Tuesday, October 13, 2015

A Case for Adopting Adult Dogs

Last September we bought a house, which we have been frantically working on ever since- trying to make it a home. Two weeks later- at the very beginning of October, we adopted a dog.
If you've ever wondered about adopting an adult dog from a rescue shelter- this post is for you. To be totally honest- it was NOT a fairy tale from the beginning. And if we didn't have help, we would have given up. I had some unrealistic expectations walking into pet adoption that are worth addressing.
I have only had purebred dogs which we purchased from breeders as puppies. My grandma bred bouviers. Our family loves them. We LOVE them. Therefore, all of my dogs growing up were bouviers. While I thought my dog experience was vast- it was actually quite limited.
John grew up in a pet-free home. I think he had a couple of turtles, but that would be extent of his foray into pet-life. Oh- and he had never been fond of dogs.
Like ever.
So when I started campaigning for a dog about 6 years ago, it didn't go over very well. But eventually John understood my need for a dog and said that once we bought a house, I could have one. So basically as SOON AS we had a closing date set,  I started checking out the pet adoption sites. While John didn't like dogs in general, he did have a silver lab in his life at one point that he actually thought was good company. This gave him a bit of a soft spot for labradors, so when a lab showed up on one of the boards, it seemed like a perfect fit.
#1: Adopt from a reputable shelter
This is a picture last fall, right after we brought Winston home. We were expecting (based on the description),  a slim, well mannered, purebred chocolate lab. What we got? A wild, obese, mixed breed lab.
When we started looking at dogs, I was annoyed how many shelters required applications and personal interviews in order to adopt their dogs. I figured they should be glad that someone wanted  to care for a dog.
Therefore- I thought it was awesome that the place housing Winston required NO application and allowed same day pick up. You could literally waltz in and just take the dog home. Perfect.
You want to adopt from a place that has rules and regulations. A rescue that cares about WHO is adopting their animals will also be honest about the condition of the animal you're adopting and whether or not that animal is a good fit for your home.
To be totally honest- we were not ready for Winston. He probably wasn't a good "first time" adopters dog. He had a bunch of health issues, he was massively obese and he just had zero training. Plus, he was so spastic the first few weeks that we had him home, John - who actually is extremely calm- couldn't handle it.
When I contacted the shelter to talk to them about some issues we were seeing in Winston, the owner's advice was to have him euthanized.
I'm still so angry about that.
Do your homework- adopt from a place you can trust- and who will have resources for you if you need assistance. A quick google search of the rescue we got Winston from showed just how terrible they were. They had a couple of sites even trying to shut them down.
#2: Hire a qualified trainer 
After the advice from his rescue, I realized that was a dead end and we were on our own. Euthanizing Winston was NOT an option. He had done nothing worthy of that! Through a roundabout way, we were put in contact with a fantastic certified trainer who specialized in rescue dogs. Jenn was very quickly able to put our minds at ease and also get Winston into a much more pleasant condition. After the very first hour-long session with her, I already felt 100 times better about our adoption and our ability to keep him. He ended up having one or two more sessions (a very worthwhile investment) and then a round of adult 101 classes.
I've come to the conclusion that unless you're absolutely brilliant with dogs, it's just a good idea to at least invest in one session with a professional. I haven't met many "perfect" dogs, and it's incredible how quickly a good trainer can modify behavior. I often recommend our trainer to people who have had their dogs for years and still deal with an issue. It seems like everyone has a dog who counter surfs, or barks uncontrollably, won't walk on a leash or come when called. Winston had ALL of those things. Jenn helped.
Call a trainer.
This is especially important for anyone who has a dog with aggressive tendencies. Don't try to fix it on your own. The safest thing for your family AND the dog is to have a professional evaluate the situation and come up with a personalized plan.
You can read more about that HERE if you're looking for a certified trainer or help for your dog.
#3: Have realistic expectations 
Dogs really do need an adjustment period after being adopted. It took about 6 weeks to really feel comfortable and in a groove with Winston. He did calm way down after that and learn how our household is run- and we learned his quirks and how to work with him. He was also being trained by that point which helped significantly. If you expect to bring home a perfect dog (like I did) you will be disappointed and frustrated.
Similarly- don't be surprised when issues do arise. The human society lists the inexpensiveness of an adopted dog as a reason to adopt instead of getting a puppy.
If you're thinking of the money you will save- think again! Winston has cost us more in healthcare over the last year than any other dog I've had growing up. That may even be the real reason he was surrendered. Who knows?
To me, adopting a dog because it's cheaper is like becoming a teacher for the summer vacations. The work you put in is not worth that bonus if that is your only motivation.
Be realistic about your adoption and it will go much easier for you when the surprises do pop up!
#4 Have fun!
This isn't advice- I just wanted to say how much we love our dog. I didn't realize we could love an adopted adult dog before we actually did it. He has added so much joy to our lives- not to mention the security of having him.  I really do love dogs and believe they're man's best friend. He is everything I thought he would be and so much more. He's our adventurous buddy and we love having him around for the ride. Our quality of life has gone so far up. My very favorite moments generally occur while John and I are taking Winston for a walk. The time alone, away from phones, to get some exercise and conversation time in alone is so beneficial.
So- if you're thinking of adopting a dog for the first time- GO FOR IT! It may be a bumpy ride at first, but with the proper expectations and resources for help, it will be well worth the rough start.


  1. I have rescued many animals over the last 30 years, my favorites have always been the mature adoptions. You are so right in everything you said...I type this while my 14 yo chihuahua mix is sitting on my chest watching every letter I tap!

    1. Ah! You're a rescue veteran! That's so awesome. Don't they just add so much to life?


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