I know what you’re thinking. Why not skip all this rescuing brouhaha—the chases and the panic and the risk of bites—and just, you know, drug the dog? (Just sayin’.)
Here’s why rescuers leave drugs and tranquilizers for a last resort. (And no, it’s not because they’re penance-loving masochists.)
IT’S A GUESS-TIMATE
Tranquilizers are prescribed based on weight. If you’re keeping your distance for fear of being bitten, you haven’t been close enough to judge the dog’s weight right. And you really don’t want to miscalculate. A wobbly, disoriented dog will be way less discriminatory when it comes to biting.
RISK OF OVERDOSE
Give them too little and it won’t work; give them too much and you could kill them. At the very least, you could do serious harm. The dog could have all sorts of medical conditions—heartworm, for instance, or anything that reduces their lung or cardiac capabilities, or liver disease—that could wreak havoc on the drug’s effect.
RISK OF LOSING THE DOG
The dog won’t conveniently pass out within your sight. When a dog begins to feel the effects of the tranquilizer, they’ll look for a safe place (i.e., away from you) to crash. You’ll need to follow, at a non-threatening distance, to avoid losing them.
YOU’RE ONLY POSTPONING THE INEVITABLE
Drugs aren’t the easy way out. If your reasoning for using drugs is based on the dog’s ‘aggressiveness’, think again. Tranquilizers won’t turn this Cujo into Lassie. You’ll still have to deal with a mouthful of teeth—and an intensified motivation to use them—when s/he wakes up.
So… When does a rescuer administer tranquilizers?
When every other option has been exhausted. The dog hasn’t responded to any sort of approach, every attempt to catch him/her has gone awry, s/he sees you (or any other rescuer) and bolts… And you (and the dog) are out of time.
Tranquilizers can be administered in one of two ways:
PROS: Great choice for ferals that shy away from even the most conservative human contact. Because the drug goes in intramuscularly, and gets into the bloodstream faster, this is a fast-working tranquilizer.
CONS: You need a dart gun. And darts. With the right dose. And you need to be a very, very good shot. If you hit anything but pure muscle, you can kill the dog. Also, the sound of the shot will scare the dog away, which means it's—literally—a one-shot deal. S/he won’t be eager to get within twenty meters of you ever again.
Note how fast the dart worked—and how far the rescuers had to follow the dog before she collapsed. (As a follow-up on the Botched post from Saturday, note how the dog reacted to the rescuer trying to touch her head. I have nothing but respect for this rescuer; he's awesome, and has amazing experience. His decision to go for her head was probably based on his assessment of her behavior—and she did accept it, in the end—so it's not a criticism of his method, just an illustration of how much dogs dislike the head pat.)
PROS: You don’t need any special equipment. No chance of accidentally nicking an artery or otherwise harming the dog. No need to scare the dog with the gunshot sound; inserting them in a chunk of liverwurst or sausage or other nifty tidbit gives a good chance they’ll be consumed.
CONS: They can end up eaten by the wrong animal. They also take longer to work than darts, which gives the dog more time to get away from you. Pills need to be absorbed by the digestive system, so they’ll work best on an empty stomach; you’ll need to make sure the dog hasn’t eaten, at least not much, before giving him/her the pills.
As with any other medication, you need to consult with a veterinarian regarding the dosage to administer. Gauging the dog's weight will be the main challenge; remember that long-haired breeds will tend to look heftier than short-haired ones, and larger breeds, even when emaciated, will probably weigh more than you think.
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Thank you so much for visiting, and for your interest in learning about dog rescue. As a disclaimer, let me say again: I'm no expert. The only thing that 'qualifies' me to talk about rescue is that, in a lifetime of doing it, I've botched more than my share. That's the learning I'd like to pass on to those interested in rescue or getting involved in it for the first time. And, if you have your own rescue experiences or advice, I'd love it if you shared. A fresh point of view is always welcome.