When Is It Okay To Return A Dog? Lena Dunham Admits Her Pet Isn’t The Right Fit

Lena Dunham with rescue dog Lamby. Photo Credit: Bravo TV

(PET ADOPTION/RESCUE DOGS) In recent headlines, actress Lena Dunham is facing criticism for surrendering her beloved dog Lamby after four years together.

On June 21, the mastermind behind the HBO series Girls, disclosed to her 3.3 million followers on Instagram, “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.”

So after more than four years of dealing with Lamby’s challenging behavior and aggression issues, Dunham finally decided to relinquish him to the Zen Dog canine rehabilitation center in Los Angeles.

Lena Dunham with Lamby, her rescue dog of four years. Photo Credit: Bravo TV

While the BARC Shelter in Brooklyn, where Lamby was adopted, is disputing Dunham’s account of the dog’s history of abuse, Dunham is also being accused of creating an environment that may have caused Lamby to act out.

Matt Beisner, the founder of the Zen Dog, claims he had worked with Lamby several times during Dunham’s trips to Los Angeles, before she ultimately decided to hand him over to the facility.

“He was afraid to be touched; touching was usually going to get somebody bit,” Beisner told the New York Times. “He would drink his own urine, which is a common behavior that comes from dogs that have been raised in breeding farms.”

Beisner could not confirm whether Lamby was abused as a puppy, but he maintains dogs’ behavioral problems often stem from their experiences during the first 10 weeks of their lives.

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.

A post shared by Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) on

Regardless of whose story is true, there’s no denying that behavioral issues can be exacerbated if a dog and their guardian aren’t a good match.

Dunham’s story brings to light how adopting a new pet isn’t always the fairy tale you dreamed it would be. Even if you do all your homework, there can be unforeseen circumstances.[quote style=”boxed” float=”right”]“I think there’s a kind of mythology built around sharing a life with a dog. It’s not actually a Disney movie,” — Kenny Lamberti of HSUS[/quote]

In fact, approximately six percent of adopted dogs are eventually returned to shelters (not including those who decide to rehome the animals themselves).

Facing the reality of surrendering your pet is undeniably devastating, but unfortunately it’s sometimes the best option for both you and the animal.

“I did what I thought the best mother would do, which was to give him a life that provided for his specific needs,” Dunham said on Instagram.

According to Beisner, Lamby is now living a peaceful life at a new home with Dani Shay, a former Zen Dog employee, in Southern California.

“Rehoming a beloved pet is a difficult and painful thing to do, and people have to make that decision all the time, for various reasons,” Shay told the Daily Dot.

“When it came time for us to take the next step and I adopted Lamby from Lena officially, we did so in a way that would ensure all his particular needs would be met.”

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself, “What’s going to be best for the dog?” Sometimes being committed to a dog means being able to admit when you are not the right home for them.

Hi, @lenadunham. Lamby says "Hello!" and "Boww, bow!!" to you, @jackantonoff, and the entire @Matt_THEZENDOG Team. Thank you Lena, for rescuing Lamby and being a dedicated parent/angel to him. I'm sure you know how much he loves and appreciates you. And yes, it's true, he does still drink from "the golden tap" now and then, but that's our weird little boy! He's working on it. 🙂 We practice everything he learned at #THEZENDOG, plus swimming and fetch, on a regular basis. Like you, I've hesitated to talk about my experiences with re-homing. I know firsthand how painful it is to let go of a pet, or to have to change course, especially after bonding and working so hard with them. When Ali and I decided to part ways, and she moved back to NY to be on Broadway, we had to consider what would be best for Honey, our sweet pit bull. We discussed options at great length. Even though it hurt to imagine someone else having Honey, we agreed that, for many reasons, she would be happiest and most supported if we found her a new home. We hoped it would be with someone we knew and trusted. Coincidentally and very luckily, my good friend @stefanie_paulette was looking to adopt a female pit (specifically!), around that time. Now Honey lives in Colorado, where she frequents grassy fields with other big playful dogs. We got to be with her when she was healing from surgery, and helped her into the next chapter of her life. I guess what I'm saying is, it's a gift to care for an animal, at any capacity. They feel our hearts' intention to love them, even when changes are needed, and they love us back. They can often thrive in new homes, if the transition is executed thoughtfully and responsibly by everyone involved. So thanks again for sharing Lamby with me, and being his first home out of the shelter. He is loved, learning new things, and cracking me and my friends up all the time. I adore him. Love, Lamby's Other Parent, Dani

A post shared by Dani Shay (@therealdanishay) on

So when is it okay to return a dog?

