>Off the Beaten Path>Advice on adopting a rescue/fostered dog
I am gaining a new appreciation for why people just buy puppies from breeders. I am finding working with rescue organizations to be pretty stressful, but maybe I'm just socially awkward and not getting the etiquette. These boards were so helpful a couple of months ago when we were first thinking of getting a dog.
I'm mostly browsing Petfinder.com and the websites of a couple of local rescue organizations I've heard of that don't list on Petfinder. Most of the dogs I'm interested in turn out to be in foster situations, so meeting them apparently requires a one-on-one meeting, often at the foster's house, although sometimes a local park is proposed. Some orgs have "adoption events" on weekends, and sometimes I see dogs I'm interested in that are at shelters you can drop in at, but the one-on-one meeting is definitely the most common (unless I decided I wanted a chihuahua or a pit bull - plenty of those in the shelters).
I'm really reluctant to set up such a one-on-one meeting when I'm not at all sure how I'm going to react to the dog. For one, I've never owned a dog before; I'm hoping I feel a "click" with a dog I meet, but other than that, it's hard for me to know what I'm looking for (once I've got a dog who meets our age/size/fur preferences, and we've been approved by the org). For another, many of these places are 45 minutes-one hour away, one way - that's just the Bay Area for you - and many want the whole potential adoptive family there. It's hard to imagine taking a half day to go do . . .what? Hope we just really like the dog? So, there's the issue of our family's time, and taking the time of the foster family, when maybe I'm still feeling uncertain. Don't want to end up adopting the "wrong" dog just because I don't want to be rude, or because my kids are in love with it even though I have reservations.
But maybe foster families and adoption orgs are used to meet-ups that go nowhere? I won't get a hard sell? Or is it a sign that I'm not really ready for a dog? Maybe I should just limit myself to dogs within 20 minutes or something? Limit myself to dogs at a couple of closer shelters (truly, this would limit us a lot)? Have screening factors beyond age/size/fur? Suggestions for such factors?
I'd love help navigating this, especially from those who are familiar with adoption//rescue/foster orgs, either as volunteers or adopters yourself. Thanks for any advice!
Feeling the growl again
Adoption/rescues are difficult. It is not rare for these dogs to have issues. It is typically not their fault; they have been neglected, abused, and/or abandoned. Such dogs are not for people who are not willing to put work into straightening out the dog and their relationship with humans. They can be much, MUCH more difficult that buying a pup. The first thing you need to decide as someone who has never had a dog before is whether you are up for this challenge, or if you should just find someone with a litter and pick a pup. They need homes too.
My avatar was a rescue. He was the first of his litter bought, and we went to look at the rest of the litter. We were lukewarm on the single male left for sale, and the family with the litter was to the point that they were attached and willing to just keep him (which they did). They told us that they had seen in the paper that the first they sold was already being advertised for sale after 6 weeks, and they would appreciate it if we would go look at him as they felt bad that he was obviously not in a good situation. So we did.
People who had never had a dog before decided that their kids might like a dog, so they bought the pup. The kids didn't care about the dog, so he spent 6 weeks of the most sensitive time in a dog's life in a cage in their garage, let out only to do his business and eat. He had zero personalization with humans.
You ask about what you should look for in a dog, whether it should "click". Well, I've owned 3 great dogs and ever time it just "clicked". My first, they let out the litter and one pup zeroed straight in on me. The second much the same, they let out the litter and one pup came right up, played with me, crawled up on my shoulder and fell asleep. Then this rescue pup, they let him out and despite him clearly not connecting with anyone he was just so full of personality I just had to have him.
It was hard. He didn't care about people, or trying to please people, he was clueless. It was a good month before he came around and in that time it was incredibly frustrating. At one point my fiancee-now-wife called me and told me it was "her or the dog". Somehow, I still have both. It was a LOT of work to get that dog worked into the family but once we overcame his baggage he has been an amazing addition to the family.
