My stomach was literally in knots the entire day. I’ve heard that phrase before, but never really felt it. I mean deep down in your gut… I couldn’t eat, my mind was fuzzy, I just couldn’t wrap my head around what went wrong.

I debated on whether I should tell my adoption story. I’m embarrassed that someone in my position and knowledge got into this mess. I’m afraid some of you may judge me for my decisions. And honestly, I’d rather forget this entire week ever happened.

But I need to tell this story. To help others understand, to know you aren’t alone… because I know we aren’t the only family that has gone through a scenario like this before. I know this story is long. But it’s important to tell the entire story and not just bits and pieces. 

It all started with the decision to adopt another dog so my daughter could continue her love of dog agility. Yes, she already has our dog Ginger that she does agility with, but Ginger isn’t into agility as much as my daughter.

Rocky's Petfinder Profile Picture

Searching for Our Perfect Dog

So the search began… we were searching local Border Collie rescues and PetFinder when we found Rocky’s profile.

Rocky seemed perfect. He was a purebred Border Collie, which wasn’t a requirement of ours, but a bonus. He was 22 months old, a perfect age because I didn’t really want to go through the puppy stage.

The 3 Days, 3 Weeks, 3 Month Rule of Adopting a Rescue Dog

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along with other invaluable adoption resources in our Rescue Dogs 101 From Rescue to Home – Your Survival Checklist.

I researched the rescue’s reviews on Facebook, they had raving reviews, happy ending photos, the whole 9 yards.

His PetFinder profile was slim, so I emailed the rescue to get more information about him. They requested I fill out the application, which I did. I told them I was looking for a dog for my 12-year-old daughter to train in agility.

Application Approved, Check!

I was quickly approved, in less than 24 hours. Great I thought… I mean who wouldn’t approve someone with my experience with dogs.

I asked questions, but all they knew was that he was surrendered by an elderly couple that said he had too much energy for them. Well, duh, of course… he’s a border collie! This breed needs a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.

The catch… he was a 6-hour drive south of us. I debated… was it worth driving 12 hours round trip to adopt a dog? Maybe, if it was THE dog. But I couldn’t get any real detail about Rocky’s temperament other than he was well trained and a real sweet dog.

[As a side note, maybe a red flag looking back… the Petfinder listing was under a shelter in Chicago, but then it also said the dog was at a rescue in southern Illinois. This seemed weird to me but let it slide, which now looking back, I should have asked more questions about.]

So, do we take the chance and go meet him? Well, my brother lives 30 minutes from the rescue, so we decided to go for it. I mean the worst-case scenario, we meet the dog and he isn’t a match, at least I got to visit my brother and his family.

Meeting Rocky

The rescue asked we meet Rocky at their vet’s office. Which seemed odd at first because his Petfinder listing said he was in a foster home. Well turns out he was actually in a boarding facility. The rescue said the foster they had lined up couldn’t take him.

Okay, it’s Wednesday morning and we are sitting at the vet’s as she walks in with Rocky. He was a little scared when he first walked in, but within seconds warmed up and jump on my son’s lap to be petted. His tail was wagging, he was a happy dog.

Rocky continued to love the attention from us, he even rolled over onto his back for some belly rubs. He was full of energy, very playful with the toys we brought, gently took a few treats from my daughters’ hand, he seemed perfect. I inspected his coat, teeth, ears, and legs, he seemed very healthy. Other dogs walked in and all Rocky wanted to do is play with them. No signs of aggression. We spent a good amount of time with him before deciding to adopt him.

I’ve been on both sides of the adoption process before. As a foster, I’ve approved people to adopt. And I’ve adopted several other dogs in the past, from rescues and owner surrenders. I know what to look for and what questions to ask.

At least that’s what I thought.

Adopting Rocky

The adoption process was quick and easy. A one-page contract to sign and I handed over $200 cash. The rescue gave me all his paperwork, some of his food so we can transition him to our food, and we were ready to go home.

adoption story of rocky the border collie

Bringing Rocky Home

My daughter was so excited! Rocky was going to be perfect. The entire 6-hour drive home he laid quietly next to her and even laid his head on her lap.

Rocky was a pretty stinky and sticky… remember he was in a boarding facility. We gave him a bath as soon as we got home. My daughter offered to do this since it was going to be “her” dog. He didn’t really love the bath but did just fine.

