So you've decided to adopt a rescue dog. Congratulations! This is going to be one of the best decisions you've ever made.
But before you go out and adopt, you might have some questions. We're here to answer them. Here's a primer on how to adopt a shelter dog.
Shelters vs. Rescues vs. Humane Societies
A shelter is an organization, with a physical location, that rescues animals within the community. Your city probably has one or more city-sponsored shelters. Most shelters are at least partially government-funded.
A rescue group does not necessarily have a physical location (although they sometimes do). They are usually entirely volunteer-run and usually funded by donations and/ or grants. Animals taken in by a rescue group will likely be fostered by a volunteer.
A humane society is an organization with the broader mission of reducing animal suffering. When people reference "the humane society," they're probably referring to the Humane Society of the United States. A humane society may facilitate dog adoptions, but that's far from their only goal, whereas adoption is the primary goal of both shelters and rescue groups.
Finding a shelter or rescue
Luckily for us, finding a shelter or rescue in the time of the internet is super easy. Many websites let you enter your zip code to find a shelter or rescue near you. Try Adopt-a-Pet or the ASPCA, or simply google "find dog rescues near me" for more options.
The cost of adopting a dog varies widely. City shelters usually have a standardized fee. For example, Los Angeles city shelters have a maximum dog adoption fee of $122. Rescue groups' fees will vary by group and by location. Some rescues have special deals at certain times of the year (for example, Best Friends Animal Society has regular "super adoptions" during which pet adoption fees are super cheap), so keep an eye out for those! Don't be afraid to ask about cost, no matter where you adopt from — the staff or volunteers will expect you to, and it's crucial information.
How will I know?
Many people describe meeting their adopted pet as a situation in which they "just clicked." That said, it's a good idea to have a list of criteria, either written out or in your head when you go to search for a dog. Think about your needs, your schedule, and what kind of home environment you have. For example, if you have small children, you'll need a dog who's patient and has been around children before. If you want your dog to be your running partner, you'll need a dog with lots of energy. And so forth.
Questions to ask
That brings us to our next point: What should you ask the attendant staff or volunteers? The answer is: anything you want to know about the dog. Don't be afraid to ask questions — they expect it and will be glad to see a conscientious adopter!
Here's a list of questions you may want to ask, but it's by no means exhaustive. You might have questions about a specific dog, your specific situation, etc.
- How old is the dog?
- Do you know where he/ she was before this?
- How would you describe the dog's personality?
- Does he/she get along with other dogs?
- Does he/she get along with children?
- Does he/she get along with other pets (cats, etc)?
- Does he/she have any medical issues I should know about?
- Does he/ she require any other special care?
- How much exercise per day would you recommend for this dog?
- What sort of training would you recommend for this dog?
- Does this dog have any behaviors that should be corrected or trained out?
Rescue dogs may come with unique behavioral issues that are a reaction to past events in their life. This is definitely not a "given," and purebred dogs from breeders are likely to come with their own sets of problems, so don't consider this a mark against rescue dogs. It's just a possibility to be aware of.
As mentioned above, it's a good idea to ask the attending staff or volunteers if they're aware of any undesirable behaviors in the dog. Some behaviors are fairly harmless and fairly easy corrected (jumping, excessive barking, etc). Others are more serious and may require more training (leash aggression, fear of strangers, etc). It's a good idea to ask about these types of behaviors, as well as to observe how the dog acts when you interact with him/ her. It's also smart to have an idea of how much training you're willing to do, and whether your home would be a good environment for a given dog.
Now go forth and adopt that dog. You'll be happy you did, and your dog will be, too.