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Posted on Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 1 p.m.

Know the signs of animal cruelty, and understand what you're getting into when you adopt an abused dog

By Julia Levitt


Photo by Flickr user Simon.1

I have had people proudly say to me that the rescue dog they have recently adopted has been abused. Do you know what that means? Are you capable of working with an abused dog?

Does abused mean taken a from home where an elderly person was not able to adequately care for a dog? Did the dog get enough to eat? Was it up to date on its shots? Did it live in an environment where it was one of many many pets?

The people who proudly say to me, "My dog was abused" cannot answer these questions — I ask, but none of them know the answer.

In the case of a toy breed — was it not properly socialized? Was it living with an elderly person who never got out and now the dog is afraid of everything… people, other dogs, cars? Was the dog rescued from a puppy mill? People cannot answer.

Deb Kern of the Humane Society of Huron Valley helpfully gave me their guidelines for recognizing animal cruelty.

"You can be our eyes and ears. If you live in Washtenaw County, please report suspected animal cruelty right away by calling 734-661-3512. Animal cruelty can take many forms.These are a few of the things that we will investigate and prosecute for:

  • Emaciated dogs chained to a fence, or left in the freezing cold with no shelter

  • Companion animals left abandoned in a home or apartment

  • Sick or emaciated animals not receiving proper veterinary care

  • People fighting dogs or anyone using stray dogs as bait for their fighting dogs

  • Anyone that knowingly or viciously harms an animal or neglects medical attention needed

  • Anyone keeping animals in unhealthy or deplorable conditions

  • People leaving animals in locked cars in hot weather regardless if the windows are cracked or not.

I can tell you that in some hoarding cases where people have way too many cats or dogs, depending on each individual case, we may or may not prosecute. This is a call that the investigators will make," Kern added.

Recently I was called to a home where a dog was adopted by people, Sam and Anne (not their real names), who were inadequately prepared to care for a dog, never mind one who had been improperly cared for (that's why it wound up in the shelter). They have three small children under the age of 6 years old.

They adopted an adult German Shepherd. “Yes,” Sam proudly proclaimed to me, “this dog was abused.”

Sam acknowledged that he had never had a dog. He does not take his dog to training classes. But I was called in as this misplaced dog had jumped through a window to attack a passerby and the pedestrian's dog while they were walking down the street.

Fortunately the person and other dog were not harmed. I examined the German Shepherd for abrasions and found it to be receptive to me touching its body and looking in its mouth.

I did not know how old the dog was; it appeared to be anywhere between 3-7 years old. When I looked at its teeth, they were worn down. It was my impression that the dog had been chewing on something very hard — perhaps a chain?

This a perfect example of not doing your homework or research. People who rescue dogs have their hearts in the right place, but not every dog is for everyone.

When I was head adoption counselor for our Greyhound rescue group, the sentiment was always the same: "I want to help these dogs." Our job was to inform those who wanted to adopt.

We gave the history of a dog's life on the track. These dogs — even though they are adults — are not house broken, and do not know how to climb stairs or walk on linoleum floors. The dog does not know what a sliding glass door is; they don’t know it is a door that they cannot go through when it is closed. A fenced yard is required.

We cautioned that if a door was open that these dogs would take off. I don’t care how fast you run — since it is their job to race — a human cannot compete with a dog that runs up to 45 miles per hour. By the time we realize the dog is out the door, it is too late.

The second interview would be a question and answer time where the prospective client asks us any questions.

Before you decide to share your home with another living being, please do the following:

  • Ask questions of the adoption agency
  • Go back for more than one visit
  • If you have children, bring them along
  • Ask if the dog sheds — a lot?
  • Consider finding out if you are allergic to dogs
  • Ask yourself: Are you a high or low energy person? A couch potato? A jogger who wants a high-energy dog?
  • Be prepared. Do as much as you can to learn how to care for your new companion.

We were very thorough at the Greyhound rescue. Some people were offended by all of the questions — to them it seemed excessive. Our philosophy was this: These dogs had a tough life, and we didn’t want to place one in a home that would not be right for the animal and have the people return the dog — again.

And just in case you think I am being too thorough, please keep in mind that not all shelters are no-kill shelters. Unwanted pets are euthanized every day. It is easy to be impulsive, but isn't that how so many dogs wind up in shelters?

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training ( in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital.



Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 9:08 p.m.