Just a few months ago we had two strays come through the yard, we caught one of them (a really big, young black lab). Near as we can figure, someone had him in a small suburban one-story setting and could no longer handle him and this setter so they came out to the country and released them. We gave him a week in the animal shelter to find his owner, but ended up taking him back. Again, this dog was clearly neglected and had baggage which we are working through. But his is a lovable (although not overly intelligent) brute and we think it was a good decision.
1) Be certain you are willing to deal with the potential baggage of a shelter/rescue dog
2) If you have kids, DO NOT get a dog without seeing how they interact with the animal. Period. We hauled all three of our kids to the pound for this lab for an hour of closely supervised interaction before committing.
3) Shelter/rescue dogs are often great animals, once you get through the potential issues with them. Diamonds in the rough, so to speak. But there are also animals who end up there because they have problems. Just be careful.
4) Don't feel obligated to do the rescue thing. New pups need homes too. I have to say I have felt much closer to the pups I have raised than the one I rescued as an adult.
As for the whole distance thing, that is for you to decide. You list yourself as a mom on your profile...don't know the age of your kids...but if they are younger than HS I would never get a dog without seeing it interact with the kids first. That may limit the driving you do. A dog is a long-term committment. Don't get one because you feel obligated because you drove X miles or used up someone's time with an appointment.
Last thing...which I may take heat for....I have seen a few rescue/foster situations where the people are extremely picky about who is taking the animal. Frankly I think animals pick their people pretty well and if they hit it off the rescue/foster people need to let it go. Most people out actively looking for rescue/foster dogs are decent people. But I've seen situations where they are extremely demanding/picky. I know they mean well but I've seen it go way overboard, and would just walk away.
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I think it depends on the rescue. I got one of my dogs (a lovable, cuddly GS mix) from a local rescue that partnered with Semper Fi Rescue out of Alabama. We had to fill out an extensive application and they do have rules (like it has to be an inside dog, no keeping it outside, things like that), but we didn't have to have a face to face meeting. They did the transport and the fee was really not that bad. I would recommend them to anyone if you're near Alabama or one of their partner rescues (I'm in PA and they brought the dogs here!). They do list on Petfinder. I have a special soft spot in my heart for my little rescue baby because they pull their dogs from kill shelters, so his life was saved.
Mile 5:49 - 5K 19:58 - 10K 43:06 - HM 1:36:54
We had to fill out an extensive application and they do have rules (like it has to be an inside dog, no keeping it outside, things like that), but we didn't have to have a face to face meeting.
Well, this is the kind of stuff that really irritates me. I known plenty of people who keep their dogs outside and take great care of them. My childhood dog was kept in a pen in the barn overnight. Yet he was a loved member of the family...to this day my dad won't get another dog because he was so affected when that one passed. He made 16 years...darn good for a 50lb dog... apparently being kept outside wasn't such a terrible thing for him. But we would have been considered unfit for him.
The full family meet and greet with the dog is new to me. We found our dog through Pet finder and he came on a truck from Tennessee so the first time we met him was when we picked him up. The woman from the rescue did come out to our house to check us out, but I wasn't there. My wife was really nervous about it because she said she wanted to meet the whole family but I told her they just want to see that we live in a decent home and don't have a bunch of abused animals tied up in the back yard and that I sure as shit wasn't taking a day off work so someone could determine if I was fit to adopt an abandoned dog. My wife called me right after the home visit--the woman spent 15 minutes in our house and as I suspected just wanted to make sure we didn't appear to be ax murders.
The full family meet and greet with the dog is new to me.
This is for the benefit of me and my wife being comfortable that the dog is not going to negatively interact with our young children and harm them. If whatever party offering the dog feels that THEY need a full family interaction before determining whether we are worthy to take the dog, well, they can keep it, there are plenty of others.
When you have a 16-month-old son, knowing that a dog will let him twist their ears and use them as a step stool without biting them is a big selling point, even as you work with the kid to be kinder to the animal. An 80-90lb dog can do a lot of damage if they want to.
Yeah I was talking to the OP. It's new to me that it's a requirement to have a one-on-one before you're even approved. But maybe I'm reading that wrong and the one-on-one is at the time of pick up? In which case, I don't think you'll get a hard sell. The foster family doesn't want to put the dog in a situation where it's likely to wind up back in foster care or worse.
