There are Liability Dogs like Rusty (smaller), and there are Major Liability Dogs (large and powerful), like Quincy, Dieter and Brutus (seen above) awaiting adoption at shelters today.
DogsBite.org - Last July, we published a special report that identified 125 behavior terms for shelter dogs decoded that mask aggression. We also categorized the terms into their meaning (e.g., impulsive aggression, anxiety) and risk level (e.g., very-high, high, mod-high). We continue to find new terms on adoption listings that mask aggression and other trends in deception, such as omitting long-term shelter stay information, previous returns by adopters and bite histories.
This series of terms focuses on fosters and Major Liability Dogs. Most commonalities include seeking low-level activity homes for shelter dogs with aggressive behaviors that contain no children or pets. The need for "breed experienced" owners is also highlighted, though many dog owners aren't qualified to make that assessment. Just because a person has owned a rottweiler previously, doesn't mean that person can handle "Dieter," a biter and resource guarder.
One of the terms previously identified, "unicorn home," has evolved into a "unicorn foster." A dog that needs a "unicorn home" is so animal-aggressive, anxious and a resource guarder that it can only tolerate a "fantasy" home with zero stimuli. A "unicorn foster" has a home with no pets or children and is willing to accept "challenging," dogs riddled with behavior issues. What is unspoken is that a "unicorn foster" must also live in a rare and magical "unicorn neighborhood."
A "unicorn neighborhood" is non-existent. All neighborhoods have pets and kids, and often, at unpredictable times. These unicorn fosters will be expected to walk these behaviorally challenged dogs in public streets and parks. What is absolute and more common than a leash physically breaking is human error. So, a "unicorn foster" must have zero-margin of error 100% of the time when in public. This is not only unrealistic, it can endanger the foster and the community.
No pets, no kids? That means YOU are a rare and magical unicorn and WE NEED YOUR HELP WITH FOSTERING! We have noticed a growing trend at Asheville Humane: dogs who, for various reasons, are a little more challenging to find that perfect match for than your average dog. These dogs typically don't enjoy the company of other animals and are a little "too much" to be placed in a home with children. Because of this, they tend to stay with us for weeks, sometimes months, waiting for their ideal adoptive home. It is not uncommon for these dogs to develop challenging behaviors as a coping mechanism, which only compounds the problem further. - Asheville Humane Society
The slick "unicorn foster" marketing campaign is from the Asheville Humane Society (AHS). In 2015, just days after AHS launched a July 4th promotional campaign, "I want you to adopt an American Pit Bull Terrier," featuring Uncle Sam and a pit bull, a 6-year old boy was killed by a pit bull Asheville Humane had adopted out 3-weeks earlier. That pit bull had passed a SAFER test in flying colors. Maybe their "unicorn foster" campaign portends the mauling death of a foster?
"Fospice" is a term for another type of foster. Notably, rescues are not just trying to make suckers out of adopters, they play the same emotional harp strings with fosters. Athena, a presa canario, has been "handed off to multiple homes," used for breeding, was diagnosed with bone cancer and cannot be around children. Kenway's Cause rescue was also willing to do a leg amputation, despite her estimated lifespan of only 3 to 6 more months. Thus, "fospice" is a hospice foster.
Athena is a case for humane euthanasia to end her suffering. One commenter pointed this out: "Please! No more handoffs!!! Do right by her for Christ's sakes!" Yet, Kenway's Cause was willing to amputate one of her legs, so she could be a 3-legged dog in addition to her having a terminal health condition and a pitiable "rough life" background. At some point, "kindness" stops being kindness. "Fospice," in this case, primarily fulfills a human need, not a need for the animal.
Major Liability Dogs
When a dog has gotten "absolutely ZERO interest" from perspective adopters, and has already been in a shelter for four years (1,460 days), as Brutus has, one can assume the dog has severe behavioral problems. Brutus needs a "breed experienced owner" (pit bull), where he will be the "only dog in a LOW TRAFFIC" and adult-only household. Decoded, Brutus is animal-aggressive, can't tolerate activity in the home and is unsuitable for children. Only a "unicorn foster" will do.1
When a shelter dog is called a "meathead" that doesn't realize "how big he is" and "lacks manners," requiring an adult-only household with no other pets, one can assume this translates into total disobedience, plays extremely rough (body crashes), will harm children, will kill other animals and is large and powerful -- aka the dog is like a bull in a china shop. The Urban Dictionary meaning for "meathead" also indicates impulsive aggression and super-fast arousal.
