I'm close to adopting a dog but I'm facing an ethical dilemma
April 1, 2015 7:33 PM   Subscribe

I have the choice between two dogs. Which one to choose?

This was me a few months back (about adopting a dog in NYC).

I am now in NY in a flat two blocks away from Prospect Park (great for dogs!). Finding a rescue has been quite hard so far, even competitive! I have been looking actively for two months. I finally settled on two leads. (i want a flat coated retriever or lab/border collie mix). I live in a two bedroom apartment. I would run the dog everyday and also hire dog worker/play group in park.

Which one should I go for?


Female, almost 2 years old. She's in a kill shelter in NC so I wouldn't be able to see her. She has heartworms. The shelter hasn't been treating her even though she's been there for weeks. But they've been lovely to me, and sent me videos and pictures. They said they could start her on heartworm treatment in a few days, wait two weeks, and then ship her to me. Then, I would have to impose total rest on Dog One for another week or two, and finally take her to the vet before she can resume exercise.

They said she has shown some growling towards female dogs but was submissive to male dogs. On the video she seems happy and active and runs around playing fetch and wags her tail.

Two questions:

- Wouldn't it be awful if my first few weeks with my new friend she would have to stay in her crate-prison? Would it ruin our bonding?

- Does her being aggressive slightly to female dogs mean she's likely to prefer men than women? (I am a women).

NOTE: This dog has been available for weeks but i think no one wants her because of heartworm (CRY!)


Is in Texas. In a foster home with lots of dogs, chickens, and a goose. A lab/border collie mix. One year old. Described as very balanced and loving and easy going with all dogs. Other people want and have applied for her. I feel for a first dog she's maybe be a better fit. But who knows?

Guys, this is a proper ethical dilemma here. What if no one adopts Dog One?

Help me out :(
posted by Sijeka to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Dog One! I say this because I think you already want to adopt Dog One as it is, and the bonding will sort itself out. Good luck!
posted by marimeko at 7:40 PM on April 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

If you are ever ever going to take your dog to an off-leash park, want to have her in doggie daycare or be in situations where other dogs may be off leash and approach your dog, dog number one is right off the bat maybe not a great fit; I would be very wary of anything- even small things- that might be indicative of a larger dog-aggression issue in a dog you have never met.
posted by charmedimsure at 7:41 PM on April 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

It's horrid to think about a dog being euthanized, but respectfully, over a million healthy dogs are euthanized in the US each year. If you can take any given dog and make her feel happy and safe and loved for the remained of her life then I think you've done good.
posted by ftm at 7:49 PM on April 1, 2015 [6 favorites]

Do not get a young border collie mix if you live in an apartment. I love the dogs dearly, so sweet, but they do not chill out until they're like 7 years old. High Energy. I have a little mini schnauzer who we take to the park all the time, and it's hard to wear her out. You may have a hard time with the border collie no matter how sweet she is.
posted by lizbunny at 7:49 PM on April 1, 2015 [10 favorites]

Wouldn't it be awful if my first few weeks with my new friend she would have to stay in her crate-prison? Would it ruin our bonding?

Please don't crate her when you're home. As long as you don't run her around or play jumping games, you are welcome to pet and cuddle and walk quietly, do sit/down training as well as basic tricks. You NEED to exercise her mind and make her feel welcome and loved.

I've taken 4 dogs through HW treatment, and all we did was *not* run them. The doorbell is still going to ring. They're still going to want to play. And if they're so fragile that that kills them? Well, they weren't miserable before they died, at least.

- Does her being aggressive slightly to female dogs mean she's likely to prefer men than women? (I am a women).

No, she will know the difference between humans and dogs. Girl dogs are...they're canine Mean Girls, basically. I'll never have two girl dogs again. But they both loooove me.

NOTE: This dog has been available for weeks but i think no one wants her because of heartworm (CRY!)

HW treatment is expensive and a little worrisome, but if you're willing to live with that you should do it.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:50 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

I would never get a dog I didn't meet first.

That said, the thing that makes dogs easiest to train, is, if, above all else, they really really like treats.

If a dog pays more attention to food/treats than the fact that you are a stranger, or that they are stressed out, the dog is easy to train to do anything. Otherwise, it can be hard to motivate the dog to do something other than what it wants.

You probably all the way want both dogs. It might be a hard decision to make, and it sounds like you are already personally taking responsibility for both dogs. If my above advice comes up blank, I think you should let fate decide and flip a coin/roll a dice/get whatever one is closer. This way, the future of the other dog won't be your fault. Because that's not fair to you anyway.

