Let’s talk about the difference between what the public perceives to be cute, and what is right for dogs.
There seems to be a new trend circulating social media, in which shelters are allowing dogs in their care to go “Home for Thanksgiving,” that is to say, allowing volunteers to bring available dogs into their home for Thanksgiving Day. All over the internet, people swoon and hit that “share” button … and all over the internet, dog trainers wince and shake their heads. Why? Allow us to elaborate.
We are faced with several dog ownership crises, one of which being the glorification of “cute” versus what is safe, sensible, and fair to the dogs. Social media has fanned the flames of anthropomorphism, and dogs are the ones who pay the price.
Family holidays can be high stress even for dogs within a home: a parade of strangers and commotion into their safe haven, unknown children running and shrieking, other dogs barking, inebriated family members insisting on social interaction with the dog, front doors opening and shutting unattended, dangerous food items hitting the floor.
Layer onto this a dog who has been sitting in the high stress, low stimulation shelter environment, perhaps for days, perhaps for weeks or months. Then suddenly and without a calm acclimation period to a new environment, this shelter dog is thrust into a holiday celebration for a day: a strange home, with strange people and strange animals, likely showered with touch and interaction whether they like it or not.
Now, if you will, envision all the ways this could go terribly wrong. Does this sound safe? Does this sound fair? Does this sound happy or enjoyable to a dog who has already had its life upended? I respectfully recommend raising awareness another way. Perhaps volunteers could print out photos of dogs who need homes and set one on each guests’ place setting, or perhaps they could ask their guests to bring a small item donation for your local shelter instead of a dish.
Help the dogs in a way that puts their needs and safety first, not what simply feels good to us.