Adopting a Shelter or Rescue Dog

If you determine that you have the time, space, and financial resources to accommodate a dog, the time is right to add a furry member to your family. If you've decided to welcome a deserving shelter or rescue dog into your home, there are even more decisions to be made.

Age Considerations

Do you want a puppy, adult, or senior dog? If you want a puppy, honestly decide if you have the time and patience to obedience train, toilet train, and supervise him. If you want an adult or senior dog, remember that you may have him for a shorter time. Can you handle a brief relationship?

Other Qualities to Consider

After you settle on an age, you must also determine what size, gender, and coat type (a consideration for people with allergies) are preferable, and whether you want a mixed breed or purebred dog. After those decisions are made, your quest begins. Although it's possible to find purebred dogs in shelters, you will mostly find mixed breeds there. Armed with your list of requirements, visit your local shelter.

Adoption Process

You will want to assess the shelter for cleanliness and the staff for their genuine concern for and knowledge of their dogs. You will have to fill out an application before you see the adoptable dogs. The application may be long, asking questions such as:

  • Why do you want a dog?
  • What do you expect the dog to add to your life?
  • What are your past experiences with dogs?
  • How long did your last dog live and what did he die of?
  • Are there other dogs or cats in your household?
  • Is anyone in your home allergic to dogs?

You will also be required to supply contact information for references, including your veterinarian and landlord (if you are a renter), and you can expect that the references will be checked. They may also send a volunteer to check your home—not to see if you are a good housekeeper, but to make sure you are who you say you are and that your surroundings are safe for the dog. This may seem extensive, but the staff wants to make sure that their dogs are placed in the right homes, and they want you and the dog to be happy.

Choosing the Right Dog

As you wander through the kennel, watch each dog's interaction. Is he hunched in the back of the run or furiously jumping at you? Most likely you will want to avoid dogs who show any emotional extremes. When you spot a balanced dog who seems to meet all your requirements, ask to spend some time in a room alone with him. See how the dog relates to you and if you have a connection with him.

Ascertain that he's had a health check, is up to date on vaccinations, has been spayed or neutered, and that his behavior has been assessed by a professional. Ask about the dog's genetic heritage. Familiarity with different breed personalities will help narrow your choice.

You may want more time to think about a particular dog, or perhaps you don't seem to make a connection with any of the dogs. Don't be afraid to leave and come back another day.

Purebred Dog Rescues

If you want a purebred dog because of coat type or temperament, you can go to a breed-specific rescue organization. Every breed has a rescue group, which is sometimes affiliated with a breed club. These rescue volunteers are fanciers who want to find forever homes for mostly adult dogs of their preferred breed. You can locate a rescue group by going to the American Kennel Club (AKC) website, hovering over the "Breeds" tab, and then clicking on "AKC Rescue Network."

Do not assume that all these dogs have problem behaviors. Many of their owners have experienced a change in life circumstances, such as having to enter a nursing home or being deployed overseas. The rescue group will ask you the same kinds of questions a shelter would ask for the same reasons. The rescuers are very aware of each dog's personality; if they think they have a suitable dog for you, they will suggest that you meet him.

Adoption is a wonderful way to acquire a dog. It's a win–win situation; you save a life and gain a partner for life.


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