In the interests of Tyson

TysonAt Pets Alive my job is mainly decision making.  I probably make hundreds of decisions a day.  Some are easy.  Some are tough.  But I think if you put it all in a nutshell that is my primary function as the executive director here.  Make decisions.  Yes, some are bound to be wrong and believe me, there isn’t anyone that can beat me up over those more than I can, so …save it.  If I screwed up, then I’m already caning myself far worse than anyone else ever could.  I understand that I’m human and that I’m not going to be right every time.  I’m going to make mistakes like everyone else.  I do accept that.  When I do mess up, I try to make sure I understand why and not ever make that same mistake again.  Not much more I can do than that.

I like to believe, and perhaps this is arrogant, that I don’t make a whole lot of mistakes when it comes to decision making about an animals life and his or her welfare.  Other things, yes, but not about animal care. If an animal NEEDS it, then we get it done. Period.  Somehow if they need an expensive surgery, we figure out a way to raise the money. If they need a special diet or food, we make that work.  If they need a special sort of emotional or mental stimulation, we try to make sure that happens.  These decisions aren’t difficult.  These are the easy ones.  These are black and white.

Sometimes it isn’t easy. Sometimes we have meetings and we decide things as a group because some decisions are tougher than others, but still I make them, with input, knowing that my heart is in the right place, and that right or wrong I am doing what I believe to be the best thing for the animal.

Recently though I was wrong.  I made a very bad decision for an animal in our care.  I don’t know why I feel the need to share it with you.  Maybe part of my self flagellation, or maybe in the hopes that another rescuer might read this and see him or herself in this blog and make the RIGHT decision for that animal.

This is the story of Tyson.

I first saw Tyson on the euthanasia list at the NYC ACC.  The CACC (Center for Animal Care and Control) in NYC is really little more than a killing machine.  They do try to place animals, and they do try to work with us rescue groups on getting animals out, but whatever is wrong with their system needs a heckuva lot of fixing because every day there is a euthanasia list with dozens upon dozens of dogs and cats on it. This week ONE day had over 100 animals set to be killed that day. If you’re an animal lover it breaks your heart.  If you’re a rescuer it just about destroys you. You start thinking “where can I fit one more” all the while knowing when you start thinking like THAT, then you MIGHT be on the path to being a hoarder because part of being a responsible rescue is saying NO when you have to, and not piling animals on top of each other when you can’t afford them or provide for all their needs.

So seeing the list every day is tough.  For my own mental health I have them all go to a private folder on my hard drive and don’t even READ that folder unless I KNOW I have space.

So here we were with a little space and so I checked out who was dying the next morning at the CACC.  I saw Tyson. He was being killed for “temperament” which at the CACC can mean anything from SEVERELY vicious to maybe nipped or cowered when being examined by strangers, in a  strange place with strange things, and terrified, and hungry, and…and…and… but ah, I digress.

I closed the folder and decided not to take in any of the dogs that day and decided instead to pull from some other local and non local rescues. Lord knows we didn’t need any more “issue dogs” here. We had a ton already.

jasperernie2But see, here is the thing.  Tyson was a Jack Russell Terrier.  Any of you that follow Pets Alive, or come here, have met Jasper and Ernie.  They are two of my five dogs and they just happen to be JRT’s. (I might add that they are the CUTEST dogs in the entire world and their picture should really grace every canine magazine, but, ah, I digress again).

And so I lay in bed and 11pm got to be 12am.  And 12am got to be 1am.  And 1am got to be 2am.  And I couldn’t sleep, thinking about this poor dog, dying the next morning at 8 am.  And I wondered if my own JRT’s might have a bit of a temperament “problem” if I dumped them there and they were in a cement run, and a ton of other dogs were barking and howling, and it smelled like fear and death, when their life to that point had been in my living room.  How would THEY act?  Maybe Tyson was just terrified.

And I went back and forth …. and at 3 am I got up and called the CACC hotline and pulled him.

“Pulled” is rescuer language for called up and agreed we would accept him into our facility.
And finally I was able to sleep.  My mind and heart both at peace.

So Tyson arrived and he was not in a good way.  Very agitated, stressed, nippy, restless, just not a picture of good things.  He also wasn’t up to date on shots or neutered.  He was very thin. So we had to get all that taken care of right away, which made him just distrust us even more.

Eventually Tyson got to a point where he could be handled and he even got adopted.  He was returned for biting.  Twice. The people never really bonded with him or him with them. He was always distant.

Tyson did ok here.  He ate and went for walks and was a typical dog although he could have bouts of frustration that resulted in biting and eventually a lot of volunteers didn’t walk him any more. Staff still did, but he was definitely a handful to get leashed as he was really unwilling to interact with you.  He wanted you to leave him alone.  He was angry.  Pure and simple.

