A comprehensive look at what to know and expect when adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue.
Over the years, I have been employed by two animal shelters, and was the state coordinator for a breed rescue. So if you’re planning to adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue, this article will help you understand what you can expect as you move through the process. Just keep in mind that these are general guidelines, since adoption experiences will vary depending on a shelter or rescue’s policies.
The first step – determine the most suitable dog for you
When you’re ready to adopt a new dog, knowing where to start can be overwhelming. The first step is to decide on the breed or mix that best suits your household. Remember, you are about to make a commitment to not only the dog, but to the rest of your family as well.
Starting with an understanding of basic dog breed characteristics and their needs is crucial to ensuring you find the best match. For example, if you have a laid-back and low-energy household, a border collie won’t be the best companion for you. By creating a list of breeds or mixes, then narrowing it down as far as possible, you’ll be in a better position to make the right selection when visiting a shelter or rescue.
How shelters and rescues differ
Dog rescue groups come in all shapes and sizes – they may be breed-specific, size-specific, age-specific, or accept any and all dogs in need. Others may work primarily with special needs dogs, or those that are deaf or blind.
Dog rescue groups are usually charitable organizations that are run completely by volunteers and depend on donations for funding. A rescue may be operated out of the founder’s home, or it may not have a bricks-and-mortar location at all. Instead, many rescues typically utilize a network of foster families. This means that a dog taken in by the rescue lives with a volunteer in her home, with her family and other pets. It’s a great way to get a general idea of how the dog responds to a home environment, and how he is on walks, with kids, strangers, other animals, etc.
Let’s say you’ve determined that a spaniel-type dog would be a good fit for your family. You might want to reach out to local rescue groups that specialize in this group of dogs, such as Cavalier King Charles spaniel rescues, hunting dog rescues, small breed rescues, etc. A rescue organization devoted to a specific breed or breed type will be more likely to understand that breed’s behavior, health and needs. They know the dogs in their foster care program and are usually spot-on when it comes to matching the right dog with the right family.
Shelters typically have physical locations where the animals are housed and that people can visit. Animal shelters take in homeless dogs (and cats) of all breeds and types. Depending on the shelter and its resources, facilities can range from a basic kennel environment to more relaxing accommodations. Access to resources also influences the staff’s ability to interact and socialize with the dogs, although some shelters have their own foster families.
Some animal shelters receive government funding, and may consequently have paid staff members, but they also rely heavily on volunteers and donations to help them look after all the animals in their care.
The adoption procedure
When you find a dog that seems right for you, your next step is to start the adoption procedure. Some rescue groups and shelters require very little from you when adopting a new dog. This may seem good for the adopter, but, in reality, it may not be in your best interests.
I feel the more the rescue knows about you, your home and your activities, the better they will be at matching you with the perfect companion. Wouldn’t you rather have a dog that fits in well rather than one that doesn’t work out? Even the best match will entail some work, but you and the dog will have a much tougher time adjusting if you’re trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
You may be asked to provide your previous dog’s veterinary records, along with a letter from your landlord if you rent. Some shelters and rescues also ask potential adopters to fill out a questionnaire. These are all good things. Again, the rescue or shelter workers are trying to do their best to ensure they are adopting to someone who is suitable, and who has provided good veterinary care to their previous animals.
An in-home visit may also be required. This is not so rescue or shelter workers can nit-pick, but to troubleshoot how the dog may adjust to your living situation. For example, if you want to adopt a young dog who is still going through the chewing stage, and your home is a bit cluttered, the worker may point out that removing some of the clutter may be beneficial. If you have a fenced-in yard, the worker may walk the perimeter to ensure there are no places for the dog to escape. By doing these things, the shelter or rescue is trying to help make the transition easier on both you and the dog.
Bringing your new dog home
When the time finally arrives to welcome your new dog home, take it slow. Try to arrange things so that someone in your family is going to be at home with him. Close off unnecessary rooms before bringing your dog inside to help him adjust to his new home a little at a time.
Talk gently to your dog; be calm, friendly, and smile. Keep in mind that this transition can be very overwhelming to him. Everything and everyone is new to him. Let him wander around to investigate his new surroundings. Be patient — he may be uncertain, have potty accidents, and even seem a little panicky. Take him outside often to potty, and encourage his bravery. Pet him softly when he approaches and tell him how handsome and sweet he is.
In dog rescue, we talk about the power of threes — three days, three weeks, three months. The first three days are pretty stressful for your dog because he’s not sure what’s going to happen to him. By three weeks, he will start to feel a bit more secure in his new life and routines. By three months, he’ll have likely settled into his new home and become a member of your family.