Our Heartbreaking, Gut Wrenching Adoption Story

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.

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.

From rescue to home your survival checklist contents

Rescue Dogs 101's
From Rescue to Home, Your Survival Checklist

  • Adoption Questionnaire
  • New Dog Shopping Checklist
  • Puppy Proofing Your Home Checklist
  • Bringing Your Adopted Dog Home
  • The 3 Days, 3 Weeks, 3 Month Rule 
  • Dogs Body Language Quick Cheat Sheet
  • 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?


    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?

    Sharing is caring!

    About the Author Debi@RescueDogs101

    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.

    Leave a Comment:

    Add Your Reply