The Sad Story of Oreo the Dog

Perhaps you saw this story about Oreo. It’s a sad story and there are lots of things we could say about it. All I know about Oreo’s situation is what I could read on-line and based on that, it appears the ASPCA did the responsible thing.

These sorts of situations, where an animal has been abused, evoke strong emotions and rightly so. Animal abuse is a terrible thing and should not be tolerated. It does seem to me, based on the on-line comments, there are a few things we need to think about a little more carefully.

I was really quite amazed at the commentors who were willing to second guess the animal behavior experts. This is a widespread phenomena in our society and I wonder why we are unwilling to acknowledge the expertise of specialists. I will however, not speculate here about that, but leave the analysis of this to the experts in human behavior.

Many commentors thought Oreo should be sent to a “no kill” shelter. In an ideal world, that would be nice. In the real world “no kill” shelters run out of room and resources. They simply cannot take every animal. For example, read the Best Friends Animal Society’s admissions policy carefully. I’m not being critical of Best Friends, not at all. I do want to point out that the need is enormous and the resources are limited.  By the way, New York City appears to have made commendable progress in reducing the number of animals euthanized.

Other commentors thought the ASPCA didn’t try hard enough to rehabilitate Oreo. I wasn’t there, I cannot know. As the result of all my years as a veterinarian I can say that there are mean dogs, and there are aggressive dogs, and then there are truly dangerous dogs. While there are not many, truly dangerous dogs they do exist and we cannot underestimate or ignore the injury they are capable of causing.

Where ever Oreo went, someone would have to care for Oreo and that someone would be in physical danger- unless of course there was essentially no human contact. But dogs are social animals and the a life time of solitary confinement strikes me as inhumane.

 In an ideal world we would be able to heal every animal. In the real world there are limits to what we can do.  We cannot cure every medical condition and we cannot cure every mental condition. Treating animal behavioral and emotional problems is extremely difficult. We know more than we used to, but there is still much to learn.

Let me tell you about a real situation. When I was in practice, a family brought in their dog who was suffering from separation anxiety. This is a fairly common problem in dogs and it can be successfully treated. We tried the standard treatments without success. The family worked with a local animal behavior specialist without success. We tried various medications without success. They consulted with  nationally recognized veterinary behavior specialists. This family did everything that was recommended. They tried hard,very hard for years. Nothing worked. This poor dog was miserable. Actually worse than miserable. This dog was terrified to be alone for even short periods of time. Eventually the family reluctantly decided to euthanize the dog. Not because they didn’t love the dog but because no one could ease the suffering of this dog. Believe me, we all cried that day. Writing about it many years later still brings tears to my eyes.

Friends this is a broken,fallen world and there are some things no amount of human love can fix. For our animal companions there are some things worse than dying- a life of fear, or unmanageable pain, or isolation. The people who work and volunteer at shelters and humane societies do their best. It can be tough work, both physically and emotionally.

It was a sad day, a tragic day for Oreo and for the folks at the ASPCA. Euthanasia is never the first choice. Sometimes there are not good options and it is the least bad choice. But far too many animals are euthanized every day all across the country because of the lack of resources to treat and care for them.  All of us who care about animals, whether we work in the field, advocate for animal issues, or provide loving homes for our pets, all of us hope for the day when:

 The wolf shall live with the lamb,

the leopard shall lie down with the kid,

the calf and the lion and the fatling together,

and a little child shall lead them.

The cow and the bear shall graze,

their young shall lie down together;

and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.

The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,

and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.

They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain;

for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.    (Isaiah 11:6-9)

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