"Meathead - An enormously muscular guy who cannot hold a conversation about anything other than weight-lifting and protein shakes. Gets upset very quickly when he cannot complete his own sentences and thoughts. Can be found at nightclubs wearing shirts that are 10 sizes too small (if at all). They are by far the most closely related human beings to that of apes, chimpanzees, and other primate. They are evolutionary hindered and are less capable of following directions than my dead hamster." - Urban Dictionary
When a dog saved from death row is "reactive" and "very teethy," whose new owner cannot afford the "surrender fees" or afford the training the dog needs -- run away, do not walk away. The dog needs "major training and rehab" that its owner is incapable of. This owner clamored onto the "saving a death row dog" train only to realize the dog was "much more than we can handle." Now she's asking for someone else to trick the shelter so that she can avoid paying euthanasia fees!
When a dog is "reactive to ALL new people" and "reactive to most dogs," this translates into stranger aggression, dog aggression and more. TK is also kennel reactive and "extremely selective" about who he "let's in his circle." TK has already bitten 7 people and has to be "muzzled and sedated" to go to the vet. Always and Furever Midwest Sanctuary admits TK is a "liability and risk and one mistake" will result in a person or animal getting hurt. Again, to error is to be human.
The sanctuary also admits, "today a mistake happened." TK "got into the yard with Sally and they fought." Sally wound up at the vet. A sanctuary committed to the welfare of their animals would never allow TK, a Major Liability Dog, anywhere near their animals. In this case, it's not that "TK's life matters" less. It's that TK's life matters more than all of the other animals at the rescue. Always and Furever is proud they "took the risk no one else was willing to take" by taking in this dog.
TK (Travis Kelce) is currently available for adoption. There is no mention of the 7 or more previous bites in his adoption listing. No mention of attacking Sally either, only that TK is "not good with small animals." There is no mention of TK being reactive to "all new people," nor that he is "extremely selective" and dog-aggressive. No indication that TK is a "liability and risk" and that zero margin of error is required -- one mistake results in people or animals (or both) being hurt.
The act of Always and Furever taking in dogs like TK (that no other entity will risk taking) is actually a marketing and fundraising differentiation from other rescues that offers the most "street cred." The more dangerous the dog one accepts, the more street cred one gains. Thus, they do openly talk about TK's reactivity and liability on their Facebook page to gain applause from their followers and donors. The most coveted rescues, in their minds, take in the most dangerous dogs.
Most of the dogs we have featured thus far are Major Liability Dogs that require a Level 2 or 3 dog owner (Level 3 = dog trainers and professionals). The vast majority of adopters are Level 1 owners; they can't even teach the "Stay" command. Major Liability Dogs have already exhibited aggression and are capable of deliver devastating bites. Dieter, a rottweiler, is among these dogs. However, his adoption listing by the Lakeshore Humane Society is less deceptive than the others.
We first saw the December 16, 2020 adoption listing, which was explosive, a "resource guarding" rottweiler with a "bite record" then backtracked to December 13. The bite occurred between those dates. Dieter is dog selective, cannot be exposed to children or small animals, requires an "experienced rottweiler owner," a fenced yard and attending a training course is a mandatory condition of adoption. Who could actually adopt this dog? A retired police K-9 handler is our pick.
The name of this file is "Dieter Paradox" because it refers to the Shelter Dog Behavior Review that we published in March. Level 1 dog owners do not understand what it means to own a dog like Dieter. They may think they can handle a dog like Dieter, but have no basis or qualifications to make that assessment. The only people who do have that qualification will most often say, "No thanks." That's the paradox. So in the end, the adoption listing for Dieter is still deceptive.
"The only people really qualified to take a dog like that is someone who lived with a dog that had that level of aggression. And, anyone who has already lived with a dog with that level of aggression, will say 'No thanks' to their next dog having the same issues," Sternberg said. "That's the paradox. Once you realize that, you realize that all we are doing is duping someone into adopting a dog because they don't truly understand." - Canine Behavior Review, Fall 2020
"Shelter swapping" is a term that came into full force in the lawsuit against a South Texas no-kill shelter accused of "dog laundering." Recently, there was an excellent example of this concerning a long-term shelter stay dog named Rusty, who was returned to the Waco Animal Shelter one day after being adopted. The dog had previously been in the shelter for 419 days with multiple unsuccessful adoptions and returns. The latest return involved Rusty biting the new adopters.
Rusty (A093077) was first surrendered in February 2020 (2nd home). He was placed into a foster (3rd home) then sent to a rescue in Idaho (4th home and shelter swap). The rescue returned the dog to the Waco Animal Shelter for being dog-aggressive. He was adopted in November 2020 and returned for being "destructive" (5th home). He was adopted in February 2021 and returned (6th home). On March 30, he was adopted and promptly returned one day later (7th home).
