In defence of Lena Dunham: because not every animal rescue works out.

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This is my dog Bella.

I am her favourite person (my family will dispute this but ignore them) and I think it's because I saw her first and she imprinted on me like a duckling. As I walked over to her cage to meet her that first day, she pushed herself up hard against the wire to get close to me, so I could pat as much of her as possible.

Take me home, she said with her eyes. Love me.

Her name didn't used to be Bella, not when I met her 18 months ago. It was Ruckus and that should have been a clue. A red flag. An omen. "The man who brought her in said he found her on the street and he nicknamed her Ruckus," said Clare from Sydney Dogs and Cats Home when I arrived to meet Ruckus after Clare emailed me a photo of her looking small and scared and adorable. Ruckus? Ha. Oh how Clare and I laughed at the idea that this beautiful, timid little creature with soulful eyes and a scruffy face could cause any kind of Ruckus.

Trying to pack for Canberra tmrw and this is what I find in my suitcase..... @sydneydogsandcatshome #rescuedog

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It was love at first sight. We called her Bella because she was so beautiful. To us. There is chemistry when it comes to adopting animals and I've felt it before.


We adopted our first dog, Harry from Sydney Dogs & Cats home 12 years ago and as he's grown older and our kids have become more independent, we decided we were ready to give another dog a forever home. We had a few false starts, dogs we saw on the website and enquired about. Dogs who had been happily reclaimed by their owners after arriving at the shelter or who had already been adopted before we could meet them or who weren't suitable for us. Some were too big, too boisterous, couldn't be homed with another dog, needed masses of exercise or couldn't be around kids.

Dog day afternoon. Alumni @sydneydogsandcatshome

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You've heard it before but it's true: buying or adopting a pet should never be a spontaneous or impulsive decision. Puppies are a huge amount of work. And rescue dogs can have issues. All animals require time and patience and commitment.

Usually, I have no time for most of the fights that break out around Lena Dunham.  So often, she is a magnet for the projected grievances of others and while, like most humans, she makes mistakes, the enormity of outrage and controversy she generates is usually out of all proportion to anything she's said or done.

But this time I want to go there.

In today's news we've learned that she was recently forced to find a new home for her beloved rescue dog Lamby who she adopted from the BARC animal shelter in Brooklyn four years ago. Back in March, she posted the following:

A lot of you have been asking where Lamby is these days since he's always been the star of my gram and I've been posting pics of my poodle girls. Well, you know honesty is my jam but this one has been really heartbreaking to talk about. But I feel I have to share that last March, after four years of challenging behavior and aggression that could not be treated with training or medication or consistent loving dog ownership, Lamby went to live at an amazing professional facility in Los Angeles @matt_thezendog where an awesome person named @therealdanishay (who is educated in a rescue dog's specific trauma) loves him so hard. Lamby suffered terrible abuse as a pup that made having him in a typical home environment dangerous to him and others- we needed to be responsible to ourselves, our neighbors and especially our beloved boy. Jack and I will miss him forever but sometimes when you love something you have to let it go (especially when it requires tetanus shots and stitches.) Someday I'll really write about the pain and relief of letting Lamby go off and really be Lamby, biting and peeing in his own mouth and all. There were so many lessons in it, about forgiving myself and loving with an open palm and giving in to a larger plan. Shout out to @jennikonner for listening to endless hours of Lamby pain, and especially my partner @jackantonoff for loving him even when he ruined floors and couches and our life. Jack knows what Lamby means to me and he let me come to the decision in my own time even when it made his days challenging. Susan & Karen will never be my first loves, but they are fuzzy and hilarious stuffing for the hole Lamby left and we cherish them deeply ❤️#lamby #thefirstcutisthedeepest #foreverlamb PS If you have a similar situation, please know its possible to responsibly re-home your rescue rather than sending them back into the shelter system. It can require patience, diligence and often a financial contribution but there are solutions that leave everyone happy and safe. You will always have been your dog's first stop outside shelter life and that's beautiful.

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For some unknown, unhelpful reason, a shelter worker has this week come out to dispute her version of events and insist that Lamby showed no signs of abuse or aggression during the four weeks it was in the shelter (four years ago) and evidenced the fact that the dog was loving towards Lena and her mother as 'proof' that the dog was fine and had no behavioural problems.

