Rustys Lesson What You Can Learn From Unadoptable Texas Dog WACO, TX — People all over North America want to adopt Rusty, a 2-year-old dog surrendered to the Waco Animal Shelter three times after unsuccessful adoption attempts.
It’s four times, actually, considering the brown and white dog with mesmerizing eyes the color of horse chestnuts was returned to Waco after two months of fostering by an Idaho rescue organization because he couldn’t get along with the other dogs.
As the story was spun after he was returned March 31 after one day with a new family, Rusty was “the dog nobody wanted.”
It’s not the full truth, though.
Plenty of people want Rusty, says Paula Rivadeneira, the executive director of the Humane Society of Central Texas, which runs the Waco shelter. She and her staff know a more complete truth: Rusty doesn’t want all people, or to be around all dogs.
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Rivadeneira has had to explain to Rusty’s new squad — the hundreds of people who have called the shelter asking to adopt him — that however well-intentioned and kind-hearted the gesture, he’s not the cuddly, affectionate dog his would-be rescuers may envision.
“They’re so kind-hearted,” Rivadeneira told Patch. “They all want to come in and save this sweet, wonderful dog.”
Humane Society of Central Texas Executive Director Paula Rivadeneira says hundreds of well-meaning people want to adopt Rusty, a 2-year-old dog surrendered to the Waco Animal Shelter three times because of behavioral problems. The right homes are “out there for Rusty … and for all those other dogs we know are hard to place,” she said. (Photo courtesy of Humane Society of Central Texas)
She has had to burst their bubbles of optimism multiple times. The script goes like this:
“Rusty isn’t the dog you’re envisioning. It’s a kind thing to do, but he’s going to be a problem.”
Those who work with Rusty at the shelter know “what an amazing dog he is,” Rivadeneira said. “A lot of the issue is, people don’t believe us. Their mind and heart is set on this specific dog, and when we explain why it’s not a good match, they become so insistent.”
One man set off a “huge ruckus” when the shelter staff turned down his request to adopt Rusty, whose behavioral issues include fighting with other — but not all — dogs, Rivadeneira said.
That’s one of the things shelter workers have learned about Rusty over the 425 days he’s lived there: He plays well with some dogs. Around others, he’s lethal.
“The gentleman was furious we would not send him home with him,” Rivadeneira said. “He has a Chihuahua. I have no doubt Rusty would have killed that dog.”
Rusty can’t tell Rivadeneira and her staff why he likes some dogs and is aggressive toward others, but with every unsuccessful adoption, they’ve gained more insight into his personality.
They’re not quite sure why he “sets up a howling scream that sends chills down your spine” when he sees another dog.
“After he first came to us [in February 2020], it took us a year to figure out the screaming isn’t necessarily ‘I hate all dogs,’ ” Rivadeneira said.
The mystery of why the dog doesn’t tolerate some other dogs may never be unraveled, “but he needs to be with someone who can manage that,” she said. “It’s taken us a long time to get to know Rusty and understand his way of thinking.”
Selectivity in adopters protects Rusty, whose fighting with other dogs could put him on the wrong side of local dog ordinances and at risk for euthanasia, and it protects the kind-hearted families who naively adopt him from future heartache.
The last family to adopt Rusty was in tears when they brought him back to the shelter, Rivadeneira said. Rusty bit them, the couple explained, and it wasn’t safe for their family to be around him.
“It was devastating to them,” she said. “They were so upset about having to bring him back. A lot of people look at the family and the dog negatively in these circumstances.
“We don’t see it that way; we see that as a new opportunity for the animal,” she said. “Every day or week out for the dog, and we get to learn more about that dog. We have a responsibility not to send that dog home with the wrong family.”
Surrendering a pet is a little like getting a divorce, with all the associated worry about pain and depression on both sides. It’s a real emotion, Rivadeneira said, and one that too often stops pet adopters from speaking up when things don’t work out.
No one can predict with 100 percent certainty how things are going to work out between pets and their adopted families. That’s why the Humane Society of Central Texas operates “judgment-free” shelters that allow people to bring a pet back if they feel it is a danger to their families or other pets, Rivadeneira said.