Throughout this process, Rusty was called a "staff favorite," as well as deemed "Zack and Jim's Waco 100 Pet of the Week" to help unload the dog onto an unsuspecting adopter. But here is the real whopper. When Rusty was returned to the Waco Animal Shelter on March 31, that date became his "start" date at the shelter. According to the adoption listing, this dog has only been at the shelter since March 31, 2021 and makes no mention of the many previous failed adoptions.
"Rusty - ID#A093077. My name is Rusty. I am a neutered male, brown dog that looks like a German Shepherd Dog and Catahoula Leopard Hound. The shelter staff think I am about 2 years old and 1 month old. I weigh approximately 50 pounds.
I have been at the shelter since March 31, 2021.
Rusty is a great dog but he does take a little time to get used to 'strangers'. Once he bonds, though, he really enjoys being with people. A little patience and understanding will go a long way with him. He must have, though, had some negative experiences with children, as he is not comfortable with them and therefore is looking for an adult only family.
Currently he would be best suited as an only dog until he has had time to adjust to a new home and feels relaxed and loved and bonded, so he is more open to other dogs. Rusty is such a super cute and smart fellow, he would make the perfect addition to committed adopter family2 that shows him that their world can be a fun place with him in it." - City of Waco Animal Shelter, April 1, 2021
When adopting from a city or county shelter, we advise all members of the public to request all "intake" and "outcome" records for the dog. These records will show every time Rusty came into the shelter, left the shelter and was returned to the shelter. These records are not typically easy to read (you have to get used to them). See pages 2 to 6 for an example. "Rainbow" was surrendered by four separate owners. The dog was eventually euthanized for "severe behavior."
Quality of life for dogs like Rusty -- in and out of 7 or more homes and often a year or longer in a shelter -- can be quite poor. Unfortunately, we can't easily turn the masses of Level 1 dog owners into Level 2 and 3 dog owners either. Rusty's last adoption was a disaster; it lasted one day. Rusty's adopters said he was "too much work." The dog also bit them. On April 2, we saw that Rusty's adoption listing was gone. He was apparently adopted again thanks to the media's help.3
As this selection of shelter terms show, not all are targeted at unwitting adopters. Some are targeted at unwitting fosters too. A "unicorn foster" for a dog with aggression is a fantasy that can endanger the foster and the community where the dog is placed. "Fospice" is a miserable term that turns humane euthanasia on its head. Humane euthanasia is painless; its primary purpose is to end an animal's suffering. Fospice, in some cases, extends this suffering unnecessarily.
Terms like "absolutely ZERO interest" after a 4 year shelter stay or "LOW TRAFFIC home only" or "reactive to ALL new people" or "adult-only household with no pets" indicates dogs with aggressive behaviors that no Level 1 dog owner can handle. These are Liability Dogs and Major Liability Dogs. The "Dieter Paradox" shows us that Level 2 and 3 dog owners, who have managed a dog with aggressive behaviors in the past, typically never want to undertake the task again.
Finally, the best way to detect "shelter swapping" and the number of intakes, returns and outcomes for dogs like Rusty is to directly request these records from the shelter. This information is rarely in the adoption listing. While omitting this information in the listing offers a better chance for the dog to be adopted again, it is unfair and unethical to the new adopters. The quality of life for dogs like Rusty are often low too, all to achieve the no-kill single metric 90% "save rate."
2The "committed adopter family" phrase implies that none of Rusty's previous adopters were "committed." That is an unethical guilt trip. The fact is, the adopters were lied to about the dog's behavior. Rusty was "too much work" and a "biter." Perhaps none of the adopters knew how many homes Rusty had been recycled to either.
3As we were getting ready to publish, more information on Rusty came in. Thanks to the media article, "hundreds" of people are now trying to adopt this dog. Paula Rivadeneira, the executive director of the Humane Society of Central Texas, which runs the Waco shelter, is now telling people: "Rusty isn't the dog you're envisioning. It's a kind thing to do, but he's going to be a problem" and Rusty "plays well with some dogs. Around others, he's lethal." For now, reports Patch, Rusty has been "taken in by a local rescue partner" to "identify and overcome the behavioral issues that have caused guilt-ridden families to return him to the shelter." Despite this PR promise, dog-killing aggression cannot be rehabilitated. It can only be controlled through separation measures.
03/01/21: Webinar: Shelter Dog Behavior Review with Sue Sternberg and Gia Savocchi
02/24/21: Lawsuit Against South Texas No-Kill Shelter Alleges "Dog Laundering" After Bite
07/31/20: 2020 Edition: 125 Behavior Terms for Shelter Dogs Decoded that Mask Aggression
05/11/18: Shelters Often 'Encode' and 'Conceal' Aggression in Adoption Advertisements
09/20/16: What's Behind the Clickbait Web Advertisements of Aggressive Shelter Dogs Available?