“Sorry, she’s a rescue…”

Am I the only one guilty of this transgression?

Relaxing a bit
Pyrrha, circa June 2012. A few weeks after we adopted her. (Check out the pup cooler-raiding in the background.)

Scenario: Your dog has a reactive outburst. Or growls at an approaching toddler. Or does something behaviorally embarrassing to you, the owner. You see the shocked or scared faces of people around you. And so you say, “Oh, sorry about that. She’s a rescue…” by way of explanation.

Excuses, excuses! It’s terrible, I know, but I’m pretty sure this statement has spilled from my lips in a tense public moment with Pyrrha.

It feels like an easy “out,” especially with strangers. They then just seem to think, “Oh, I get it. Your dog has a lot of baggage.” And yes, it’s true: Pyrrha does have a lot of baggage.

But I’m just reinforcing negative stereotypes about rescue dogs whenever I say this. Some rescues are totally issue free. And some aren’t. But I’m adding to this public perception of rescue dogs as damaged goods whenever I say this. And I want to stop.

Better explanations I can issue to strangers, if Pyrrha has an outburst:

  • “I’m sorry about that; she has some fear issues that we are working on.”
  • “I’m sorry; we are working on training her.”
  • “Hope we didn’t scare you; we are working on polite behavior in public!”

Do you ever say this about your dog? Have you found more helpful things to say to people to explain your dog’s sometimes problematic behavior?




13 thoughts on ““Sorry, she’s a rescue…”

  1. My Golden has a few fear issues (ie uncertain about men at first, motorcycles, loud trucks). I walk her almost daily at a strip mall and work with her there. Sometimes someone will come up and ask if she’s friendly, and I tell them, “She’s a bit fearful of certain things.” And then go on to explain that we’re working. (I usually end up giving the person a treat, which they in turn give to Dixie.)

    If she barks or shies away, I do find myself apologizing. Then tell the person that she’s just frightened and we’re working on it.

  2. Eeek. That’s tough. I haven’t really had experience with that, per say, but I have had experience with is people who have that very stereotype already in their minds and so when they see Elli – and love her – and find out that she was a shelter pup a long time ago, it surprises them. And it’s sad that it surprises them.

    Sometimes I do commit the off-hand comment, though. People will ask what she is and I have to force myself to tell them her possible breed rather than “she’s a rescue”. I know I’ve said that before but it’s never usually a result of embarrassment. Elli is my dog, she was rescued, but now she is mine. I have to keep that in the forefront of my mind when I take her anywhere.

    Nancy Tanner, who I know personally, wrote a lovely blog post about this a while back:

  3. I’ve definitely found myself using “she spent four years in a crate in a basement…” as an excuse for Jeni acting like an idiot sometimes. She’s been with us long enough that it’s on me now to manage or train proper behavior and stop blaming her past but… it’s hard not to!

  4. I’m sure this phrase has accidentally slipped from my mouth, haha. Most of the time, I say something along the lines of “he’s nervous” or “he is a little weary, sorry about that.” I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Sometime it’s just easier than explaining your dog’s full backstory, you know?

  5. I try really, really hard to only mention that Alma’s a rescue when people (a) marvel at our purebred Newfs (as a reminder that purebreds need rescuing too!); or (b) compliment her behaviour (as a reminder that not all rescues are ‘project dogs’). Of course, her behaviour isn’t always exemplar, in which cases I just keep silent. If she’s being a monkey and I feel inclined to / have time to explain, I’ll just say “we’re in training”. That’s a sufficient answer that gets me far in many ways.

  6. I’m pretty sure I’ve never said that, but I’m just as guilty because people have said it to me as an excuse and I’ve smiled and nodded as though I agree.

    Example: Strange dog jumps on me, and the owner says, “I’m sorry, she’s s rescue.” And I say “ohhh, poor girl.”

    I don’t think that kind of response is helpful. Instead I should say, “I’m glad you’re working with her” or “I’m glad she’s in a good home now” to at least imply that it’s good to move on.

  7. I haven’t though of it in this light, but I have used that phrase, particularly when describing Bruce to someone who has never met him. Perhaps I should follow with “we are working on it.”

  8. I used to make excuses but then I realized that they are who they are. So if the boys have an outburst (which is almost always them letting other dogs know how they feel about them) I just say: “they don’t like other dogs”. I can’t really say that we are working on that because they don’t have to like other dogs, I just have to be a responsible dog owner and make sure space is always given to us and others.

  9. I’ve never said that (I usually shake my treat bag and say, “We’re training.”), but I’ve had people ask me after a Lucas reaction, “Is he from a shelter?” It puts me in a bind because I don’t want to say yes and have them shake their heads like “ugh, shelter dogs,” but at the same time… he IS a rescue, so? Not sure how to handle it, really.

  10. I have to admit I’ve said that before. And I felt terrible afterward, like I was disparaging Reggie. He may have growled at a person whether he was a shelter dog or not. I don’t say that anymore, partly because of the reason above and partly because I don’t want people to be turned off from getting a shelter dog because they think the dogs have too much “baggage.”

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