I recall a dog we once rehomed called Jack. Before being brought in, he'd been gradually left for longer and longer periods of time alone at home because his owner had taken on a very demanding job. In the end it was not uncommon for Jack to be left between eight and 11 hours at a time. He arrived with us unable to manage any time alone, as even after a few minutes his behaviour would quickly reach a point where he was a danger to himself. Kennels were not an option, so staff and volunteers took it in turns to either stay with him onsite or take him back to their homes. Daytimes were spent in the company of our office team. While Jack's case is thankfully more unusual than most, if you do a quick search on our website you'll see 16 of 91 dogs are not used to being left alone. And every day we get calls from people who can no longer care for their dogs because they are working longer hours.
I read this week the Daily Mail article about families trying to offer a loving home to a dog, who have been turned down by rescue centres because of their working hours or the age of their children. The article reported the complaints of would-be owners who are disappointed by the fact they can't do this, especially when they read of so many animals needing a home. What the article failed to cover, in my opinion, is how rescue organisations reach those decisions. Nor the day-to-day risks and reality faced by rescue organisations caught between a rock and a hard place.
Here at the NAWT we want to help as many animals as we can, and we certainly do not want to turn away good homes, but equally we have to know that we are putting a safe animal into the right environment. We have to weigh up the risks of the homing, and establish that the owner has the right experience to cope with the needs of the pet, by asking lots of questions and carrying out thorough home checks. And we have to document the full assessments to prove it. We even stipulate on our rehoming pages how long we think a particular animal can be safely left alone, if its new owner has to go out.
In case you think this is Health and Safety gone mad, we cannot be too careful, because if anything goes wrong with the homing, it falls straight back on the charity to prove they took all reasonable steps with the assessments and homing procedures. As rehoming charities rely on their reputation to raise money to continue their work - if they can't, who helps the animals then?
Working full time should not be a barrier to giving a rescue dog a home. I work full time and have two dogs, so who am I to judge? I am fortunate because I can take them to the office most days, and when I can't I have a dog walker visiting twice a day. But when it comes to homing a dog to a working family, the biggest consideration is whether the dog will be able to cope with such an arrangement. That depends on so many factors, such as the dog's previous lifestyle (if known), its energy levels or how it deals with solitude. A dog that is anxious about being home alone can resort to anything from barking to chewing to defecating. It doesn't take long for a dog like that to be brought back to the rescue because the owner can't cope, but imagine how the dog has been feeling.
Rehoming is all about balance and risk - we want to find our animals their new homes as soon as possible, but it has to work from both sides. As for Jack, it took a while but eventually he was homed to a couple with plenty of time to give the dog what he so desperately needed. We're confident there are people out there with the right experience and lifestyle for the 16 that are waiting and hoping. You can find them here.