Our whole family met our dog and got to interact with him before we agreed to take him, only then was the deal final. The woman asked us a few times if we were sure. We were. He's a good dog. He's an idiot but we love him.
. He's a good dog. He's an idiot but we love him.
Both dogs are staying with my parents while we are nearby on vacation. Avatar behaves himself and stays on the farm. We show up and they are looking for idiot, who disappeared in a 2-minute timespan. I spot him standing 100 yards away on relatives' land, listening intently as they call frantically for him. Most likely chased a rabbit over there.
Idiot. We love you.
We adopted a 3 year old golden retriever from a rescue group, and I remember being surprised at how complicated it was compared to previous dogs who were 1) adopted from SPCA, 2) adopted out of a box at a music store 3) found abandoned by the side of the road. He had issues, from being neglected his whole life. He was left tied up outside, never trained, and never socialized. After a particularly nasty winter, his owner finally realized that he couldn't take care of the dog so turned him over to a shelter. The first few months were 'interesting', but Ben is a great member of the family now. It took time and patience and a lot of work though.
Rescue groups do vary quite a bit in how carefully they vet the prospective adopter. Most rescues consider themselves the dog's advocate, not yours, which means they may have very specific rules (i.e. no young children, must have a fenced yard, must neuter, must give training, etc.) Many do home visits to make sure that you actually do have room for the dog, and have thought out how you will deal with issues like training, walks, time left home alone, etc. They want to make sure everybody is on board with having a new pet, and understands the amount of work involved. Golden retriever rescues tend to be very picky, partly because there is a lot of demand for them and partly because they have some issues that not everyone knows about before they adopt them (i.e. they shed a lot, they need lots of exercise, they are very mouthy, etc.) The rescue groups want to make sure that you won't end up abandoning the dog in a few months, and they'll do all they can to make sure they have an adopter who is truly committed. Good rescue groups will also spend time with the dog to find out what its issues are, working on training and socializing, etc. They'll know if the dog is used to children, or cats, or other dogs.
Do your research now and try to figure out what kind of dog you really want. Do you have time to give your dog a lot of exercise and/or a lot of training? Do you want an inside family dog who stay close to your side, or would you rather have an outside dog? Do you want a playful dog or a more mellow one? Do you care about barking? Do you want a dog that is easy to train? Do you want a dog you can take hunting or to do agility or obedience work? Do you care about purebred vs. not? Is there a kind of dog you've always wanted to have?
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He's an idiot but we love him.
We all say this about my dad on a near daily basis...
We only had "rescued" dogs when I was a kid...dogs that didn't fit in well with their previous families and we learned about through the grapevine. I don't know much about the circumstances surrounding the dog my folks had when I was born, but the dog we got when I was ~12 was still a small puppy when we got her. The family that had her had a toddler and an infant. Apparently they decided that they couldn't deal with the puppy nipping on the toddler after only a couple of weeks in their care. I question why anyone with tiny children like that would get a teething puppy so in need of guidance and attention, itself. She was supposed to be a purebred American Springer, but we never had papers and her build as an adult suggested a Springer/Cocker mix. Gorgeous dog...and totally stupid. But she was a good pet and was forever getting into crazy and entertaining situations.
I've heard that some rescue organizations are pretty hyper-stringent in their adoption guidelines. I understand why they do this, but it potentially turns off a lot of families who would be wonderful for these animals (dogs and otherwise). Their guidelines shouldn't always be black-and-white when there are so many pets in desperate need of a permanent home.