But we still demanded he have a quality of life here and so against his will, one was provided for him.  But he was never a truly happy dog.

So five months later – we got a call from a man who claimed to be his previous owner. He said his wife saw him on our site and they wanted to come and adopt him back.


You dumped your dog in a kill shelter.
He had no shots.
He wasn’t neutered.
He was underweight.

Now you want him back??

Our adoption coordinator and I discussed it and felt that this person was an irresponsible pet owner and we were unwilling to consider this request.  How do you abandon your dog to a place that kills almost everything that walks through the door? I’m sorry but right there you have a strike against you that is written in BLOOD to me. No matter what happened to me, I’d never abandon my animals.  If for some reason someone DOES have to, I would expect them to work with a no-kill, or a friend, or take the time to find the animal a decent home.  Not walk over and hand him to a place that will turn around in 5 days and kill him, or less – as owner surrenders can be killed immediately.

We were disgusted.

But the man and then a woman started calling, and wouldn’t stop.  She kept calling and DEMANDING we surrender HER dog to her. She threatened us with legal action, she threatened us with all sorts of things.  We basically said “bite me” in a nice and not so nice way.

My adoption coordinator sent me this in May:

>>The Tyson (original owners) people are ALREADY ridiculous. Two calls so far.  Multiple emails. I already went off on the man….supposedly the reason why he surrendered Tyson to the CACC was because of an eviction…and he told CACC that he basically just wanted to board the dog there for 1 month, and then come back to pick him up. I told him well sir, if you looked INTO what the CACC really is, and what they do, you would have NEVER left your dog there thinking he’d be in the same, ‘safe’ spot you left him.  The CACC even told him they would likely put the dog up for adoption, and the man STILL surrendered him. He said there was miscommunication and the CACC wasn’t honest with him. I told him he was not very smart to NOT look into boarding facilities if 1 month was really the reality…

tyson2aNow, after 5 months, they find Tyson and want him back. I say no. The man says, ‘oh, I see he is neutered now’ and I said yes, WE rescued him, and WE are taking care of him until a wonderful family comes in to take him home. I actually have an appointment for Tyson Saturday oddly.

Ugghh, I even decided to give them a chance and said fine, give me your new landlord’s name and number so I can verify that they allow dogs and he said she doesn’t speak English very well at all and that she won’t call me back if I called her. I hate people.<<

Then a week later she sent me this:

>>He keeps calling me and wants Tyson back! He is now YELLING at me and I apologized MANY times but we do not agree with giving him his dog back! I refuse to speak with him anymore.  He wants to take the dog ‘all over the world’ with him…yet….months ago he dumped him at a kill shelter, and even though they KNEW he might not be there when they surrendered him, they left. For months. He gave up his dog in November 2010, and now April 2011, wants him back?  Give me a break.  I am more angry at these people because Tyson was super thin when he arrived here, unneutered, and also did not like us to put a leash around his neck at ALL. I understand dogs are nervous when they arrive and sometimes hate us…but he was not nice at all for weeks! <<

Then the woman started calling.  Begged for the dog back.  Said dog was not thin when he went to the CACC.  She asked me to let them have her back.  I said no.  That Tyson was doing well, and that we didn’t feel that they should have left a dog with the CACC, that they were irresponsible on many levels and we felt Tyson would do better in a different home.  I told her to stop calling here as we were at the point that she was harrassing my staff. She claimed she had no idea what the CACC was.  No idea that he could die there.  She thought the words CARE and control meant they would CARE for him. And about him.

In July I got this email from staff:

>>Previous owner is still calling on a consistent basis. Called today very upset and crying. Claims that she was told she could get him back from the shelter where she brought him originally but when she went back he had already been transferred out. Is very upset and misses him terribly just wants to know what she has to do to get him back.<<

And then I got a letter in the mail from her.  It had poignant and wonderful pictures of a very happy Tyson with them and in their home. There was a letter too and it said this:

tyson3Dear To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing this letter because I would like to adopt a dog that you have put up for adoption his name is Tyson (breed:  Jack Russell), which was actually my dog.

First, I would like to explain my situation and why I thought giving up my dog to the shelter was the best decision. About a year and a half ago I had a couple serious health problems. I had two procedures on my kidneys. My recovery was very hard – I couldn’t take care of myself. In addition because of the huge costs of the operations my financial situation was also bad. Because of these conditions I decided to give up Tyson. At that time I thought this was the best solution. Tyson has been living with me since he was a couple weeks old, and taking him to the shelter was the hardest decision I ever had to make. I’ve always treated him like a family member because I loved and still love him very much and gave him all the attention he needed. To prove he was living in place were he was loved I am sending you photos of Tyson and me.

Before I gave him to the shelter I discussion with one of the employee’s – we came to an agreement – that until my situation doesn’t get better I would be able to adopt Tyson back, if no one adopted him before.