No introductions to our dogs just yet… I was going to follow our 24-hour rule before letting them meet. It was a little game of musical chairs (aka rooms) to get everyone outside to potty and play. But we managed the first day.

Recommended reading: The Best Way to Introduce a Second Dog into Your Pack

Day Two with Rocky

It was a Wednesday when we adopted Rocky and brought him home. Even though Thursday was 4th of July, we stayed home to make sure Rocky was okay and had time to transition into his new home.

My daughter wanted to be the one to take care of Rocky: feed him, take him outside, etc. So she woke up early to feed Rocky on Thursday. We have an extra room that was his, for now, so his crate, toys, and food was all in that room. She spent time playing with him, walking him outside and all was good.

Introducing two dogs sniffing butts

Meeting Our Other Dogs

Late afternoon we decided to introduce Rocky to our yellow lab, Bear. Bear is a happy go lucky dog and gets along with all our foster dogs without issue. The introductions went well, neither dog really cared too much of the other. They sniffed butts, walked around together a little and that was it.

I kept the sessions short to not stress either dog, but all was going great. Our dog Ginger, on the other hand, was going to have to wait. She is a bit more intense on greeting dogs at our house. She gets territorial and does have a resource guarding history.

Recommended reading: Living with a Resource Aggressive Dog

Third Day (Friday) with Rocky

Friday morning my dogs woke me up around 7am, as usual, to get their breakfast and go outside to potty.

My daughter decided she wanted to sleep in since she was up late the night before because of the holiday. So it was up to me to feed Rocky this morning. I filled up his food bowl, placed it on the floor and let him eat. I thought he was done because he proceeded to the toy pile to pick out a toy to play with. Rocky was a messy eater, there was food all over the carpet. So, I leaned over to pick up the kibble that was around the bowl and before I knew it Rocky growled and bit me!!!!

The Bite

There was no warning time between the growl and bite. It happened so fast. I was shocked. I’ve never been bitten by a dog before! This sweet dog just bit me. I threw myself back into the corner of the room looked down and my finger was bleeding. I was panicking, what the heck just happened?

I stood up, walked out of the room, closing the door behind me. I rinsed my hand off and grabbed a towel to hold on my finger to stop the bleeding.

This entire time my heart is pounding, my head is spinning, I am in shock of what just happened. I went back into the room to figure out what to do next. I needed to get him back in his crate but now I was afraid of him.

I’ve never been afraid of a dog, this was a new feeling to me. What the heck was I going to do? My husband and daughter were sound asleep.

I sat down in the corner of the room again, contemplating what to do next. Rocky came over to me as if to say he sorry. He put his head in my lap to be pet, I reluctantly pet him for a few seconds and all of a sudden he growled and showed his teeth. This time he didn’t get me. I pulled away so hard I rammed myself into the door.

I realized right then, this is even more serious than I thought. Knowing my dogs were locked in the other bedrooms, I let Rocky out of his bedroom so I could pick up the food. Once I had the floor cleaned up, I pretended to be taking Rocky outside and got the leash clipped on his collar.

I was now afraid to even bring him into that room and didn’t know how I was going to get him in his crate.

Recommended reading: Reading Your Dog’s Body Language

What to Do Next?

Luckily my husband woke up at this time. I told him what happened, and he couldn’t believe it either. We started to discuss our options. We’ve only had Rocky for 2 days. Do we return him? Do we keep him and try to work through his food aggression?

We have experience with resource aggression with Ginger, but her aggression is geared toward other dogs, not people.

We tested Rocky outside in the garage. Put a bowl of food in front of him, used a broomstick to move the food bowl and Rocky immediately went into a full protection stance with teeth showing and growling.

That was it. How could I ever trust Rocky with my daughter again? How could I ever create a bond with a dog that has just bitten me?

Yes we could commit to always feed him in his crate. But how do we know the extent of the aggression? We haven’t tested him with toys or other items. We do know he is very intense when playing.

What if Ginger and Rocky ever got into an altercation together? We feared that would be a blood bath situation… two resource aggressive dogs living in the same house?

Fear Aggression Too?

My son had a couple friends over on Friday to go swimming. When the friend bent down to offer his hand to pet Rocky, he backed up in fear and growled. We didn’t test this any further, but it is possible his fear is transferring over to aggression with all this turmoil.