A couple things bothered me when reading this. First "I have had people say proudly to me that their rescue dog had been abused" - I think you are misunderstanding someone being "Proud" of the fact their dog was abused. Don't you think its more of a fact that they are so happy that they are now being loved? Why were you there at the home with the German Shepherd? Did the owners of the dog call you in for help? Isn't the point that you want them to reach out to a dog trainer? I LOVE animals. I think people should adopt animals if they have been unloved and uncared for. Yes, they should know what they are getting in to, but don't look down or patrinize someone trying to help care for an animal. You want us to believe that the owners of the G.Shepherd were doing something so wrong, however, thats not really fair in my opinion. Maybe that dog thought he was protecting those children from whomoever was walking by? All I'm sayig is that too many people "know it all". Many people have their heart in the right place and are working to save these animals from any more pain and suffering. Just my thoughts.


Tue, Apr 10, 2012 : 2:45 p.m.

Can't speak for everyone, since we have rescued 2 Pit Bulls, one older and one way too young, its a matter of showing how far they can come in their recovery. People are always amazed that our older one has been rehabbed as much as he has. Initially he was a submissive pee'er, at every loud noise for the first 2 months, would darn near make him have a breakdown. We worked very hard to make him feel secure, the fact that he was abused and bounced back is not my badge of honor. Its to HIS credit that he even trusts another human being, let alone is a very well behaved huge member of a family! So yep when people remark on what an outstanding dog he is OR compare him to the female we got at a much much younger (too young to be away from Mom), we do have to explain, and they 99% cannot believe he is such a loving, trusting, and obedient member of the family.


Tue, Apr 10, 2012 : 4:17 a.m.

Agree you can take the "proud" statement different ways, but I do think some folks see it as showing what good people they are. That's not to say they don't care about the dog. They just assume that anything's better than an abusive situation. But if the dog's neuroses are left unchecked and get to a point where you're ready to give it up, it seems like a lost opportunity all around.


Tue, Apr 10, 2012 : 1:04 a.m.

Thats it. I am rescuing another within the year. Gotta love the ones who need to be loved and a forever home that will spoil them rotten. We are very bad human parents.

Craig Lounsbury

Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 8:53 p.m.

"And just in case you think I am being too thorough, please keep in mind that not all shelters are no-kill shelters. Unwanted pets are euthanized every day." there's two sides to that argument. In a somewhat arbitrary system is a dog better off dead than going to a less than perfect home? Maybe some dogs die because some standards are too over the top. Maybe a dog if given a choice might rather go to a less than perfect home than be laid out on a table and killed.

Julia Levitt

Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 11:54 p.m.

Yes Craig the statistics for dogs being euthanized every day are unbelievable. Thanks for your comments-Julia


Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 8:42 p.m.

I find it disturbing that anyone would bring an adult dog into a home not knowing it's situation with small children living in the home. Adopting a dog is like adopting a child, a dog with a history is the same as a special needs child, they require a lot of attention and help adjusting. The couple with the German Shepherd essentially had four children, one with special needs/requirements. Therefore either their children or the dog would be getting the short end of the stick. It would be a bit different had the three children not been all under six but in their teens and able to help with giving the dog proper attention and excercise as teens can take care of themselves inside the home unlike a six year old who is completely dependant on their parents for every task. All the couple did was set themselves up to neglect the dog. German Shepherds need mental and physical excercise daily. If you don't do either you will end up with a neurotic, high strung unhappy dog.


Tue, Apr 10, 2012 : 1:03 a.m.

Rescue groups will not place a dog with unknown origins into a home with small children. Small children do not understand that some dogs who come from puppy mills or terrorized households? Are scared to death. I know. Took us 6 months to get our rescue to trust us. Now she does. We adopted a dog with a teen in the house. Our forever rescue does not walk. She carries thing everywhere she goes. Talk about lazy.


Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 5:50 p.m.

If you are really into crying, go on over to the ASPCA web site and read what really goes on inside puppy mills. What happened to an owner who hordes. This is not for the faint of heart. Once I retire? I do plan on volunteering to help anywhere I can to save a lot of these dogs. Very cruel what us humans can do. We have a rescue who knows she is rescued and yes, you need to be very loving and very patient. Although you can over spoil them. Big grin.....and they know they are in their forever homes.

Julia Levitt

Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 11:45 p.m.

Jns131- What a big heart you have! You sound like a conscientious dog owner-thank you so much for writing-Julia


Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 12:36 p.m.

Thanks for the informative article! I recently adopted a rescue dog and you helped to explain the process, which I found somewhat grueling. I am still learning from my new friend.

Julia Levitt

Mon, Apr 9, 2012 : 5:08 p.m.

Thanks for the comment-kdk- and good luck-Julia