Spring is here and hopefully is sticking around at this point. This time of the year you guys call me for help with puppies you have brought home, or your newly rescued adult dog that has now become part of your family. If you are bringing home a puppy, check back through my puppy series that started in January. If that series has totally turned you off from getting a tiny puppy, then hopefully this will help you choose an adult dog that will be a wonderful addition.
What do you envision when you think about bringing a dog home?
Long walks on the beach? Snuggling on the couch? Do you work long hours or from home? Kids have lots of after school activities? Think about your regular day and how much time you can devote to giving your dog the attention that he needs. If you are popping home from work then whisking kids off to soccer practice, then a smaller dog that you can travel easily with might be a better fit than a mastiff who will take up half your minivan. An older dog might also be a better option since they will not need as much supervision and exercise as a younger pup.
Finding a dog
All of the animal control facilities and rescue groups in my area have facebook pages, websites, and adoption events to promote their adoptable dogs. (If your facebook feed looks anything like mine, it’s gone to the dogs) Each one has its own sad story or great picture and write up to make you rush down and adopt that dog tomorrow.
But wait! How do you find the dog that will be a great addition to your family?
Where to start!?
Animal Control Facilities
Animal Control Facilities are city run shelters that are usually funded through the police department. They are set up to take in every animal that comes through the doors regardless of how it gets there. Animal control officers respond to both stray animals, neglect cases, dangerous dog calls and wildlife rehab calls. (these folks are super heros, really!) Because of this, AC (animal control) may not have a great history (or any history) on the dogs that are sitting in the kennels. They rely on their wonderful kennel staff and volunteers to help label the temperament and suitability for each home as they work with the pup. Shelter environment is pretty stressful on these guys so you may not get an accurate read on the pups personality once out of the shelter. The pup that looks high energy and spring loaded inside the kennel might come home and decompress forever on the couch. If you are ready for a little uncertainty then AC is the place to start your search.
No Kill Shelters
These are privately funded facilities that can house an animal for its whole life. They are called “no-kill” because their euthanasia rate is below 10%, which for recording purposes is sick or old. They are also called “limited admission shelters” which means they can pick and choose which dogs are housed at the facility, and rarely allow owners to surrender their dogs there. These dogs are usually the dogs from animal control facilities who need a little longer to find that perfect home. They take the pressure off the AC shelters so they have the space for the strays and owner surrenders to have a little longer in the kennels there. These dogs usually have some history, from the previous housing facility or from the volunteers that worked with the dog. Usually a no-kill shelter will have dogs that did not work out in a first home and have been returned to the facility so you have some information from a previous family.
Foster Based Rescue
If you know exactly what you are looking for in a dog, and don’t want to take the gamble of figuring out a shelter dog, this is the way to go. Foster based rescues take in dogs from the shelter and place them into a home. Usually these homes have cats, other dogs, or children that they live with. They know exactly how these dogs act in these situations, and have no time limit to find these dogs a perfect home. These dogs are usually fully vetted, spayed/neutered, house broken and crate trained. Foster based rescues will have an application process to make sure you are ready for a dog, and make sure they are matching you with the right dog for your lifestyle. Adoption fees will often be higher than a shelter because the rescue is running on limited funds to help the dogs with medical expenses, food, and heartworm and flea preventative. Sometimes the dog you are interested in may not be the perfect fit, but the rescue group can recommend another dog that would be a better match. Trust the rescue coordinators to help you in your decision.
Some rescue groups do shady things since this is a very emotional decision and not regulated very closely (remember that list of things the AC officers already do? Only so many hours in a day y’all!) There are some practices that will send up some red flags for me when researching a rescue group.
Lots of dogs in one place. If one house has 20 dogs in it and they don’t live on some acreage then that is a concern for me. How well does this person know these dogs, and how much socialization and training are they getting to prepare them for moving to a forever home?
Lots of turn over with the dogs. If dogs are coming in and out of a rescue in less than a few weeks then that is also a red flag. Most rescues want their dogs in a foster home for a minimum of a few weeks to make sure they know the dogs personality and can accurately place the dog into an appropriate home.
Adopting out anything with a bite history. I don’t believe that any dog that has bitten a person and caused harm is safe to ever be adopted out. You don’t want that liability, I don’t want to have to tell you your dog is dangerous and the rescue group lied to you. If anywhere on the website or write ups you see that any dog has been “rehabilitated” or was a “red zone” dog, run as fast as you can! There are plenty of dogs who can safely and easily live with people without that kind of management and heartache.
No vet history. Every dog should come to you with thorough vet history including a checkup by the rescues vet, heartworm preventative and vaccines on schedule as well as records of any medical issues the dog may have displayed when leaving the shelter.
No home check or reference check. The rescue should be researching you as much as you are researching them. The love these dogs and want them to go into a home where they will be loved forever.
What if you have your heart set on a purebred dog?
Find a breeder with a program that you like. (see the puppy series for information on finding a breeder) Ask them if they have any older dogs who might be looking for a new home. Occasionally breeders will have puppies returned to them for assorted reasons that have nothing to do with the dog. They also may have kept a puppy with aspirations for showing or sport that the pup didn’t quite live up to. The breeder may agree that those dogs would do better in a family home since owner and dog do not have the same goals. Take advantage of these situations, and don’t be afraid to ask!
This is just an overview of where to start to find a pup to join your home. Adopting an adult dog can be extremely rewarding! Keep in mind that dogs personalities don’t fully solidify until 3 to 5 years old. Finding a 3 year old dog with all the personality traits that you are looking for can still give you 10 to 12 great years with your pup. This is also without dealing with all the crazy house training and chewing that comes along with getting a puppy.
Dogs sitting in shelters do not come with baggage, and are often surrendered because of unfortunate life circumstances. They are not broken and unwanted, they are just waiting for that next chance. If a puppy sounds overwhelming then please take a look at an adult dog. They have just as much love and fun as a puppy, but often with less effort on your part to get that great companion!