Don’t Stick Your Fingers in the Crates – Warning Sign Blindness (or, Wizards)

For the past 6-ish years, I’ve worked with a local dog rescue. The first thing to understand about most people who work with dog rescue is the emphasis on the dog part of all of it. People don’t go into dog rescue to interact with other people. That is key. There are endless stories on the mad mad mad world of dog rescue, but today, I’d like to type about warning signs.

There are lots of movies and People Magazine articles about man’s indomitable spirit. There aren’t as many about man’s indomitable ability to not see something in front of his face. And I mean people who can see, not blind people – they have lots of movies and articles.

Every Saturday, our dog rescue fills a van full of adoptable dogs and sets them up at a Petco about 25 minutes away. So, these dogs, who have already lost their homes at least once, get carted off to a weird place with tons of strangers, have to ride in a crate in a van both ways and get jostled around all day long. It’s loud, messy, and chaotic. Almost all of the dogs are friendly, and really have no major issue with the madness.

"Hi, I’m happy, goofy, and ready for anything."

There are some dogs who get overwhelmed by the whole ordeal, mostly, because it’s completely overwhelming, and, because sometimes they may not have had the best life up to this point. Personally, I have had to keep myself from biting other people several times, so I empathize. And, the thing is, for the most part, they DO NOT bite, ever. But, for the sake of liability, fair warning, and to be sure all bases are covered – every crate gets at least one warning sign on the front door. Usually, two – one on the top, too.

Even the invisible dogs shouldn't be touched.

The options were the signs, or try to reason with the dogs, and I now believe we made an error in not trying to reason with the dogs, first. Our adoption event lasts 4 hours every week. And, we try to be polite and “customer service-y.” If you stick your hand in a crate, you will get different reactions, depending on the hour you do it:

First hour: “Hi, please be careful, these dogs are a little overwhelmed so for safety’s sake we ask that you not stick your fingers in there. They may even nip because they think you have a treat or something. I’d be happy to get any dog out that you’d like to meet.”

Second hour: “Please don’t put your fingers in the crates.”

Third hour: “No fingers.”

Fourth hour: Most likely a grunting sound.

Why the deterioration of friendliness? Remember, most of us aren’t people-people. And, secondly, the staggering amount of people who have Warning Sign Blindness. I estimate that nearly 80% of the population is afflicted with it.*

Fingers in Crate
Teach, your children well...
Finger in Crate plus a bob and weave
This lady is ducking under a literal barrier created to keep people from finger sticking.

The only other thing I can come up with is that a wizard cast a spell on all of our warning signs, with the one of two spells:

Crate Spell
The neon and capitalization don’t matter a whit, for no one who needs to will see this shit.

Or, he changed what people see:

While I’m not willing to completely rule out wizardry, I’m pretty sure it’s Warning Sign Blindness. This is based on the reaction to being told that the little sign they are lifting up, to get a better angle at cramming their hand in the crate, has words on it telling them NOT to do exactly that.

  • “Oh, oops, sorry. Duh.” (My favorite)
  • “This dog is mean?” Yep, see the line of 20+ crates, all with warning signs? All of our dogs are rabid.
  • “Oh, it’s ok. I have a dog” (My least favorite.) Is it that dog? Cause if not, take the lotion out of the fucking basket.

I am writing this because diagnosis is key. If you suspect you may suffer from Warning Sign Blindness, err on the side of caution and assume you’re missing something. Find the nearest employee/authority figure and ask if there are any signs that say you shouldn’t do something. If there are, then at least you can make an informed decision as to whether to become a pain in the ass.**

* You may be thinking “oh, but that’s just a couple instances.” I kid you not, I got both of these pictures within 3 minutes of each other on the same day. It. Never. Ends.
**And, seriously, bless, bless, bless these people. They mean well, really. They are so moved by the sight of these dogs they can’t see anything else. I really do get that – when I’m not there and am thinking about it later.





7 thoughts on “Don’t Stick Your Fingers in the Crates – Warning Sign Blindness (or, Wizards)”

  1. Whoa, new perspective!

    I hadn’t thought about it from this end before. My daughter loves to drag us to the pet store on the weekends because that’s when they have the dog and cat adoptions. She (ok, WE) are always compelled to reach out and touch.

    Next time, I’ll know better.

    1. I would never discourage anyone, especially kids, from interacting with the dogs. But, for their safety, my advice is that they pet dogs that are out of their crates and ask first (or ask about a dog in a crate). My biggest worry is kids that aren’t afraid of dogs getting bitten and becoming afraid. BUT there’s a very good chance wherever y’all go, they don’t have warning signs – which, hey, have at it – but on the other hand (the one you don’t want bitten), you never know.

    1. I know, you sweet, sweet blind people. But, I would say the majority of rescues don’t use warning signs, so there’s a very good chance you’re not missing anything. And, before I started working in rescue, I’d be up to my elbows in those crates, too.

  2. For all of the dog lovers you have an overwhelming urge to stick their fingers inside of a dog’s kennel or crate please consider the dog’s perspective: They don’t know you but you are the 20th, 30th, 50th, —–(pick a number) stranger who has wiggled something inside their space so far today. Hmmm…looks like a yummy treat…let me have a quick bite and Boom all hell breaks loose. No aggression was intended on the dog’s part but he gets labeled as a “Biter”. At best he gets stuck in “quarantine” for 10 -14 days or longer without any chance of being adopted during that time. Once he gets out he bears a permanent label of “Biter” and his chances of being adopted drop substantially. During that quarantine period dogs become increasingly unhappy and frequently develop a variety of emotional problems. At worse this is not their first bite of a human treat and they get put down, or they live in a jurisdiction where dogs that are not adopted get euthanized after 5-30 days.
    Please think about that kennel dog you so desperately want to touch. You just might end of being its unintended executioner.

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