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Do pets belong with parolees?
Two violent offenders are trying to turn their lives around. But in this "what if" scenario, could that put a dog at risk?
Photo Getty ImagesFor 31 years, Dr. James Reed has owned Reed Animal Hospital in suburban New Jersey. He's a successful practitioner and well-respected in the veterinary community. He has two associates and a support staff of 13. He credits his success and his personal satisfaction with the practice of veterinary medicine to his love and respect for animals. He's also proud of his charitable efforts, supporting local humane shelters with his time, money and services.
Recently Dr. Reed saw two young men with a young boxer mix they'd adopted from a local shelter. They'd had the dog for three months and this was their first visit to the veterinarian. During the course of the examination and visit, they twice corrected the dog in what Dr. Reed thought was an excessively stern manner. He discussed with them the fact that harsh physical discipline was not the best way to train a dog to obey.
They responded by telling Dr. Reed that the dog had to learn. One of the young men said that if physical discipline was good enough for him as a kid, it was good enough for the dog. Dr. Reed didn't pursue it further because he didn't want to alienate the new dog owners. He felt it was in the best interest of the young dog to show patience and continue to attempt to enlighten the pet owners.
The young man said that if physical discipline was good enough for him as a kid, it was good enough for the dog.
But after the two left, Dr. Reed was upset. His philosophy had always been to see that his patients were pain-free and not frightened. That was not the case with this young dog. After some research, he discovered the two young men were living in a halfway house and on parole. They were trying to reenter the community and leave their misdeeds in the past. While this was an admirable route to straightening out their lives, they were not ideal candidates for adopting a needy shelter dog.
The issue for Dr. Reed, however, was not the young men-it was the shelter that had adopted the pet out to these applicants. Dr. Reed contacted the shelter's executive director and asked why a dog had been placed with two convicted felons with a history of violence. The director told Dr. Reed these were young people in the midst of rehabilitation and that they would benefit from the responsibility and companionship of a pet.
Dr. Reed disagreed with the decision. He believed shelter animals deserved to be in safe and stable homes, not used as tools to assist in rehabilitation. These homeless animals' adoptions ultimately should improve their lives, not leave them at risk. Dr. Reed wanted the dog taken out of the new household, but the shelter director refused. The relationship between Dr. Reed and the shelter would never be the same again.
Dr. Reed decided he would advocate for this dog by encouraging the owners to bring him in twice a year for checkups. He would also appear before the shelter's board of directors and recommend that their adoption policies be revisited. Do you think Dr. Reed overreacted, or is compromise a necessity when placing homeless dogs?
Humane societies, shelters and veterinarians are permanently intertwined by the pets they serve. They all have a common mission to see that these pets aren't frightened, abused or in pain. There's no doubt that this shelter was well-intentioned. It's clear to me, however, that in an attempt to help the community, it lost sight of its true mission.
I empathize with Dr. Reed's position. He must remain the pet's advocate under all circumstances. Diplomatically approaching the shelter's board of directors was a wise decision. If he had aggressively attacked the humane organization's policies, he most likely would only have perpetuated ill will between the shelter and himself-which in the end does not help homeless pets.
Marc Rosenberg, VMD, is director of the Voorhees Veterinary Center in Voorhees, New Jersey. The veterinary practices, doctors and employees described in “The Dilemma” are fictional.