by Dunia Rahwan
Adopting a dog is a privilege, but also a huge responsibility. For years we have been called to respect and satisfy their needs, to commit ourselves to their education and to take care of them, even when they become elderly. Adopting a dog changes your life, certainly for the better, but it also involves a series of non-trivial tasks, from which we will never be able to escape.
AN ANIMAL IS NOT A GIFT
It is therefore a very bad idea to give a dog, cat, or hamster as a present: you do not give yourself a responsibility, but you choose to take it on. Receiving a fluffy puppy on Christmas Day could make us scream with joy, then the little one will start leaving mementos all over the house, it will take time and attention, and will be a huge emotional as well as financial investment. Thinking about it, it is too demanding a gift if not explicitly requested. If, on the other hand, you decide to adopt independently, you can take advantage of the long Christmas holidays to better manage the inclusion of the new animal in the social group.
We have come to a crucial aspect of adoption: understanding which dog is most suitable for us.
DOGS ARE NOT ALL THE SAME
Dogs are not all the same, just imagine a chihuahua next to a golden retriever. Whether it is a purebred or mixed, which is an intricate mix of breeds, the dog is usually chosen for aesthetic reasons, while it should be the last parameter to be analyzed as each breed has its own character prerogatives and it is necessary to understand the reasons that define a certain breed to identify the type of dog most suitable to the lifestyle of the family. It's a puzzle, and the pieces have to fit together! The right dog for one family may be unmanageable in another; for example, it is risky to adopt a puppy if it will be alone for many hours a day, preferably an adult dog would fit better. Once we have located the dream dog, we need to find him.
HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT DOG?
Dog adoption is often approached lightly: you book on the internet, buy instore or choose from a random breeder, and the emotional aspect keeps us away from the kennels. How many times have I heard the phrase "if I go to the kennel, I'll take them all home", but it is not necessary: one would be enough! The visit among the menageries is frightening, we fear the sad eyes behind bars, but if we could take the courage in both hands and try, we could find one of the many treasures hidden in the kennel, a mine of forgotten gems.
To purchase an animal, a scrupulous prior investigation is required, and the most ethical choice is made as behind the adoption of a dog, stories of mistreatment and illicit trafficking attributable to the zoomafia market may hide. Things not to be taken lightly. According to the Eurispes Italy 2021 Report, animals entered our homes as gifts in 20.7% of cases while 19.3% came from kennels, 17.1% from the street, 13% from breeders, 12.3% from a pet shops, 11.4% were bought by acquaintances or private individuals, 5.7% kept the pet's puppy and, finally, 0.5% was purchased on the web. According to the research, therefore, over 37% of Italian pets have been bought.
THE TRAFFICKING OF PUPPIES
In Europe, the trafficking of puppies, especially from Eastern European countries, is one of the most alarming zoomafia phenomena according to the 2021 zoomafia Report of LAV. The borders of European countries are crossed every year by round about 46,000 dogs, half of which are illegal immigrants with fake documents, and it is not known where they were born or how they lived the first months of their life until the adoption. According to the research "On the welfare of dogs and cats involved in commercial practice”, funded by the European Commission, the trade in these puppies generates a total value of 5.5 million euros every month, but the LAV believes that the actual value is at least double. A business that is becoming the spearhead of zoomafias.
THE BUSINESS OF SUFFERING
In the worst case, the puppies on the market, especially if they come from Eastern countries such as Hungary, are raised in pitiful conditions and have to face endless journeys crammed into vans and trunks. Infant mortality is very high, and puppies bought for little money at the kennel, in the shop or on the web are often sick, with false documents and pedigrees, so the money saved in the purchase is invested in expensive medical care. Not to mention the suffering one feels in seeing them suffer.
Thinking about the behavioral aspect, it is essential that a puppy grows up with its mother and siblings in an appropriate environment, without feeling fear and suffering. In the first two months of its life, the little dog learns to communicate with its peers and learns the social rules of the pack, but if it is snatched from its mother too early, as often happens in the trafficking of puppies, it loses an important slice of teaching and in the future may manifest behavioral disturbances.