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It's a little bit of a crap shoot. If your friends already have a vet that they trust, you can call and ask for references to rescue groups. They can be the initial screen for you. We see a pretty wide range of rescue groups. We have one that rescues anything closely resembling a German shepherd and can't keep track of their >100 dogs in multiple foster homes, boarding kennels and see puppy adoption fees as a way to keep their heads above water. This rescue rarely puts anything to sleep and quite a few dogs that I wouldn't trust with a child under 12 years of age. At the other spectrum, we have one that rescues 1-2 at a time and puts a lot of time and effort into each one. Similarly, some will let you "foster" a pet for a while to see if things work out without completely committing while others once you take possession, it's your problem and the adoption fee has already been spent. Might be a good way to see if you even are ready for a dog. We do free rescue and shelter exams so you can get some idea if there's a glaring health or behavior issue from the get go. Nothing like adopting a dog, getting attached and finding out that it needs $4000 worth of surgery within a year.
Good rescues will do some sort of background, home check, but not be too invasive. They should be honest about a dog's characteristics and you don't really get a feel for that unless the foster owner has had the dog for a few weeks and seen how it behaves in a variety of situations. No good rescue should try to "sell" you a dog that isn't right for your situation. Run if you feel any pressure at all or really get a "crazy vibe" from the rescue. You don't want crazy or desperate people picking your pet for the next 12 years.
Unfortunately bought pups aren't a clean slate either. Some are taken too early and haven't learned behavior from the mother or litter mates, or just inherently have a screw loose. Ask for references from friends, acquaintances and those who may know the responsible breeders in the community.
Dogs are a bit of work. Be honest about how much time you want to spend with them, the activities you want to be able to do and have to do with them. Best of luck.
Thanks so much for the advice so far. I think "rescue org" means different things different places. I'm not looking for a specific breed. The rescue orgs I'm talking too here just take dogs -- all kinds of dogs -- from kill shelters (often all over the state, or even internationally), place them in local foster care, and then work through the backlog. I have heard tales of picky rescue orgs, but so far we seem to be sailing through evaluations (my husband works from home; kids are 10 and 8 - old enough to not be idiots with the animals, and old enough to give confidence that we won't have any more kids; we own our home with a fenced yard; lived here for over ten years and had our jobs just as long; I want a dog I can run with, so exercise is part of the plan; we haven't previously had a dog, but had our cat for 18 years, so we understand lifetime commitment, cost, etc.). If some org doesn't want us as owners, that's fine, because we check all the boxes for others. No one has asked for a home visit or anything. I'm not having any issues with the standards of the rescue groups, or the quality of the dogs -- I know there can be issues, and I'm willing to work through them. But the *logistics* are a bit confounding to me, as contrasted to, say, going to a shelter, with business hours.
It's very reassuring, though, to hear that wanting to click is a reasonable standard, and that the rescue orgs/fosters will also want to make sure that no one takes a dog they're not sure they want.
This is the kind of one-on-one that I'm talking about. It's just hard for me to imagine going to some foster's location, with my whole family, having this interaction, and then . . . walking away. If someone told me: "you should expect to spend two-three days/month driving around and meeting dogs, for up to six months, before you meet the one who looks in your eyes and removes all uncertainties," well, that would give me some reasonable expectations. But I call orgs and they say: "Can you come first thing Saturday morning?" That's different.
We worked with a local rescue shelter that adopts last chance dogs from the kill shelters they feel are worth a third chance. They were very flexible concerning unlimited visits to meet the dog for any duration of time, on leash and off. NO pressure or guilt at all. We were so happy with our first pup, we got another.
Look for shelters that spend time evaluating and training the dogs and can help match you to a dog that has a good fit for your lifestyle.
I will warn you though that dogs do take a great deal of effort and time. Being concerned with driving an hour... just remember that most dogs to be happy and healthy will want more time every day for walking and playing.
Hang in there. You will find your dog, and it will be so worth it.
I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member ~ Groucho Marx.
I've adopted three dogs, two from breed-specific rescue groups and one from a non-specific rescue. In my experience, the rescue folks very much want to make sure the dog stays I with the adoptive family ... hence the pickiness. And maybe I'm picky too, but yes:
+ I drove as much as 75 minutes each way (once in a raging thunderstorm, too!) with my family and our current dog to meet the potential new family member;
+ I met several dogs that just didn't click;
+ the rescue and foster folks wouldn't offer their time if they weren't prepared to do the whole meet-n-greet and have you walk away. In more than one instance, the rescue staff was first to suggest incompatibility.