By the way, thanks for adopting your dog :) make sure they are spayed/neutered!
posted by bbqturtle at 7:50 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

BTW my female-aggressive dogs are pretty much fine on neutral ground in groups, it's actually home/territory that's a problem.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:52 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I think either dog could work well for you, honestly. You're not going to be able to assess much about a dog's personality in a kennel/kill shelter environment, and especially not from long distance. Many dogs shut down in situations like that or otherwise don't behave like themselves. Heartworms are not that bad to handle, if you catch them early enough to treat them. Mostly, they're just annoying as hell to deal with--bored dogs cooped up on crate rest can be, well, bored. That said, I don't think it would affect potential bonding; a couple of friends of mine just picked up a border collie that one of them had found abandoned at her field station, and he turned out to be heartworm positive. He's finally done with his treatment course which has everyone overjoyed because he was bored and sulky, but it hasn't impacted his attachment to my friends any. Gorgeous, sweet dog.

Being a little same-sex aggressive to other dogs does not, in my experience, transfer to any particular gender preference in humans. Moreover, in my experience same-sex aggression in bitches TENDS to be more of an issue for dogs who are living together than in public situations like a dog park... although do maybe have a game plan for exercising your dog if you wind up with a dog who does not particularly like other dogs. Even the friendliest dog can have enough irritating experiences at a dog park to get completely sick of strange dogs; this happened to me with my dog about a year ago and we have been on a dog park break. Since I live in an apartment, this means we're doing a lot of hiking and spending time in public off-leash areas where dogs ARE allowed off lead but the setup of the area is such that dogs don't really stand still and interact much because humans are moving. You may want to think about that as an option.

I'm rather with marimeko here--it sounds like you really want to go after Dog 1. I don't see any glaring red flags in your application as long as you have a defined plan for wearing the dog out once heartworms are resolved--me, I live with an athletic, active 30-lb dog in a small apartment and we deal with that by hiking and making off-lead time an integral part of our lives. It can be done!
posted by sciatrix at 7:54 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh, also--if you want an active dog but are concerned about physically tiring her out, and especially if you are looking at Dog 1 during her heartworm treatment, remember that you don't just have to rely on physical exercise to tire a dog out. Mental exercise works just as well on dogs as it does on people! If you are not practiced at dog training, I encourage you to take an obedience course (which should be low-energy enough to not risk your dog) and do a lot of training practice. Throw in distractions. Build on your basic commands and see if you can teach your dog tricks. Look into dog puzzle games. You know how tired you are after a long day in an office, even if you just sit your butt in a chair and type on the computer all day? You can totally get the same effect with a dog, even a smart dog like a collie. Bonus: spending more time on training your dog will totally improve your bond and get you both used to how the other thinks.
posted by sciatrix at 8:02 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Border collies are incredibly clever and because of this they get incredibly bored. I would not get one to live in an apartment especially if you're going to be gone for much of the day, and this from someone who lives in an apartment with a dog. Go for the more placid sounding DogOne.
posted by stevedawg at 8:04 PM on April 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

You do not have an ethical dilemma. You are not ethically bound to rescue shelter dogs from euthanasia. If you were, you might want to stock up on kibble, because as ftm says, I'm sad to say there are a lot of them. Go forward with a clear conscience and adopt the dog you think will be the best fit for you.

That said, a border collie in an apartment can be a tough row to hoe...
posted by Rock Steady at 8:23 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Something to keep in mind - the border collie mix is happy and well-adjusted in a busy, stimulating home with land for poultry and other playmates. Dog one is happy and well-adjusted in a shelter situation that is likely stressful, as most shelters are, with limited space and interaction. For a dog to be left alone in an apartment while you work, even with a dog walker stopping by, dog one gets a point for already doing well in a more similar situation.
posted by umwhat at 8:41 PM on April 1, 2015 [16 favorites]

Dog #2 needs to live in the country. Dog #1 sounds awesome and will bond with you just fine snuggling on the couch. Also, on the aggression with female dogs: Is it both on and off leash? Lots of dogs are aggressive on leash but just fine off.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 8:52 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I do have a Border Collie in an apartment, and we get along fine, but he does need a couple of walks a day, and we have to be very vigilant about what we leave around the house because he can get into everything. Admittedly, he's on the low-energy end of the Border Collie spectrum, but I still say it can be done if you fall absolutely in love with a Border Collie or Border Collie mix. I eventually upgraded to an apartment with a large yard, but until I could do that, we made a go of it. He is a very happy dog with a great life. (We do stay at my fiance's family's farm once in a while, but he's terrified of sheep and cows, so not all herding dogs are happiest on farms or with other animals. Mine may be a bit unusual but #NotAllBorderCollies, etc.)

