Trials & Tribulations

Many of you that read this blog have either adopted a dog from a rescue, or currently foster dogs through a rescue. I have encountered a question through our experiences, and wanted to get the perspective from some of you who may have more, and/or different, experience. I have had a few adopters inquire about whether or not we offer a ‘trial-period’ when our dogs are adopted. While this is absolutely a reasonable question, I am really on the fence about this, and so I want some insight from other individuals.

On the one hand, I absolutely want the best for Georgia, and also for the adoptive family. I want them to build a lifelong partnership, and be a perfect match for one another. Of course, it is our rescue’s policy, and my own personal policy, that any dog that we place, will always be welcomed back. We would first offer any resources available to ensure that the dog is able to stay in its adoptive home, but the dog in question will always be brought back to the rescue in the event that disaster strikes their family. In fact, it is written in the contract that the dog is never allowed to change families without explicit permission from LCPO. This ensures that our dogs don’t end up back where it all started… Basically, if Georgia goes to her home and it is not a good fit, or the family’s situation changes, of course she will be welcomed back into our home. I would never want her to stay in a family that doesn’t embrace her for the dog that she is. If it is a question of incompatibility with the other animals or children, I would never want to jeopardize the safety of Georgia or the other individuals involved. Furthermore, if she isn’t the right fit, we can probably work to match the family with another needy dog who might be.

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On the other hand, the term “trial period” just gives me the heebie jeebies. A few days ago, in a post called ‘The Vow,’ I compared dog adoption to a marriage. While some people out there may consider that to be a bit theatrical, that is truly how I hope Georgia’s family will view their commitment to her, and to us. I would imagine that if someone enters into a marriage with the idea that divorce is always an option if things don’t work out, they are probably a lot more likely to seek that outcome when things (inevitably) get hard. I see the commitment to a dog in the same way. Things with any dog, adopted or otherwise, are going to be hard at times. I promise. A puppy is going to chew your shoes and pee on your carpet. An adult dog may experience separation anxiety, reluctance in warming up to your family, or issues with other animals. If you know that the rescue is willing to take the dog back if when things ‘get hard,’ are you really going to be that willing to work through the issues?

If one of your first questions to us as the foster family is about the potential for a “trial period,” does that say you are simply taking a conservative and realistic approach for all involved? Or, does it suggest that you are looking for a ‘perfect’ dog, and an easy way out if the animal doesn’t meet your expectations?

If the rescue has taken the time to explain the process of the two-week de-stress (which we, and many other reputable rescues, require) and you ask for a weekend trial period, it is probably pretty clear that the dog’s best interest is not at the forefront of your consciousness. A short trial period would not allow the dog sufficient time to integrate with your family, other pets, and home environment through the two-week de-stress process.

Furthermore, experiencing struggles with your dog is an optimum opportunity to build your relationship and increase your communication skills together. Taking a training class or devoting time to getting to know your new pet can prove to be immeasurably valuable to your bond. Once you come out on the other side of an issue, and have conquered the fear or improved the communication, you will experience a stronger bond and deeper understanding of one another. To allow a new owner the flexibility of giving up easily and sending the dog back when they experience challenges, is robbing them of a potentially wonderful relationship, and of an opportunity to improve their dog training skills.

Also, many dogs in the rescue system have experienced traumatic lives in one way or another. Perhaps they have been abused, neglected, or bounced between homes. It is likely that at some point or another, they have known the chaos and isolation of a life behind bars. While we love dogs for their trusting nature and resiliency, any pup with some recollection of their negative past may take time to unveil their true personality in their new home. For us, it took almost a full month for Georgia to begin cuddling and playing with toys around us. Additionally, it took almost THREE whole months before she was comfortable around both of our dogs indoors. While this may seem like a big sacrifice on our parts, it was worth every second to see her laying on her back, tummy up in the air, snoozing beside Tonka & Gaige, without a care in the world. Not only will it take some time for a dog to truly let down their guard in your home, but the idea of bouncing them around between homes is literally petrifying to me. I know that were Georgia to go into an adoptive home that was not the right fit, it would be much harder for either of us (myself, and Georgia!) to trust that the next home would be. I can’t imagine how she would regress in terms of her training, and her comfort levels with people and other animals.

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Now that you know where I stand on this… well actually, I don’t even know where I stand on this. Of course, Georgia will always be welcomed back into our home and into our rescue, should an issue arise in her adoptive family. But the idea of a specified trial period just sets off all kinds of alarms in my head and in my heart. Where do you stand on this issue, personally? Does your rescue have a specific policy? Do you have stories of trial periods that were either absolutely successful, or completely detrimental? Did I neglect to bring up an important point on either side of the argument? I would love to hear your input!

“Character cannot be developed in ease & quiet. Only through experiences of trial & suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

-Helen Keller