I found Tyson on I have been trying to re-adopt my dog for the past few months and won’t give up because he is my best friend. I am willing to pay back the costs of Tyson’s stay in your shelter and any other just to get him back. I know he will be happy to be back home.

I know you are a shelter that helps animals find a good home where they will be loved and properly taken care of, please help Tyson come back home. Thank You in advance for all your help. And if possible please contact me as fast as you can.

That’s it.  Who tries for almost three months to get their dog back?  Even after I was hostile and rude to them at the end.  Who keeps this up?  And in looking at the pictures, this was a Tyson we didn’t know.  He was HAPPY.  Grinning.  Laying in their arms or chewing a bone on their rug.


Could I be mistaken about these people?

I called a staff meeting and we discussed it.  We decided that Tyson was NOT happy here, had few options for a home and maybe we needed to talk to the family again about this. No question they were irresponsible – at least at some point –  but clearly they had seen the error in what they had done.  They searched all the petfinders for MONTHS – five MONTHS – trying to find him after going back to the CACC a few weeks later to get him back and being told that he had gone to rescue.  The CACC (thank you!) would not give the name of the rescue, so the family searched until they found him at Pets Alive.

Is it possible we were wrong?

Is it possible this family made a grievious error, almost immediately felt it, and tried to reclaim their dog only to find out he was gone? Is it possible the thinnness was due to him being at the CACC and not eating for a week in grief and terror and fear?  Was it possible that they were just your average pet owner that didn’t kow neutering is something that should be done?  Is that so wrong?

I don’t know.  And I decided that I was focusing on the WRONG issue.  It wasn’t ABOUT these people.  Or our judgement on them or what they had done.

This was about Tyson.

What was best for HIM.

What did Tyson want?  If he could talk, what would he want?
He was unhappy here.  Two adoptions had failed. He was getting more aggressive to the point of being a RED caution dog.

And so we decided to let HIM decide.
We said bring the woman here. If he sees her, we will know from his reaction what is right.
I think that it will be crystal clear to us what the right answer is.  Maybe we are wrong in keeping him from this family that is desperately and determinedly trying to reclaim him.  Let’s see.

And so today, Grace came to see Tyson.

Unfortunately I could not be there, but Sue sent me this to describe the interaction:
Just want to say the Tyson reunion was one of the most emotional things I’ve ever seen! I’m so glad I got to be there. When Grace arrived I asked her to wait in the volunteer lounge and explained I would go get Tyson. I went to get him and of course it took me 30 minutes to leash him. I had Daniel try to help for awhile but that just made it worse since Tyson was more afraid and agitated with two people in his run. He just backed all the way into the corner and growled most of the time at me.

I talked to him and just kept getting closer and closer until I could drop the lead over his head…Yay – finally have him!!! 

tyson2When I get to the camp Tyler gate I see Grace is now standing near the picnic table anxiously waiting. We get about half way from the gate to the table and she starts yelling for him and squats down opening her arms. Tyson stopped for a split second and you could actually see something change in him, his tail went up and he bolted for her! I let go of his lead knowing exactly where he would go.

He jumped into her arms and started licking her face like crazy, his tail and the rest of his body wagging! She was crying telling him, “I’m so sorry, so sorry, I didn’t know, I really didn’t know, Please forgive me, I love you, I love you”! She just kept crying and hugging him like she would never let him go again! They were both so happy that I wanted to cry..and that’s pretty had to do! I wish I would have got the entire thing on video but who would have known that it would be so wonderful!

In this “business” we get cynical. We see the worst of humanity so often that we automatically suspect and expect people to be horrible and most times in this field of animal care, we are not disappointed.

But there was a huge lesson here.  When we stopped judging the people by our past experiences and past histories, and remembered to think about the animal and what was best for HIM, then maybe, just maybe we can admit we are mistaken.  And we can try to rectify that.


I will never approve of abandoning an animal.

But that doesn’t necessarily make people evil or not decent. Everyone makes mistakes.  In this case they saw that, suffered, and tried to fix it.

gtysonbyeI’m glad that we, as an organization, decided to see past human fraility and error and go back to the roots of doing what is best for the animal.  If you look at this picture….can you tell me this was a mistake?  A dog that would bite you as soon as look at you, with a grin ear to ear, knowing his people didn’t give up on him, and came for him.

I am not an easy person to battle.  Be at the end of my wrath and you will feel the sting.  I am unforgiving, and I am hostile if I feel you have not done right by an animal.  I was practically vicious with this woman on the phone and STILL she didn’t let it stop her.  She knew the love of a dog.  That dog knew the love of a family.  Neither would stand to be separated and BOTH made it clear.

Who are we to judge?

Good luck Tyson.

I firmly believe that you are where you belong and in the arms of someone that has moved heaven and earth to get you back and won’t ever let you go again.  Be happy little boy.  You deserve it.

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