That said, I did have to keep him in a crate for our first few weeks together because he was ill when I first got him and then still had to be housetrained. He does not enjoy other dogs (especially male dogs), so I can't keep him in daycare and need to be more observant than other dog owners when I take him to the park. This hasn't changed my life much or made dog ownership that much harder for me. In all these ways, mine sounds a lot like Dog One. He was my very first dog, and he's not perfect. However, we still bonded, he still cheerfully welcomed my fiance when he moved in (he doesn't seem upset with human males), and he's still my best friend.

If your heart is telling you to go with one or the other, you'll be fine with either one.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 8:54 PM on April 1, 2015

I should also say my BC is also on the dumber end of the BC spectrum, so that's another reason we're fine. (Still smarter than lots of other dogs, but can't outsmart us or anything.) Ask if the BC/Lab mix is dumb.
posted by Yoko Ono's Advice Column at 9:02 PM on April 1, 2015

I don't mean to come in and dump on your (awesome!) decision to get a dog and to choose a rescue, but if you're at the point where you're wanting to split ethical hairs between two rescue pups, can I float the idea that all else being equal, you should rescue a dog that doesn't have to be shipped across multiple states to you? I know there are many well intentioned foster groups that do cross country transit, and often they're even doing good work, but in terms of maximizing the good you're doing, you might consider adopting a local dog and donating the difference in gas money to a group that does both rescue and spay/neuter operations.

I totally understand you're looking for a specific dog type, so I get why you may be looking further afield, but like bbqturtle, I would be hesitant getting a dog I hadn't met. Breed doesn't tell you that much; I'd rather have a mutt I know isn't scared of me than a supposedly easy-going Labrador I've never met. (And I love labs.)

If you're set on one of these two, I'd take the first one. That's not a lot of crate rest for you to deal with, all things considered, and from the little info you have here, it sounds like she may be the more mellow dog.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:09 PM on April 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

You don't have an ethical problem here, just a selection one.

Ethically, it's the same either way. Say there are 10 dogs about to be euthanised in kill-shelters, and 1 happy dog in a good foster home with five people wanting to take it. If you take the foster home dog, then the foster home can take in one of the ten kill-shelter dogs, the other five people can take five more kill-shelter dogs, and there are now only 4 dogs about to be euthanised. If you DON'T take the foster home dog, then one of the other five people does, the foster family takes 1 kill-shelter dog, and then you and four other people take a kill-shelter dog too, and there are still now only 4 dogs being euthanised. Same numbers.

The point is, someone is going to take the foster home dog anyway, so it might as well be you, if that's what you want. While the specific Dog One you mention might end up being euthanised, the total number of dogs in the kill system versus the foster system will not be affected either way by your decision.

So yeah, the only thing you should worry about is which dog is the best fit for you.
posted by lollusc at 10:48 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

I would avoid a border collie cross that had been used to living on a farm if I lived in a flat, the amount of potential behavior issues there for an inexperienced owner is worrying. Quiet time together while the first dog is under going treatment would more likely increase bonding not decrease it. Contact a local vet to check what the shelter says about treatment options. My take on it is if a high kill shelter has kept her around so long, and are willing to ship to you the workers or volunteers there see something in the dog.
posted by wwax at 11:22 PM on April 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Haven't read all of the comments, but wanted to give you my own experience. We adopted a female rottie with heart worms and aggression towards other dogs. The heart worms took 2 treatments, mainly because the first treatment was "old school" and didn't kill them all. Throughout the treatments and resting periods, we were able to bond quickly with the dog. With food, gentle touch and a secure environment, the dog settled and healed nicely. Regarding the aggression, our dog has been perfectly content with both my husband and me. She relies on us for different types of bonding (male for food and comfort and female for play and enjoyment). We love our dog and wouldn't give her up for the world. Most of her behaviors have settled since integrating into a loving, secure family and home. All the best!
posted by LinneaJC at 5:59 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Have to agree with the previous posters who would be hesitant to take on a dog that they haven't met. I really feel this is an important step in the adoption process as breed does not guarantee behavior.