The Decision to Bring Rocky Back

It had to be done. We were not prepared at this time to rehabilitate another dog. Ginger has taught us a lot about resource guarding and we put a lot of effort into helping her, but our family just can’t take on another dog like that. Plus, this was supposed to be my 12-year old daughters’ dog to handle… I would hope any parent could understand that is not a situation I want to put her in.

I contacted the rescue to let them know what happened. She seemed just as shocked as we were. We agreed that we would drive Rocky back first thing Saturday morning.

The Drive Back To Return Rocky (Saturday)

Here we go, another 12-hour round trip to southern Illinois. This time just my husband and I… quality time together he called it. My heart was still aching over this decision. Have we given up too quickly? What will Rocky’s fate be after this bite?

This time the lady from the rescue was not available to meet, so we met the couple that was boarding Rocky at the same vet’s office. Rocky was scared to death of the guy, he coward right away, tail tucked and all. The man joked and said he only liked his wife. I didn’t find it funny but disturbing to see Rocky’s demeanor change right away. Maybe it was because he knew where he was going.

This couple also said they didn’t see any signs of food aggression. But also admitted they have up to 40 dogs in their care. They put food bowls in crates and walk away. Which I understand, but the picture it paints in my mind is sickening.

I honestly think that if we didn’t just drive 6 hours, I wouldn’t have left him there with them. I did not get a warm fuzzy feeling about these people.

But that was it. We left and drove home. The entire time my husband and I worrying about Rocky’s fate. What was the rescue doing to do with him now? Now that he has a biting incident, they can’t just adopt him out again, right?

What’s Next for Rocky?

I was praying the rescue would get him the help he needs. I know that the rescue I volunteer for here in Madison would send him to a behavioral dog trainer. And then make sure he doesn’t get adopted to a family with kids.

But the story doesn’t end here. On Sunday, I saw a posting from the rescue on Facebook saying Rocky is up for adoption again!! The only thing added to his description: “doesn’t like to be bothered while eating”. Really? Good with children? Did the rescue not take me seriously when I told them he bit me?

Rocky's Petfinder Profile Information

I Had to Learn More and Do More

I can’t stand by and let Rocky get adopted out to another family and get bit. God forbid to a family with kids and a kid gets mauled. The rescue may not have a conscious, but I do.

I know dogs well enough to know this is not an easy fix nor something that can be ignored. Rocky needs professional help. I’m not sure how he got this way, but I don’t think it’s his fault.

So I took it in my own hands to dig deeper. I had taken photos of some of the paperwork I received when adopting Rocky. It included information about the breeder that sold him to the owners. I emailed the breeder that I had concerns about one of her dogs.

The Truth?

The breeder called me on Monday to talk about what happened. She was very upset when I told her everything that had happened. She called the original owners and they were very short with her, but she did get a partial truth… Rocky bit the wife’s hand so bad that it sent her to the emergency room.

There it is, the truth of why Rocky was up for adoption. It wasn’t because of his high energy.

Where Does the Truth and Responsibility Lay?

The original owners wouldn’t give the breeder any information about where they surrendered Rocky or why they didn’t contact her first. They did sign a contract with the breeder that they would return Rocky to her and never surrender to a rescue or shelter. But yet he ended up in a shelter hundreds of miles away.

It’s Monday night as I am writing this, and I am still not sure who lied about the owner getting bit. Was it the owner that withheld this important information? Was it the rescue we adopted Rocky from? Or was there an in-between shelter that left out the biting incident?

Happy or Sad Ending?

UPDATE: 1 YEAR LATER

I never did get any answers about Rocky. No one would return my calls or emails. I do know that the rescue removed Rocky’s photos from Facebook a later that week, but he remained on Petfinder for at least a couple weeks.

I want you to know you are not alone if you ever find yourself in a situation that you need to return a dog you just adopted. And please never leave out details about a dogs behavior because you are scared a shelter won’t take him. 

Recommended reading: Is it Ever Okay to Rehome a Dog?

Questions I Still Have

  1. Why didn’t the owners contact the breeder after the bite?
  2. Why is Rocky food aggressive? Is it a learned behavior or was it genetic?
  3. Why didn’t the rescue contact the breeder when they got the dog? They had the paper work, the contract signed by the owners stating they were not to ever surrender the dog to a rescue or shelter. 
  4. Somebody lied/left out the fact that Rocky bit the owner… who is really at fault here?

