As rescuers, we need to take more responsibility for changing the luck of pets—not just the pets we rescue, but all pets. Education is a crucial part of that job. Yet there are care and safety issues that unfortunately are not typically discussed with dog adopters. Here’s one: Taking your dog for services. That is, grooming, vet care, dogsitting, and so on.
I propose that the overarching rule here be Do Unto Your Dog As You Would Do Unto Your Child. Would you leave your 2 year old alone at the hair salon for the day, or even for a couple of hours? Would you allow your pediatrician to examine, vaccinate, or take samples from your child in a room separated from you? When you go on vacation, do you feel comfortable leaving your child in a boarding-style nursery—or with someone you don’t know personally very well?
For most people, the answers are of course No, No, and No. Yet I’m willing to bet that the majority of people, if being honest, would answer Yes to at least one, probably two, maybe even all three of these questions when posed about their dogs.
Perhaps few people would knowingly leave their children with a babysitter who has another child who is, for example, aggressive to other children, or has a partner who is, for example, a mean drunk. Now you might retort that few people would knowingly leave their pets with such sitters either. Knowingly. How would you know? The average person will screen, or at least ask their friends about, their babysitters before leaving children with them, but the level of caution regarding petsitters drops notably for the average person. This is one reason why so many bad things happen to pets while their people are away. Many pet sitters have lost pets, harmed pets, or via neglect, irresponsibility, or simple immaturity, allowed them to be harmed—even killed. (From the ‘and so on’ category, this goes for dogwalkers as well; there are some great, certified, trustworthy ones, but there are also some absolutely unqualified ones. Make sure you know the difference.) I will spare you the horror stories I know of for now, but our adopters will hear them because we want our dogs to have the absolute best chance of living a safe, happy, healthy, LONG life. The point is, if you must go somewhere without your pets, give them the protection they need and deserve.
Your veterinarian will probably show some resistance the first and second and maybe even fifth time you ask him to handle your dog in the room with you, but why should that stop you? You are paying your vet to do a service; that vet works for you. More importantly, you and only you are your dog’s advocate—this is your job. Please do not assume that vet staff will be as sweet and gentle with your dog behind the scenes as they are in front of you. They might be! But they might not, and you would probably never know. Besides, again, you are your dog’s advocate. When your dog needs a ‘sample’ taken, she would much rather have your eyes to look into, and your voice to tell her what a good girl she is, and your touch to help calm her, than some strangers holding her down while saying “OK OK almost done!” etc. Furthermore, your dog will do better with vet visits overall if handled more patiently, gently, and carefully, which is what happens when you are there to support her. I am not saying that vet staff are mean or uncaring people. I’m just suggesting that the best way to ensure that your dog’s experience is as untraumatic as possible for her is for you to be right there with her. (Thankfully, I have an accommodating vet who respects my feelings on this.)
Many years ago, before I had sighthounds, my husband had a dog that was probably some sort of jindo/chow cross. She was not a very friendly dog; in fact, she could be downright scary with strangers. So every time my husband would bring her home from the groomer and tell me how much “they loved her!” – well, I was suspicious. I would question him about it every time, asking, “Then why is she always so scared to go in?” and “Don’t you think they probably say that to all the customers?” (You are wondering now why I allowed her to go there. I can say she was not my dog, but the fact is, I wish I had convinced him against it, and that is what I would do now.) Yes, in many grooming facilities—including that one—you can see the groomers doing the actual grooming part of their job. But you do not see what goes on behind the scenes, e.g., in the kennels/back room while the dogs are waiting. Nor perhaps can you see close up enough to see subtle signs of problems. Again, be your dog’s advocate. You could stay with your dog until her turn and then watch*, or you could take her to someone you and she both know and trust (preferred!) unless you can groom her yourself. She relies on you for safety. (Addition 8/1/2016: Upon a national news story of a dog’s death while staying at a doggy camp in a pet store chain, and upon discussion of this news among colleagues, I learned the probable cause of my husband’s previous dog’s fear of this groomer: The stores’ practice was to lock dogs in fiberglass crates and use a commercial blower to shoot air into the crate until the dog was dry. This is, obviously, not safe and surely not comfortable. As you can imagine, dogs have died from it. A quick internet search will give examples of this and other deaths and injuries.)
By the way, please don’t bathe your dog by hose. Why not, you ask? Would you bathe your child in cold water?
Your dog cannot dial 911 to get help if something bad is happening to her—and if she bites to protect herself, there’s a good chance she will suffer a terrible fate for that as well. If your pets are family, shouldn’t they be treated accordingly? Be YODA. Be Your Own Dog’s Advocate.