People relinquish their pets to shelters for a number of reasons—allergies, submissive urination, health problems, separation anxiety, financial setbacks, aggression issues, etc. The scenarios are endless. But one of the most significant reasons tends to be that the caretaker and animal are simply not the right fit for each other.

“If you do end up in a situation where a dog is not a good match for you, which in this scenario I think was clear, we don’t encourage immediately throwing in the towel,” says Kenny Lamberti of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). “We recommend that you find a qualified training expert.”

Returning a dog to the shelter or rehoming should be your very last option. If you see a problem arising after the adoption, consider whether the concern is temporary (like a teething puppy or a dog who isn’t potty-trained). Is the issue something you could hire a professional trainer to help with?

If you think you’ve tried everything imaginable to resolve the issue at hand, then it’s probably time to reach out to your rescue group or animal shelter and schedule an appointment to return him/her. It’s also in the animal’s best interest to make the decision sooner rather than later (perhaps Dunham’s biggest mistake).

The truth is, not every adoption is a match made in heaven. Sometimes returning a pet to the shelter is the best option for both the adopter and the animal. Photo Credit: Pets for Patriots

Most responsible animal adoption organizations will take a dog back, and many rescues will even offer a two or three week adoption trial period since they know that pets just don’t behave the same in a shelter as they do in a new home.

As long as your reason for returning the pet is reasonable, you’re welcome to adopt from that shelter again. Shelters would never turn away a potential adopter due to an unsuccessful previous adoption.

However, there are many instances where people will rehome their pet themselves–whether for personal preference or because they rescued their pet from a kill shelter. Rehoming your pet is not only a way to relieve the responsibility from the shelter, but also find some peace of mind by being able to personally meet potential adopters.

“If you have a similar situation, please know it’s possible to responsibly re-home your rescue rather than sending them back into the shelter system,” Dunham wrote on Instagram.

“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.”

Believe it or not, you could be breaking your adoption contract if you rehome your pet on your own terms. Many rescue organizations draft contracts that require adopters to return the pet to the shelter if things don’t work out. Since responsible rescues have a vested interest in every single one of their animals, this is one way they are able to ensure pets are placed in qualified homes.

While bringing your pet back to the shelter can be a humiliating task, a good shelter staff will understand and shouldn’t shame you for your (albeit, extremely difficult) decision. You’re likely not at fault for the adoption gone awry, and you’re ultimately making the best choice for the welfare of the pet.

Reducing Returns

While you shouldn’t feel ashamed for returning an adopted pet, it’s important to take steps to avoid being in this position. We encourage adopters to be as informed as possible before adopting a dog.

You must ask yourself the hard questions and be honest and realistic with yourself. Do you have the time? Can you walk the dog twice a day and socialize him/her with other dogs? Can you afford vet bills (we highly recommend pet insurance)? Put careful thought into a dog’s needs versus what you’re able to provide.

Try to schedule multiple visits with the pet you’re interested in adopting. Don’t just visit them once in a small room for 20 minutes. If possible, go outside with the dog and take him/her for a walk. It’s important to get a good idea of his/her personality (energy level, attentiveness, mannerisms, etc).

In fact, many shelters allow fostering animals, where potential adopters provide a temporary home for the pet while the rescue group continues searching for his/her forever home. This can also serve as a “trial run” period, providing you with the chance to gradually and naturally fall in love with a furry friend who’s already in your home.

The ASPCA offers some tools to help reduce the likelihood of returning an adopted pet. Shelters can use the Meet Your Match tool to gather information from potential adopters about what they’re looking for in a pet–i.e. “It’s most important to me that my dog [fill in the blank].” These insights can help shelter workers narrow down their search and pair potential adopters with pets who will hopefully meet their expectations.

“Yes, it’s about saving a life,” Emily Weiss, the ASPCA’s vice president of shelter research and development, says. “But this life’s going to be with you for a long time.”

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The ASPCA’s Virtual Pet Behaviorist tool also helps new pet parents work through common problems like potty training, excessive barking, destructive chewing, etc.

But let’s face it, even with all these precautions, your newest addition just might not be a good fit.

Having an adoption go wrong can be a painful experience. After returning or rehoming your pet, you might not be ready for another. But after some time passes, consider trying again. The perfect pet could still be waiting for you.

— Alisa Manzelli, exclusive to Global Animal