Lessons Learned

  • You can do all the research you think is right and still end up with a dog that isn’t the right match.
  • Not all rescues and shelters are created equal.
  • Some rescues are in it just to make a buck. Turn and churn, no behavioral testing needed. No help for the dogs that need it.
  • I admit I fell into a false comfort zone, thinking all rescues are as great as the one I volunteer for.
  • People lie and leave out facts to make it easier for themselves.
  • I can’t save all the dogs in the world.
  • Never pay cash… I’m hoping I get refunded our adoption fee. (Update: I did receive a refund check in the mail)
  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Nobody’s immune to bad decisions. 
  • Don’t believe everything on a dogs profile.

Everything Happens for a Reason

I am a true believe in that everything does happen for a reason. There is a reason I fed Rocky that morning and not my daughter. It very easily could have been her and not me. This thought terrifies me.

It’s hard to see the good out of story like this, but I have to believe that this happened to us so I can tell my story to you. It could have been so much worse. My finger is starting to heal already, but my heart will always break for Rocky.

I hope that something good can come out of this. Just knowing that I may have saved a child from getting bit, if not my daughter, someone else’s, makes telling my story worth it… as much as I want to forget it all happened. 

UDPATE: After another 6 months of searching for another border collie to adopt, we finally decided to get a puppy from a breeder. Now before you pass judgement, please read Is it OK to get a dog from a breeder?

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About the Author

Debi McKee is a mom of three kids, three dogs and the creator of Rescue Dogs 101... where she guides you in your journey of adopting and raising a rescue dog every step of the way. She also volunteers for a local dog rescue and Humane Society.

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  1. Hello, thank u for your story. I applied for dog adoption and am waiting for approval for a small breed for my 6 yr old daughter. Your story have helped me be more cautious about these shelters and adopting websites. Happy holidays~!

  2. Thank you for sharing. We have had a rescue for four weeks now. He is so sweet with us but he is aggressive with visitors and reactive to dogs. Our hearts are broken as we are considering taking him back. I e have a trainer and e have been working with. But he has bitten at my in-laws clothing and another friend today. Yes so wheat unpredictable in that he said I’ll stop barking and let someone pet him the n gets aggressive as soon as they get up to move around or to leave. He’s so smart and sweet and has learned some commands and tries hard to please us. I just don’t feel comfortable with him around our family. Trainer is coming tomorrow and my mother in-law…so the trainer can see the reaction. Hoping for the best but feel discouraged tonight.

  3. I recently read your story about Rocky. I too will be wondering if someone was able to help Rocky. As a lover of dogs, my husband and I had several throught out our married life. We once had a samoyed that was very protective of our children. One time while camping, our children was playing on the park swing set. The next thing I knew our dog had busted out of the camper door and ran toward the swings. Another parent had arrived and was helping our son off the swing so their child could use it. Our dog was ready to attack, but luckily my husband was close by and stopped her. Unfortunately we had to return her. It was a very sad day.
    As far as the older couple buying the dog. Many people in their 70’s are very active. It’s possible they had a big yard, farm land etc in which they could let the dog run. I would hate to have rescues, breeders etc tell someone they couldn’t adopt a dog because of age. You see I am currently 68 yrs old and looking for a puppy. Why wait so long? My husband was sick for several years. He passed several months ago. I didn’t want adopt a puppy and not have time for her/him. Now that I’m alone I have plenty of time to give a dog a forever home.
    I love your newsletter. Please keep posting.
    Kathy G.

    1. Thank you Kathy! I never heard from the rescue again despite my efforts to find out more. You are right about the age, I am going to edit the article… I should not have judged them this way. I did find out though that they had border collies in the past, did not live on a farm, but in a suburban neighborhood and had a autistic child. None of that changes the fact they should not have disclosed what had happened. It was a life changing experience for everyone involved.

  4. Debi; Your story is very sad; it is unconscionable to keep knowledge about a dog bite from anyone who might ever have contact with the dog. And it breaks my heart to think about Rocky, who suffered God knows what before he came to you. Poor scared and confused Rocky, who deserves much better, for example, a chance to become a good canine citizen. Unfortunately, there will always be people who will do things we don’t understand–the good news is that there are people like you, whose focus is on making fostering and adoption as positive and safe as it can possibly be. Please keep up the good work. I do have a comment: please don’t judge all older people with stereotypes. I am 71; I volunteer at a local Animal Control, go for long walks daily, and, being retired, I have the gift of time and attention to give to dogs, who all need those things. I have an enormous yard for Fetch and other active play. It is hard enough to grow older, without the world deciding what we can or cannot do.