That said, if you go with dog one, a crate doesn't have to be a prison. Even with dogs who are on reduced activity, they do not need to stay in the crate full time. My lab who just had knee surgery has another 6 weeks of enforced quiet time and will happily curl up on her bed beside one of her people when we are home. Lots of pets, treats and quiet training / mental games will help the bonding in the first couple of weeks.

For the aggression, I would recommend the "Look" training, where you teach a dog to glance at what causes the distress / aggression and then immediately back to you. This can help overcome behaviors as you are teaching the dog that there is nothing to be worried about through your own responses to the stimulus.

Good luck either way you go!
posted by MandaSayGrr at 6:18 AM on April 2, 2015

How a dog feels about other female dogs doesn't tell you anything about whether she might prefer men or women. That's going to depend more on the dog's previous experiences with male and female humans. My border collie who tended to be bitchy to other females loved every human she ever met, male or female - especially me, of course, and I'm a woman.
posted by Redstart at 6:22 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yay for rescue dogs! Any one you adopt would be giving an awesome dog a home. Another option to consider is checking out local shelters, which would give you a chance to meet the dogs. I foster for an upstate rescue group which regularly brings dogs up from NYC shelters, so there doesn’t seem to be a shortage. You could also visit shelters and check out rescue dogs in neighboring counties.
posted by metasarah at 6:33 AM on April 2, 2015

I have a rescue dog who was shipped up from NC (he was in an NYC rescue when I got him), and he also had heart worm in NC (fully recovered by the time I took him home). He's also a little bit of an jerk with male dogs (some he likes and plays with, others he wants to pin down and growl at), but is usually good with female dogs. He loves my husband more than he loves me, so don't worry about the dog not loving you. Also, don't worry about the first couple of weeks being quiet/crated - that's actually what a lot of trainers recommend doing in the first couple of weeks with a rescue dog anyway.

I think dog one would be a good choice, provided that you're prepared to deal with a dog who isn't reliably friendly with other dogs. That means no doggie daycare (they have separate pens for dogs that need a timeout, but it's essentially like being in a big crate all day), you'll need to get a dog sitter to stay at your place or find a boarding place that will actually exercise your dog if she can't handle playing in the communal dog run, and dog parks may not be an option for you, so you'll have to run/hike your dog and not rely on her playing in the dog run to tire her out.

All of the above are true for my dog, and it's totally not a problem. It's just a little more expensive to board him, and I get more exercise because of him.

All that said, I would ask to see a behaviorist's evaluation of dog one to make sure her growliness only extends to other dogs and that she's not a resource guarder or at all aggressive towards people. That's much harder to cope with, and I wouldn't choose to adopt a dog with those issues as my first dog.
posted by snaw at 7:30 AM on April 2, 2015

Best answer: Could you possibly adopt dog two and finance dog one's heartworm treatment, making her more likely to be adopted?
posted by Dolley at 7:55 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's worth considering that Dog One may be coming across as aggressive because she's not feeling well. She may mellow right out after she becomes healthy again.
posted by vignettist at 8:17 AM on April 2, 2015

Nthing the idea that it's a really good idea to meet your dog before you adopt it.

One thing I think hasn't come up, related to vignettist's point above, is that it can be hard to evaluate energy levels in a dog that is sick with heartworm. I was thinking about adopting a full border collie who had it, and had spent time with him and everything, and was excited because like you I LOVE border collies and live in the city, and this dog was soooooo mellow. But then he went through treatment and he's a total maniacal typical BC, because he was just sick, not mellow. (Poor Luke! He's a herd dog now out west and is so happy, and I am so so glad I didn't bring him to New York with me.)

I also concur that you don't have to give up on your BC love in the city—I waited two years until my little mostly-BC mix fell into my lap. She's small for a BC and smart like one, but wears out with just a long walk and some dog park action.
posted by felix grundy at 9:06 AM on April 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a 4 (estimated age) year old collie lab mix who was a rescue. Generally we run 5-8 km most days, 12-20km on long-run days. When he's not running generally he's more interested in the couch than his toys. Well, unless we haven't run in a day or two, then he starts getting more interested in the cats than in toys or the couch (he's why I've become a runner; he's definitely got a herding instinct). So it's possible that a collie lab mix can be fine in an apartment with just exercise from running. Without lots of other animals your dog might go a bit stir crazy with the adjustment. We have another (older) dog, 4 cats and outdoor squirrels to watch.

