Thank you for deciding to add a rescued dog to your family. Now that you’ve made this wonderful decision, how do you go about finding a dog that is the perfect match for you? If you know the answer to that question, you probably won’t need to read this post. If; however, you are new to the world of rescue, or if you live in an area where there are not many dogs in shelters, you may welcome some suggestions.
To begin, you should give some thought to what size and type of dog is best suited to your lifestyle. Are you an experienced dog owner that can handle the training requirements of a large or rambunctious young dog, or would a more mellow personality be more your speed? Do you lead an active lifestyle and yearn for a running/hiking/adventuring partner? Would you prefer a pooch that would be content to cuddle on the couch? Do you own your own home with a yard, or do you live in a small apartment? Are there children in your household? The answers to these questions can help you to narrow your search.
You might also give some thought to what the ideal kind of dog looks like to you; short-haired versus long and fuzzy coat, floppy ears versus ears that stand up. While some people are very “breed attached”, I do caution you from being too tied to just what a dog looks like. While you may be drawn to a certain look, the “perfect dog” for you may actually look much different than what you picture in your mind as you begin your search. I love poodles, I love everything about them, and yes, I am certainly breed attached. When I began my search for a dog I was searching for a female poodle. What I ended up with was a male terrier/poodle mix (or that is the best guess). Casper certainly is more terrier than poodle with respect to looks and temperament, but he is a perfect fit for my family (which does also have a poodle in it). My point is, have an idea of what you’d like, but don’t be so specific with your criteria that you miss finding your “Casper”.
Okay, you’ve got an idea of what type of dog you are searching for. Now comes what can be a more lengthy process than what you might expect. In some areas of North America there are many dogs available for adoption every day. In other areas, there are many fewer choices when you are looking to adopt a rescued dog. Where I live, in Moncton, NB, the local SPCA is the largest shelter in the region. At this time of this writing they list on their website only eight dogs that are available for adoption. Many of these dogs are large dogs that require an experienced handler. While there are exceptions – my Casper was adopted from the Greater Moncton SPCA – large dogs are the norm. Regardless of where you live, you should be prepared to do a little research, and be patient, so that you take home the dog that will be a member of your family for the rest of its life.
There is a difference between adopting from a shelter and adopting from a rescue organization. Dogs are dogs – they are the same regardless of where they are found. The difference lies in what you will know about the dog at the time you adopt. As a rule, rescue organizations know the dogs that they have available for adoption quite well. They may have taken the dog in from someone looking to re-home their pet, saved a stray from the street, or pulled a dog from a shelter where it was at risk of being destroyed. Many rescues do not have a physical shelter facility, but foster their dogs with families who are part of their network. In doing so, the foster family gets to know all about the dog, its personality, its quirks, its energy level, and how it interacts with other dogs, cats, children, and strangers. This is invaluable information for an adopter to have. The other huge benefit is that when adopting from a rescue organization, the vetting has already been done. Medical needs, including spay or neuter provided the dog is old enough, have already been taken care of. Now…I acknowledge that I am generalizing here. For example, the Greater Moncton SPCA, a shelter, had taken care of all of Casper’s extensive medical needs prior to listing him for adoption, and they had done a comprehensive behavioral assessment on him as well. The Greater Moncton SPCA does a great job. I do not believe that most shelters in the US, and perhaps even those in the bigger centres in Canada, are able to provide this kind of service. Most rescues strive to ensure that the dogs in their care are adopted into forever homes, and as such do their best to get to know their dogs and screen potential applicants to ensure the best fit. This is not to say that you shouldn’t be willing to adopt directly from a shelter regardless of where you live, or what kind of care they provide. The dog is stuck there through no fault of its own, and I personally would adopt from a shelter in a heartbeat with no hesitation. If; however, you need lots of information, and some form of assurance that the dog will be what you expect, I’d suggest you work with a rescue organization.
In large urban areas, there are many rescue organizations. Even smaller, rural areas have some. Where I live, rescues bring in dogs from areas that have high euthanasia rates in shelters. The southern US has many high-kill shelters where dogs have only a few days to get adopted before they are killed. Some shelters kill over 90% of dogs that come through their doors. Rescue organizations in the northern US and Canada do their best to get dogs out of these high-kill shelters and transport them to geographic areas that do not have large numbers of dogs available for adoption. I love the work these rescue organizations are doing. They truly are saving lives. Every breed imaginable, from purebred to mutts, are pulled from certain death, vetted, and adopted into loving homes. The reality is that in many areas of Canada, it is tough to find a small dog in a shelter. These rescues that transport dogs across the border are making it possible for more families to adopt. Some of my favorites in the Maritimes are Save Them All South to North, Canadian Odd Squad Animal Rescue, and Save a Life Canada Animal Rescue Society.
What many people don’t realize when they start their search, is that it isn’t necessarily required that they find a dog already located in their geographic area. Many transport options exist specifically to move dogs from one area to another. Groups such as Save Them All South to North make all of the transport arrangements; adopters just pay the transport fee, which from Texas to New Brunswick is $175 USD. Given that adoption fees in the southern US are very low in most cases, the total cost is no more than what it would cost to adopt locally. If you are searching for a dog via the Petfinder.com or AdoptAPet.com websites, the profiles of many dogs will specify if transport options exist. In some cases, rescues will only adopt to people who are local to their geographic area and the dog’s profile will state as much. In other cases, if you are willing to pay the transport fee, you can adopt from anywhere.
I would suggest a multi-faceted approach in your search. Register a search with AdoptAPet.com. They will email you when a dog matching your criteria is listed for adoption. Check Petfinder.com frequently as the dog listed there change daily. Research rescues in your area and follow them on social media so that you’ll know when they are bringing new dogs to your area, or when new dogs are listed for adoption. Visit your local SPCA or shelter regularly.
One important thing to keep in mind is that some dogs will be adopted very quickly. Small, young dogs, or desirable breeds such a golden retrievers, are often adopted the same day that they are listed as available. Most shelters in Canada, and all rescue organizations, require potential adopters to complete an adoption application. Part of the application includes a list of references that the rescue will contact by phone. It usually takes several days to complete the review of the application, meaning the “perfect dog” that you see listed may be adopted by someone else while you wait to have your application approved. For this reason, it is important to submit an adoption application prior to finding a specific dog. Once you have researched the rescues in your area, or ones that transport to your area, contact them to see if they will accept your application in advance of naming a specific dog that you would like to adopt. In this way, you are pre-approved to adopt and will not have to wait 2-3 days should your ideal dog be listed for adoption. Some organizations will not review an application unless you name a specific dog that you are interested in adopting, but this is not the case with most groups. You should also be aware that even if you are approved to adopt a dog, rescues reserve the right to refuse your application for a specific dog. They have gotten to know the dog, and will look to place it in an environment where it will thrive. As it should be, their number one priority is the well-being of the dog.
There are many, many, many options available when looking to adopt a rescued dog. The thing most people find frustrating is that it may take longer than they’d like to find the right one. I personally don’t think it is a bad thing. In doing your search, you will no doubt learn new things that may alter your thinking with regard to what dog will best suit your family. You’ll also learn about what goes into rescuing a dog, and you’ll read the life stories of many dogs. I know from experience how great it feels to know you’ve been the change a dog needed. The love of a dog that has been saved from a terrible existence is like nothing else. You’ll hear these stories as you search for your own happy beginning with your new best friend.