According to BBC research, since the start of the pandemic, the offer for the sale of puppies on social media has increased, with an increase in fraud and scams. I give you some advice: when the puppy is for sale below cost on the internet, with hand delivery to a motorway junction, forget it, it is easy to hide something rotten.
Adoption in stores is to be carefully considered. Consider that the puppy you fell in love with spent weeks in an illuminated display case, on offer to customers who, one after the other, evaluate the purchase by taking it in their arms and cuttle them. Here I open a necessary parenthesis: when we touch an unknown dog, we almost always make it uncomfortable as dogs do not know our ape-like way of communicating love, hugging, and holding, they are canids and have other ways of joining the social group, the pack, for example they nibble, lick and sleep clinging to each other.
Furthermore, often the puppies for sale share the same space without the supervision of an adult who forms social interactions, which end up being not educational. In nature, on the contrary, they would stay with the family and learn to make dogs under the watchful eye of their parents and older siblings. For a puppy confined to a store, however, the road to balanced growth is all uphill. Also, for this reason, several countries have decided to ban the sale of animals in shops, most recently France which will implement the new law from 1st January 2024.
HOW TO SELECT A BREEDER
Lovers of a specific breed, which I understand being a fanatic of a Golden Retriever, have two options: look for the dog in groups present on the social networks dedicated to the breed, selecting those that you can go and meet in person. Attention, however, there are breeder and breeder! While some exploit animals for their own economic gain, others put the welfare of dogs first, are profound connoisseurs of the prerogatives of the breed and plan litters in respect of bitches and newborn.
Here are some tips for selecting a good breeder: the first time go in person to ask for information and take a look around to see if the animals have enough space and is clean, are they healthy, if they have a balanced temperament and how they behave in the towards breeders: are they fond of them or do they fear them? Peek into the cages and kennels, check the bowls and check for toys or other types of environmental enrichment. When you have chosen the kennel, follow the puppy's growth path, meet the parents, and visit the litter several times before adoption. This way you will get to know each other and make sure that the future family member is growing in the best way.
THE TREASURES ARE FOUND IN THE SHELTERS
The first place to look for a dog to adopt should be shelters in your area. In Italy over 100,000 dogs are waiting for a family and choosing to welcome one is an ethical choice that contrasts the phenomenon of straying by reducing the demand for purebred puppies, often of illicit origin. In the search, do not be guided by emotions but by dog behavior experts who are able to "read" the dogs and direct you to the one that best suits the expectations and lifestyle of your family. If there is no dog trainer in the kennel, have an external professional accompany you during the visit: this is a precaution that could spare you the problems generated by a wrong adoption.
Always meet the dog in person before welcoming him into the house; therefore, I advise you not to adopt through online advertisements, often more tearful than descriptive of animals, to avoid finding yourself in front of a dog completely different from the one imagined. It happened to me with Vilma, my 12-year-old Breton girl who was irresponsibly adopted 9 years ago: the ad read "a year, perfect with other dogs, people, children and great on a leash!" and I made her arrive in Milan from Sorrento. Moral: Vilma was at least three years old; she was terrified of everything and everyone, she had never seen a leash, and on the health front she is neurological, epileptic, and incontinent. For me it is the eighth wonder, but I assure you that the first few years were neither simple nor cheap.
SOME USEFUL ADVICES
In the first months of adoption, the most important aspect is to build a relationship of trust and friendship. We must become a guide for the dog, a stable reference. The new friend does not have to obey us because he fears us, so it is best to reward the good deeds and ignore the negatives as the dog craves social bonding and ignoring it is often the worst punishment. As soon as he arrives home, the dog needs time to settle in: the puppy is experiencing the trauma of separation from mother and siblings, while the adult has left a past in the kennel, on the street or in another family for something unknown. In both cases, suspicions in the delicate moment of life must be respected. In the first month of adoption, it is better to dedicate yourself to observing the new family member, get to know him without requesting too much. There will be time to teach him to sit, to go for a walk without pulling, to remain still waiting for the bowl, but for the first 30 days, do not ask him for anything.