Pet Therapy: Adopters of imported rescue dogs must consider liability

 

 
 
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Pet Therapy: Adopters of imported rescue dogs must consider liability
 

Some owners of rescue dogs are forced to spend thousands of dollars on veterinary bills because their dogs didn't first undergo a physical and behavioural assessment before being placed for adoption.

Photograph by: chalabala - Fotolia , chalabala - Fotolia

Gerry Bellett’s recent article on rescue dogs reported that a two-fold increase in the number of animal rescue organizations importing dogs into B.C. over the last two years.

Some rescue organizations see this as a good thing, asserting that the more rescue dogs Canadians adopt, whether from here or abroad, the better it is for animal welfare. However, some animal advocates have raised concerns that the nature of dogs being imported are aggressive, falling far short of what their new owners were led to expect.

I encounter one or two of these every month — dogs with severe behavioural problems imported from ‘high kill shelters’ in the U.S., Taiwan, Mexico and India are a substantial part of my caseload. Many imported dogs are also reported to animal control for having seriously injured people or other dogs.

Kathy Powelson, Founder of the Paws for Hope Foundation, is quoted as stating “We are having large and unstable dogs being brought over the border and placed with families with no temperament testing being done or any attempt to match the dog with its adoptive family.”

And, Powelson is right. Clearly, without undergoing a valid behavioural evaluation prior to adoption, new owners are at risk of adopting dogs with a plethora of problems, including aggression, anxiety, fears and phobias, and hyperactivity issues.

Despite the expectation that many rescued dogs will come with some emotional baggage, nothing quite prepares the owners of these un-vetted aggressive dogs for what’s to come. These owners spend thousands of dollars on veterinary bills, dedicated hundreds of hours to rehabilitation, and have turned their lives upside down to minimize the frequency with which people and other dogs get bitten.

Inevitably, some owners eventually make the decision to have the most dangerous dogs euthanized or to return them to the organization that adopted them out in the first place. The experience leaves these owners feeling guilt-ridden, emotionally fraught, physically scarred and doubtful of whether they should risk adopting a rescue dog ever again.

Owners realize that their dog isn’t aggressive due to any failings on their part frequently feel duped by the organizations that brokered these dogs — organizations that took their money and who either failed to undertake appropriate due diligence to assess the dog’s aggressive traits or, even worse, failed to fully disclose the dog’s known aggressive history during the adoption process. I have encountered both scenarios many times.

Who is to blame when these adopted dogs bite? According to Rebeka Breder, an Animal Law lawyer with Boughton Law in Vancouver, these owners have some legal recourse, but may also be held partly to blame. There is no specific dog liability act in B.C. as there is in Ontario, so common law, negligence law and contract Law would likely be considered.

“While the rescue organization has no duty of care to the victim of a dog bite, the victim could blame the owner,” said Breder. “The owner could then bring in the rescue organization as a third party, who could be held liable for misrepresenting the nature of the dog.

“The presumption is that the payment of a fee is for the adoption of a dog that has been assessed. The rescue organization has a legal obligation to disclose whether or not the dog is physically and behaviourally healthy. Rescue organizations that fail to do their due diligence, or who fail to disclose a dog’s known aggression history to a new owner could get in to trouble.”

This means that, while rescue organizations can be made accountable for adopting out some aggressive dogs, so too should prospective dog owners pay careful attention to the screening process that their next pet has gone through.

I am a huge advocate for adopting rescue dogs, but, only if it is done in an open and ethical manner. The B.C. SPCA, Edmonton Humane Society, and other large rescue organizations in Canada routinely assess dogs physically and behaviourally prior to adoption. These assessments are based on interviews with the dogs’ previous owners, the dog’s behaviour while at the shelter or foster home, and their overall physical health.

So, while dog seekers should be cautious when adopting a rescue dog, or any dog for that matter, getting a reliable behavioural history is key to finding the pet that we really want.

Rebecca Ledger is an animal behaviour scientist, and sees cats and dogs with behaviour problems on veterinary referral across the Lower Mainland. Read her blog at vancouversun.com/pets

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Some owners of rescue dogs are forced to spend thousands of dollars on veterinary bills because their dogs didn't first undergo a physical and behavioural assessment before being placed for adoption.
 

Some owners of rescue dogs are forced to spend thousands of dollars on veterinary bills because their dogs didn't first undergo a physical and behavioural assessment before being placed for adoption.

Photograph by: chalabala - Fotolia, chalabala - Fotolia

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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