Good rescues and fosters will have checked out things like how the dog gets along with other dogs; tested it as to kids, men (why are the abusers always men?!), maybe cats, and the like; had it vetted; and should have a reasonable sense for the animal's personality and quirks. You should be able to get some feedback on rescue outfits from local vets as well as trainers (found, e.g., at Petco/Petsmart).
"I want you to pray as if everything depends on it, but I want you to prepare yourself as if everything depends on you."
-- Dick LeBeau
Oh roo roooo!
First of all, thanks to those who posted pictures of their hounds; what great dogs! And the story about Idiot the lab--yes, can relate, but such LOVABLE idiots they are! Not a mean bone in their big black bodies.
So, to chime in on the actual topic--my hub and I have had shelter dogs for nigh on 20 years now, and I had shelter dogs for years before that. It has been my experience that, especially in the last 10 years or so, the shelters will post info on their web sites as well as on the dog's kennel at the shelter that will give you the basics, such as whether they get along w/other dogs, whether cats and other pets are OK, whether they are OK w/young children, OK w/older kids, do they need an unusually large amount of exercise, are they overly exuberant and in need of training, etc. This way a potential adopter can have a fairly good idea, before ever setting foot in the actual shelter, about what a particular dog's needs are.
That said, there are things that don't get mentioned in a timely fashion. Last November, I saw a 15-year-old basset on the web site of a local basset rescue. His story was sad, and I asked hub if we could consider adopting him (we have another basset and a terrier mix also). Long story short, we went thru all the steps and, almost as an afterthought, the foster person mentioned that she thought he may have a back injury, as he seemed to have no bowel control. OK, for a lot of folks, I guess that would have been a deal breaker, but we have old linoleum floors and I work from home, so we went ahead anyway. Sam needed a LOT of work when he came to us--teeth in terrible shape, gums infected, nails grown very long, very thin (not eating due to stress), on Rimadyl to keep him mobile, altho he still walked very poorly and had no strength in his back end, no bowel control and needing to pee every couple of hours day and night. Wow. More than we bargained for, and none of this was mentioned. However, once you're at the point of picking up the dog to take him home (no meet required, and we committed w/o asking for one), it's pretty damn hard to change your mind.
The happy part of the story is that our vet gave us a HUGE break on fixing Sam's oral problems, we have slowly worked on cutting his nails back, he has been able to come off the Rimadyl altho he still can only do stairs w/an assist and he has put on some weight due to eating 4 times a day, supplementing with things like eggs, sweet potato, chicken, etc. He is a lovable old fart w/distinct opinions about things. However, the continence issues are ongoing and I suspect anyone who was NOT home all day and who had carpets would have had him put down by now. As long as I'm home and as long as he has that spark in his eyes and the interest in life that he has now, tho, we'll all hang in there. We are fortunate to be in a situation where we can do all the things this old guy needs to end his life in a peaceful loving home.
So yeah, when the shelters/rescues say you need to be prepared for anything, you really do. Our other dogs have had occasion for some VERY expensive surgery (one got a thistle thorn IN his eyeball and needed eye surgery, one ate a piece of plastic and needed abdominal surgery). Thank god we had the money to pay for these when needed; I can't imagine the heartbreak of having to put down an otherwise healthy animal b/c of medical costs. And dogs are social critters; they need your presence and attention. I've seen some really sad situations where people just didn't seem to realize this, such as a single woman who fell in love w/the adorable Great Dane pup but who worked full time as a teacher, coached sports after school and spent a lot of time at other social events, leaving her growing pup alone far, far too much--and when the lonely, pent-up critter gets into trouble, they end up in a shelter...as another poster mentioned, it's no fault of their own, but there they are, a dog w/"issues."
Anyway, I don't mean to discourage you--I love dogs incredibly much and can't say enough about what they can bring to your life. But man, they are a huge commitment, and often in ways that you can never foresee. I wish you all the best in making your decision, and I wish you years of happiness w/your hound if you do decide to go ahead w/this!