  5. Debi, I’m sure this was incredibly emotional for you and I think you’re so brave for sharing your story. It’s easy for people to judge who don’t understand what it’s like. I do.

    Without any experience, I tried fostering. As I was walking out of the one-hour training seminar (hardly enough to prepare me for anything), the coordinator raised his eyebrows and said “good luck” when I mentioned my foster dog’s name. I should have known right then, but I decided that I would give him the benefit of the doubt. Of course, I fell in love with the dog. He was whip-smart, a bit wild, but I loved him. I wanted to adopt him. Then, we took him over to my husband’s house and HE BIT MY FATHER IN LAW IN THE FACE. Six stitches and many many tears later, I had to surrender the dog back to the rescue. I was told he was “sent to a farm,” but I’m not an idiot. I know what that means. Almost in the same sentence, the coordinator then revealed to me that the dog had bit a kid before he was given to me. I had no idea. How could they not tell me? How could they let me foster this dog with no experience? Why was there no accountability for the shelter?

    I’m sharing my story here for a couple reasons. 1.) to let you know that you’re not alone and and 2.) to see if you would be willing to talk with me. I’m an entrepreneur who in the process of developing technology that will help more dogs through the rescue system by finding the right home the first time. I’m in the research phase (which is how I found your story) and I would love to talk with you to see what you think of my idea. Your feedback could help me make this a highly effective tool for improving the system and help find lifetime homes for dogs. I hope to hear from you!

    PS I’m based in Minneapolis now, but I grew up in Waukesha, a stone’s throw from Dane County. What a coincidence!

    1. Hi Emma, Thank you for sharing your story! I will never understand why a human being would not disclose such imperative information. Do they really think the dog won’t bite again without proper rehabilitation? Please contact me so we can talk about your new project.

  6. I have great sympathy for your situation and everything you now wish to do. You love dogs yet you need more experience and need to be more thorough and not rush such a life changing family event as adopting a new family member that has lived a life unknown to you. Adopting a dog from a local shelter is a safer course to follow. We can only be responsible for our actions. To return that poor dog to that horrid couple seeing him in fear is very sad. 6 hours is nothing when you consider the collie’s fear and suffering. I would and have driven straight to my vet and asked for help. My vet would board a troubled dog and evaluate the next step. Training by an experienced specialist in traumatized dogs or putting the dog to sleep. A dog so in fear it bites when treated kindly is a very suffering dog who has lost trust. Fear is the dog’s main survival instinct and the trigger that causes the violence. You reacted in fear instead of calm control. He came to you after thhe first bite for safety but felt your fear and reacted with his own fear. Dogs are emotion and need to feel safe with their human, especially an abused dog. This dog has every sign of abuse not just food aggression. If you could have had him from a puppy I believe he would have been an exceptional companion. Experience and training is key. I know you are a good person and did your best but the first thing I do before bringing a new dog into my home is TEST the dog with giving and removing by hand food, toys, quick movement, commands, and other dogs. You went in blind. Your daughter has a guardian angel for sure or the collie is protective of children and/or has never been hurt by them. I am sorry for the poor dog. He has been let down by every human he has encountered starting with the breeder. Life is so unfair to those without a voice, just a heart. Prayers and blessings to you and yours and the border collie too. Remember, you did not make the trouble for the dog. You tried to help. Always remember a good vet is there to assist you and your whole family.

    1. You are right, we did react in fear and I did let my emotions get the best of me. 5 months later, there is still not a day that passes I don’t think about Rocky. But deep down I believe we did right by returning him. The contract we signed was clear in that we needed to return the dog to them if we could not keep him. Could I have surrendered him to our vet, maybe. But not sure the end result would have been different. And we did test the dog with food and toys before bringing him home, he showed no signs until that frightful day. This experience has been life-changing to say the least.

  7. Thank you for your honest and heartbreaking story. It has left me in tears. I am a 68 year old women who for the last 19 years has had between 1-3 dog companions. I am currently looking for a little dog to share my life with. I appreciate your wisdom.

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