SHOULD I ADOPT A DOG? YES, EVEN IF YOU’RE A FIRST-TIME PET OWNER
Should I adopt a dog, even if I’ve never owned a dog before? Many first-time dog owners are nervous when it comes to adopting a dog rather than buying a puppy. For the general public not familiar with animal shelters, there is often a concern that adopted dogs will come with a host of serious behavior problems. This is not true. Of course, some will have their issues, but behavior is not a large factor when owners decide to surrender their pets.
WHY DOGS ARE SURRENDERED TO SHELTERS OR RESCUES
LACK OF TIME
Lives change, and sometimes dog owners end up working more hours than they planned. Or they’ve changed jobs and the new one requires regular travel. Kids may have gone off to college, or family dynamics may have changed. There are doggie day cares and dog walkers who can ease the burden of not having enough time to devote to your pet. But some people can’t afford these alternatives, or don’t wish to use them.
These dogs are generally just dogs. Yes, they may be a little starved for attention. They may bark and jump on the doors to their kennels. You may even see one of those precious “full-body” wags. Most of these dogs, within a week or two in a stable home, will relax the demand for constant attention. They’ll enjoy spending time with you, and you’ll be giving them the companionship they’d been missing.
A dog may have been a loved family pet for many years. Then a new baby is born, or a mother-in-law moves in, or a new spouse comes into the family. And, unfortunately, they’re allergic to the dog. This is a heartbreaking situation for all involved. The only solution other than surrender is confining the animal to a small portion of the house. The dog won’t understand why its freedom has suddenly been taken away. And, so, the decision is made to surrender.
Once your rescue dog has become accustomed to your home, again, it will just be a normal dog. Although he probably will recognize his old owners for quite a while, dogs live very much in the moment. He will love you as if you’d been his owner all along.
I’ll be honest here; I don’t have a lot of sympathy for this one. Unless you’re a soldier being deployed, a senior moving into a nursing facility, or have suddenly become homeless, there is no reason not to take the extra time to find a pet-friendly home in your new location. Still, many people don’t see it this way. A job transfer, or other life change happens and the dog is quickly surrendered.
Adopting a dog who was surrendered for this reason is your chance to provide the animal with what she should have had the first time. A stable, dependable, forever home with a family who loves her. She may need a bit of training, or some reassurance, but she’ll be where she should have been all along.
PICKED UP AS A STRAY AND NEVER RECLAIMED
These dogs will start out at Animal Control and remain there until their “stray hold” is up – anytime ranging between 5 and 15 days, depending on the local law. If not reclaimed by their Owners, the hope is that they will be transferred to a shelter or a rescue to prevent euthanasia. Often, these are dogs who were always allowed to run, and, inevitably, didn’t come back one day. This type of owner reacts to being told their dog is at Animal Control by a: refusing to answer the phone; b: refusing to pay the fine, thereby having to surrender the dog to the County authorities; or c: never searching for the animal at all leaving Animal Control in possession.
This is NOT to say that dogs of caring owners don’t go “walk-about” on occasion – I am speaking only of those whose dogs are never contained. Responsible dog owners will do everything in their power to reclaim their lost pet.
These dogs will need some supervision for quite awhile when going outside, even behind a fence. (Never leave your dog outside off leash without a fence unless you have confident recall and you are on your own property or at an official dog park.)
In rural areas, this type of stray is caused by the hunters who purposely abandon their hounds rather than feed them through the winter and spring. If you’re a hound lover, look in outlying areas around January or February to find one of these.
As far as behavior here goes, you likely do not want to bring an abandoned hound into your home if you have cats. They have been trained to hunt, and cats, and sometimes even small dogs, are prey. Still, if they’ve been in the shelter for a few weeks, the staff should be able to tell you how they’ve reacted to other dogs and cats. Many will enjoy having a playmate – you just need to be aware that this could be an issue.
You also may need to get them used to being in a house. Abandoned hounds were really never part of a family, and will need some patience and assimilation to become a family pet. That having been said, hounds are goofy, fun-loving bundles of silliness – well worth the effort.
Unbelievably, some people will surrender their pets because they’ve become “too old”. Once the inevitable aches and pains and illnesses that come to us all with age start showing, these owners will walk away from their senior rather than pay the vet bills to take care of their aging pet. This is unforgiveable – and would be a crime if someone did this to a grandparent.
This type of dog will need a lot of reassurance, sometimes for a long time. They’ve gone from living with one family, sometimes for 10 years or more, to being thrust into an entirely new environment. If you have the financial resources, and understand that your time with your new dog will be limited, there are few things more rewarding than providing an elderly pet with a loving home for its final years.
If you can’t see yourself adopting a senior dog, but want to help anyway, see if there’s a senior dog rescue in your area that needs fosters. You’ll provide everything they need in the way of a home and love. The rescue will pay for vet visits, food, medicine, and other necessities.
Yes, occasionally dogs are surrendered because of behavior their owner can’t live with and can’t control. And, some owners lie about the reasons for surrendering – hoping that their dog won’t be euthanized. I was at an adoption event once when a dog being shown bit someone. This came as a complete surprise to me, and to the shelter staff. When the staff called the original owner, she admitted that he’d done it before, and she hadn’t put it on the surrender form to prevent his being killed.
Fortunately, this is not a common occurrence, and, generally, the shelter staff will see concerning body language during these dog’s stay at the shelter. (The dog mentioned above was a very unusual case.)
Particularly if you’re a first-time adopter, try and make several visits to the dog you’re interested in. Listen to the shelter staff who will be able to tell you behavior quirks that have shown up since the dog’s arrival. If you subscribe to the mailing list below, you’ll receive a printable worksheet – 10 things to ask before adopting a dog – to take with you to the shelter.
If you’ve fallen in love with a dog, but find that he has behavior issues, ask yourself if you’re willing to put in the time and money for training. Positive reinforcement trainers will work with you and your dog to direct behavior into more pleasing paths. However, you MUST put in the time with your dog. Much of dog training is really human training. You’ll be taught how to interact with your dog and how to maintain consistency. A good trainer can make a huge difference for the better in the relationship between pet and owner. All that you’ll get by sending your dog to a trainer without you is a dog that listens to the trainer.
SO, WHY SHOULD YOU ADOPT A DOG RATHER THAN BUY ONE?
- You’ll have a pre-screened pet. Shelter staff take pride in being able to accurately tell an adopter about their dog’s behavior. You’ll never get this from a breeder.
- Giving a home and love to a pet, who, for whatever reason, lost his previous family. That’s a wonderful feeling.
- More will be known about the health of the rescue dog. Puppies often come from terrible places where proper vetting is not done. (There are ethical breeders out there, but that kind of quality will come with a very high price tag.)
- Dogs believe in loving the one they’re with. A previously owned dog will bond just as deeply with you as a purchased puppy will.
- You’ve saved two lives – that of the dog you adopt, and that of the dog who can take his place at the shelter.
- You can be proud of yourself, and your rescue dog can provide an example of what a wonderful pet they can be.