I have to say that if you're ok with losing the potential of leash free parks, that dog 1 seems like a good option. The crating I don't feel will destroy your bonding time, and might make the transition easier for her. That said, while I really like leash free dog parks in concept, I find going to them a bit underwhelming (except for one time that was awesome). I get to the dog park, and suddenly the dogs I've had stop really caring to go meet the other dogs. They don't want to run, and you're not supposed to bring toys which can be fought so no fetch to encourage the running. Then there's too often someone with an overly aggressive dog who's owner doesn't attempt any control of (or more specifically, an overly aggressive dog that no one knows who's its' owner is). Maybe all my dogs have been "dud"s in this category; often I see some other dogs happily playing. Watching other dogs, it seems to be a 50/50 mix of dogs content, but not thrilled to be there, and dogs really happy.

re: dog not liking dogs of one gender and quetioning if it will dislike people of the same gender. I think they're totally unrelated. Anecdote, my wife's first dog was very dog aggressive except to big male dogs who she maybe accepted should be allowed to exist. That dog cherished/worshipped my wife and wasn't much of a fan of male humans (or any non-her humans really).

If it were me, I think that my heart strings would be pulled to take dog 1, although the first few weeks might be more painful for you than her. I also think dog 1 sounds like she would be a better single-person apartment dog than dog 2 would be.
posted by nobeagle at 9:12 AM on April 2, 2015

Per current recommendations, a dog being treated for heartworm should be severely exercise restricted (like walks, no running, nothing to increase the heartrate) for at least a month, depending on severity.

The most important thing you can do to minimize complications during treatment is to restrict
your pet’s exercise before, during and after the melarsomine injections. When adult worms die,
they collapse and are pushed deeper into the smaller branches of the vessels that supply blood
to the lungs. Because exercise increases blood flow to the lungs, it increases the likelihood that
dead worms will block blood flow. This can result in severe complications and possibly death. The
importance of restricting your dog’s activity cannot be overemphasized.

This may impact your plans to run with dog one in the immediate future, and would necessitate crating her when you are not home. A stir-crazy dog from being in the crate is better than a dead dog from heartworm emboli. Giver her lots of frozen kongs stuffed with peanut butter. She'll forgive you.
posted by Seppaku at 9:16 AM on April 2, 2015

You should choose to live with the dog that you want to live with, that you will be the happiest with, and that the dog will probably pick up on you being happy with to be happy itself. You should pick the dog that you-and-the-dog will have the best life together. Though I, like others, would question whether that's really a border collie (mix) for a first-time dog owner.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:25 AM on April 2, 2015

I'm not sure either of these dogs is the dog for you, honestly. I think dog #2 might be a slightly better choice ("very balanced and loving and easy going with all dogs" is very important for the urban dog that needs a lot of exercise) but as others point out, it's hard to tell whether a young, high-energy breed dog that's happy in a situation with tons of stimulation and presumably room to run is going to work in a more confined situation where exercise is more structured and completely dependent on your being able to get in that exercise every day.

With dog #1, my worry is less about the heartworm and more about whether the shelter is downplaying her same-sex aggressiveness. But no, it has no bearing on whether she prefers male or female humans. Can they send you some video of her interacting with other dogs?
posted by drlith at 9:46 AM on April 2, 2015

I adopted a second dog who was "dog aggressive, very dominant" and turns out she was petrified of other dogs and new things due to lack of socialization in the shelter and lashing out at them ("dominance") was the quickest way she'd developed for getting scary things to go away fast. I couldn't take her more than a block from our house or she'd start shaking with fear. With attention, time, and consistency, she has been coming out of her shell and is able to self-regulate her excitation/fear levels by walking away from stimuli that are too much. She's a huge lovebug who would prefer to be attached to me.

Any dog in a shelter is going to have a de-stressing period after moving into a home - typically 2-3 weeks - as their true personality emerges.

My first dog went through heartworm treatment. You don't have to keep them motionless - dog's gonna dog - when the mailman comes, dog's gonna bark and get excited. Brain games are great, leash walking is allowed, and the meds make them tired enough. One side effect was a lot of thirst and loss of "need to pee" signals - you'd probably want to crate while you're gone to prevent accidents.

Intensive training sessions are a great way to establish communication with a new dog and cement your bonding. They wear out a dog mentally, too, as much (or more) than pure physical exercise.

Either dog will get you the result you want; all dogs will go through a training period when you get them.
posted by bookdragoness at 10:08 AM on April 2, 2015

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