Dunham has been forced to respond and she's done so angrily and I don't blame her:

It's come to my attention that the staff at the shelter where I adopted Lamby have a very different account of his early life and behavioral issues than I do. While I'm sorry to have disappointed them, I can't apologize. Lamby was and is one of the great loves of my life. When I met him I knew we'd have an amazing journey. But his aggression - which was unpredictable- and his particular issues, which remain myriad, weren't manageable, at least not by me. I did what I thought the best mother would do, which was to give him a life that provided for his specific needs. He'd been with me for nearly four years and I was his mom- I was in the best position to discern what those needs were. After countless hours of training, endless financial support and a lot of tears he was given access to a better life. I still support him financially and I'll always be there for him in every way but he's notably happier in his new surroundings. Why should this story be subject to scrutiny and anger? It is willfully misunderstanding the truth. I hope those judging can imagine the incredible pain of letting go of your favorite creature on EARTH because you know you can't help them be healthy and happy. I would never say an unkind word about the staff of BARC, what they do is amazing and life saving for these animals- but we have different accounts of Lamby's behavior and they were not present in my home nor did they live with him for an extended period. They did not witness the consistent and responsible care I provided. I have weathered a lot of micro-scandals but this one hurts MOST, because of the vulnerability of letting people know Lamby and my story, and because I miss him so damn much. This is the painting that greets me every day when I walk into my home. This is the animal who taught me about loving and letting go. I know I'm a lot of fun to place your issues on, but I won't let anyone hang their hat on this peg. Not this time.

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I feel deeply for Lena because there were times after adopting Bella/Ruckus when we too considered that perhaps we weren't the best family for our new dog and that perhaps we'd made a mistake in adopting her. Like Lamby, Bella had some trust and fear issues with men. Also people wearing hats or sunglasses which made summer particularly challenging. Fortunately, we were able to push through. My eldest son, on his gap year, was able to dedicate a lot of extra time to train Bella. We persevered. We made allowances and adapted to aspects of her behaviour which remained unpredictable. We modified our expectations of what we could and couldn't do with Bella in tow. And I don't say that to suggest Lena didn't. Clearly, she tried for four years to make Lamby feel comfortable and secure and re-homing him was, as she says, a last resort after "four years of challenging behaviour and aggression that could not be treated with training or medication or consistent loving dog ownership" as she put it.

Because to believe otherwise is to believe this about her: Lena Dunham adopted a dog who she clearly loved and adored for four years and then one day she just said "I don't want him anymore" and gave him away. Because she couldn't be bothered taking care of him.

What bollocks is that. Four years is a long, long time. I can only imagine the issues she and her partner, Jack, experienced. Distressed dogs can bite. Unhappy dogs are destructive. Abused dogs can be unpredictably aggressive. And that's not a positive living situation for anyone, dog or human.

Stefania Kubowicz from the RSPCA (I adopted a dog from the RSPCA when I was 19, named her Tiffy and loved her until she died in my arms 14 years later) had this to say on how symptoms of abuse can manifest in animals:

"We have dogs in here that are terrified of men, specifically. Or terrified of really tall people, because they've had a specific experience. They can be fine with one person and not someone else. In a lot of ways, it's no less complex than human psychology. It really depends on their background."

While Kubowicz points out she can't comment on Lena Dunham's case specifically, she agrees that  behavioural issues with dogs can be really complex. And just because someone at the shelter didn't see signs of Lamby's aggression or trauma, that doesn't mean (as people seem to be implying) that she isn't telling the truth. "For one person to say, 'this is my experience with a dog,' and for another to say, 'I had the opposite experience with my dog,' is plausible in a lot of situations," she says.

Not everyone agrees we should talk about dogs like we talk about babies. Post continues after audio. 

And Kubowicz defends the fact that as a last resort, for some people such as Lena Dunham, surrendering a dog that isn't the right fit for you or your family or your lifestyle is a better outcome than neglecting that animal or having it be distressed or aggressive.

"We have a lot of surrenders here" she told Mamamia.

"Daily, there are a lot of people who can't look after their dogs anymore for lots of reasons. Some of them might have tried everything under the sun. Unfortunately, it's a really common thing that takes place. It's better to rehome the dog, rather than having a dog that's distressed. Finding a new loving home for them definitely isn't the worst thing that could happen."

As for Lamby, his new owner Dani Shay says "he is loved, learning new things, and cracking me and my friends up all the time. I adore him".

And how can that be considered by anyone to be a bad outcome?

So if you are thinking of becoming a pet owner, please consider adoption. There are loads of animal shelters with beautiful dogs and cats (and rabbits and birds and even goats) waiting desperately, patiently, hopefully for a forever home. Please don't be discouraged by anything you've read here. Bella is the third dog I have adopted and the other two have been utterly easy and issue-free. Shelters have strict protocols about assessing behaviour and steering you away from animals that aren't suited to you. Their goal is to get every match right. As a proud owner of two delightful, happy, loving rescue dogs who enhance my family's lives every day I have to say that there is a deep connection and gratitude that rescue dogs have to their saviours. I cannot recommend it highly enough.


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