It’s been reported that social workers are rejecting some foster parents and adopters because they have possibly dangerous dogs.
There are indeed concerns that some breeds are a risk to children – everyone knows the ones – but it doesn’t mean they are all killers, although we do know some breeds of dog are thought to be more likely to bite.
Our family had a dog before we went into fostering. We’d chosen a female Golden Retriever because we knew that gave us the best chance of getting a dog who would be kind around our children.
Our bitch proved to be a massive asset in fostering, every child we’ve had has warmed to her and been rewarded back with warmth. She did have to have a psychological profile done before we were allowed to foster; I’ll come back to that.
When I talk about kindness in a dog, I mean a dog that would accept being bottom of the social ladder in the house. The social pecking order is a big deal for animals.
Dogs are animals after all, wolves to be precise. A big urge in every species is for each individual creature to get as high up the pecking order as they can. If they identify a fellow pack member a notch above them then they’ll go for the metaphorical jugular to jump up the hierarchy. That’s just how it is.
That’s why certain animals in the house with children is a big issue, and social workers are right to be cautious.
You can therefore tell a bit about a person from their pet. A goldfish person is different from a marine fish person, who is very different from a monkey person.
Domesticated and trained animals retain their instinct to be the leader the pack. Humans do too. People are constantly vying to seem better than others. They preen at having the newest car in the street, or the car with the most poke. Sadly, some people also want the pet with the most poke.
So, if a family has a dog whose species is associated with aggression, then social workers have no option but to consider what that might mean for a child placed with them.
The first concern is that the dog might bite someone. The second concern, which I think is almost as critical, is the possibility that a family choosing a dog with the look and reputation of being a handful is a family that doesn’t so much want a pet as a statement about their assertiveness.
I often make a fuss of other people’s dogs, but not Pit Bulls – even when the owners say ‘he’s a big softy, lovely with kids’. They say it as if they know full well there’s something a bit intimidating about the dog’s muscularity, its heavy panting and alligator mouth.
I said I’d come back to it, but we had to take our dog for a psychological profile before we were accepted as foster carers. The vet put our dog on the table and gave her a push, then she put her hand to our dog’s mouth and gave it a big nuzzle.
Then she raised her hand in what would have been a slap, but didn’t even bother to feign one. The vet pronounced her sane and charged us a £35 fee for the service, which our fostering agency picked up.
These psychological test that vets do in order to pass dogs fit for fostering is basically to goad them a bit and see how they react. I wouldn’t want that job, not if the next customer had a really aggressive dog.
Nor would I risk placing vulnerable children with a family whose dog seemed potentially harmful – not just because the dog might be a threat, but because, if the family couldn’t see that potential hazard, what else would they fail to notice?