Replacing the old with the cute new
I’ve been wanting to write this for a while and having recently had the pleasure of being one of the judges for Oldies Club annual Woof Factor photo competition it’s prompted me to get writing.
One of the great disgraces of current societal attitudes to dogs is that when they get older, it’s seen by some, in fact many, as acceptable to give them up for rehoming. Ask any rescue centre and they will reel off a catalogue of experiences involving the discarding of older dogs happening on a regular basis. Far from this being seen as something to be sorry about by the dumpers, some of those disposing of their dogs do so, simply in order to get a puppy, they are not sorry, or at all ashamed. They actually tell shelter staff they want a puppy instead of their mature dog (I’d like to write, they “admit this” but that would imply they feel some guilt, or have some conscience over their actions, yet they don’t). For these people, it’s just a normal, guilt-free trip to take the old dog off to an unknown fate to clear the way for the new puppy.
I cannot fathom how any person who lives with a dog can do this. I just can’t. I know that there are some genuinely sad situations where high veterinary expenses become a serious financial burden with older dogs, but these cases are not typical of the dogs being abandoned, or given to rescues. Having spoken with several people who work in rescues around the country, the more typical reasons are a lack of interest in the dog once the novelty of youth has worn off, the desire to have a puppy in the house – often for the children as a new plaything – rather than a mature dog, with the lumps and occasional grumps a mature life can bring (especially when that life is not one full of love); or the fancy to switch to a more “fashionable” breed and other similar, callous, shallow, unconscionable reasons.
I know that I am not capable of doing face-to-face rescue work, because I could not play the demanding game that is required of kind hearted, compassionate people who see beyond the human failings they are faced with daily, in order to reach the dog that is in need. They bite their tongues, hear the excuses and take the dog into their care, hoping a home can be found that makes up for the cruel discarding they are forced to witness. I hugely admire those who manage to do this, day in day out, they keep any rage they feel concealed, give no hint of judgement and avoid losing their jobs or their minds. I’d be at serious risk of both occurring within a short while.
For, while I am compassionate, deeply so when it comes to dogs, the limits of my compassion do not extend to making the humans – who are the ones with, and wielding the choices – feel better about their decisions. I want them to know what they are doing to the dogs they dump. I want them to understand how bewildering it is to the dog whose simple wish in life is to be loved by, and to love their human companions, only to be bereft of familiar companionship and alone but for the company of strangers they suddenly, inexplicably find themselves amid. I know that for many, many dogs who find themselves left at shelters, or worse, abandoned on streets, or in the countryside, if they are found new homes, their lives will be better than before, much better. But, it is a big IF. Rehoming older dogs is never an easy task and many will live out their days in shelters, not homes. And if they happen to be a “hard” breed to home, their days are numbered as soon as they are dumped.
All these issues are painful enough to accept, but when looked at in the context of the currently booming puppy business, including of course puppy farming, it is an even greater tragedy for the dogs of today. Not only are older dogs being dumped in shocking numbers, but when they are replaced by a puppy, it keeps the puppy market profitable and easy. The issues of puppy farming, back street breeding and the discarding of dogs in rescue are intricately linked. It is one major reason that I dislike the endless promotion of cute puppies – the puppies that don’t stay puppies. The puppies that need training, attention and to live as the dogs they are, not the babies too many people want them to be.
I am profoundly uncomfortable with the overwhelming cuteness in so many dog images found on social media; or the presentation of any dog as an adorable toy, or baby, or doll, or anything other than the dog it should be respected as. While I enjoy seeing images of happy dogs, I dislike the portrayal of dogs as objects, ornaments, appendages to a lifestyle. Or spoken about as if they are not dogs, but babies, or small children, this creeps me out, for it insidiously contributes to society seeing dogs not as dogs who need to live as such with us. I loathe dogs being seen as items, or fashion statements, that will lose their appeal at some stage.
Some way down the line, those whose lives are driven by trends, buy puppies based on fads, or on impulse, and they are the ones most likely to get rid of the no-longer trendy dog, the one who’s grown to be a big dog, one who sheds hair, one who needs attention when attention shifts to the next fickle interest or fleeting fancy. This is the calamitous reality for dogs in modern society and it is something that all of us who care about dogs need to grapple with and do what’s needed to influence anyone we can.
There are several international projects that can be found on social media at the moment that champion older dogs, that profile their beauty and which are worth following, sharing and promoting. It may seem a small thing to do, but it can help to counter the cute and pretty and get a sense circulating that dogs get old, and as they do, they are to be celebrated, not ditched.