellow “people optional” soul. She seems to devote her life to these dogs, arriving at the kennels at 4am to get them cleaned out before her day begins. A week later, she was at the kennels at 2am to have them done before she met us at the trainer’s by 8.

B. has a long process of approval before you can adopt from her, and after you hear some of the stories, it’s easy to see why. I don’t think she’s forgiven herself for one placement that went very badly, and is clearly deeply attached to all of the dogs in her care.

Our own eventual adoptee is a lovely chap called Diego. The first two and a half years of his life were spent on a tiny patio with an owner who used to beat him a lot. The next three and half were at the rescue where he was rehabilitated from a dog too fearful to be even approached, to the person he is now–nervous and hyper-alert certainly, but ready to start trusting.

The stories of cruelty get, and deserve, attention, but the stories of kindness gone wrong are more pervasive, more insidious. I’ve touched upon this issue several times here, but our recent exposure to the underbelly of pet dog world has made me even more sensitive to it.

Here in the land where dogs are pampered beyond belief, is an inevitable underworld of the rejects, fallouts, abandonments, and simply misplaced. When you walk the humane societies and rescue organisations you pass kennel after kennel of healthy, beautiful dogs in every shape and size (but a lot of them pitbull shaped).

In a post-Cesar Milan world, there has been a move from his traditional alpha-dog pecking order training to the world of clicker training and positive reinforcement. The problem with subscribing to a philosophy wholesale is the assumption that it must apply to every situation. Not every dog is suited to the gentle encouragement of positive reinforcement, and it’s difficult to apply consistently.

A dog professional recently said to me, “We’re seeing a lot of dogs needing to be euthanised because of positive reinforcement done wrong.”

In my brief poll of professionals who are exposed to a wide range of dog personalities, such as at a shelter, or dog day care, they have all said the same thing. It depends. Every dog is different, so don’t subscribe to any one methodology.

You might think a nervous dog like Diego would do well with gentle positive reinforcement. But guess what, as he settles and gains confidence, he is turning out to be what I call a “cuddle bulldozer”, managing to combine a beguiling sweetness with a heavily muscled pushiness. He needs a firm hand.

And so, we welcome another damaged personality into a household filled with personalities damaged by intentions good and bad. Sometimes we subject each other to our messes, but in the end, we’re all there for each other, hand in paw.

First published in Gulf News, September 26, 2017