by Dr. Bob Encinosa
Every day at our practice we see stray dogs brought in by their newly found families. Most often these strays aren’t acquired at animal shelters or adoption centers. They have wandered into the yard of some big-hearted animal lover, or been found wandering the streets and then, finally, taken into a loving home that they have deserved all their lives.
Their new owners will often be heard to say, “How could someone just abandon such a wonderful dog? “ or, “What kind of person would just drop this dog off in my neighborhood?”. The perception is usually that these strays are the result of intentional abuse and abandonment. No doubt, sometimes that is the case. But, I believe that the real reason behind the vast majority of these cases is something much less sinister and often unintentional.
Here’s the scenario. A family purchases a 7 week old puppy or adopts it from an acquaintance. It’s irresistibly cute, that is, until it chews up the leg of a chair and the corner of a carpet. It’s loved and adored until, by the ripe old age of 12 weeks, it’s still having accidents in the house. So, the cute puppy that everyone wanted, blossoms into the “bad” teenager that no one bargained for, and it becomes a yard dog. After all, what more could a dog ask for; a huge fenced yard with lots of trees for shade and lots of squirrels to chase, fresh air and the great outdoors. It’s given the best food and lots of clean, fresh water. In the family’s estimation this dog’s life could not be better.
Here’s the problem. The only thing missing in this dog’s life is the one thing it needs more than almost anything else…….companionship. Yes, most dogs love the sights, sounds and smells of the great outdoors, but above all they are social beings. They crave interaction and friendship, and without it, their existence is painfully incomplete. So they find a way through the fence, in search of friendly faces of other dogs or humans. At first they come home after a day of roaming. But eventually, they travel farther and stay gone longer and longer or simply lose their way back home. A stray is born.
This scenario plays out tens of thousands of times each year in a county the size of ours and is a testament to man’s capacity for ignorance and irresponsibility. Nothing malicious here; just unrealistic expectations and laziness. But, malicious or not, the impact is enormous. A small percentage of the victims find homes in the hearts of loving people. We all know what happens to the rest.