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Animals In Print
The On-Line Newsletter

From 4 March 2003 Issue

Successful Shelter Adoption: A "How To" Primer

While so many people seem to be purchasing poorly bred puppies from pet stores (thereby encouraging sleazoids to continue to "breed" in puppy mills), there are literally thousands of marvelous dogs dying in our "shelters". In rescue, these places are rightfully called "kill shelters", because the majority of the dogs that end up there, die there.

This is a primer for the newby to adopt a wonderful companion dog from a kill shelter.

1. Before going to the kill shelter (pardon me for being unable to call these places "shelters"), sit down with your other household members (and please, let them all be above the age of TEN, minimum) to discuss what you all want from this future dog friend. Write these things down. (Even if you live alone and this dog will be your personal companion, don't skip this step!)

2. After your list is compiled, let the adults in the household review it. "Johnny" and "Cindy" might have immature expectations, but Mom and Dad need to know better! Make your own list now.

3. Go to your local library and look for the AKC "Complete Dog Book", hopefully a recent edition. Carefully review the groups (Sporting, Herding, Toy, etc.) and whittle your list down to what you can LIVE with. Remember, even a second-generation mix of any purebred dog will retain many of the purebred characteristics.

4. Take the following tips under serious advisement:

A. Size DOES matter. If you're unwilling to live with a very large dog, and perhaps have to do some housetraining (which might involve very large puddles and piles), don't consider a very large dog.

B. If HAIR all over your home is an issue, don't look for a hairy dog! Dogs SHED all year round.

C. Most public kill shelters will spay/neuter before allowing the dog to go home with you. But the sex of your dog is important. Many male dogs that have been intact past the age of 18 months WILL lift a leg (at least once) in your home to "mark" his presence. That does NOT mean he is not housebroken nor does it mean he's a "bad dog". Just be prepared.

D. Unless you are an experienced dog owner and your children are above the age of 12, do not even consider adopting purebred or mixed Akita, Rottweiler, Shar Pei, Pitbull or any related breed, German Shepherd pure or mixed, Doberman Pinscher, Chow Chow.

E. If you opt for a Labrador Retriever, or any other purebred or mix of the Sporting breeds, remember that these dogs are HIGH energy and require exercise. Do not expect a couch potato.

F. Factor in the grooming necessary to properly care for your new dog. Every dog needs a good bath once in a while, but some need experienced grooming on a REGULAR basis.

G. Remember that every dog in the kill shelter is there for a reason. Your dog might not be "perfect" so don't expect him/her to be so.

5. With your new information secured, visit (WITHOUT the kids) your local kill shelters (as many as you can). DO NOT ADOPT! Just LOOK! As a long-time kill shelter rescue person, I can safely give you these tips:

A. Just because a dog looks frightened does not mean it won't make a wonderful companion. Sit back on your haunches and coax the dog forward with hushed tones. It's likely that the dog will slowly creep forward and might be the sweetest dog you've ever met.

B. Observe the kennel. Is there poop and pee in it? If there's poop and pee in EVERY kennel in the kill shelter, then it's not the dog's fault. But if all kennels (or most) are "clean", this might be an indication that the dog is not housebroken (especially if there is a door in the kennel leading to an outside run area.)

C. Is the dog dirty, does it smell, is it matted? So WHAT?! Let's see how you'd look after a week or two on the street!

D. Does the dog bark at you, lunge at the kennel door, or otherwise frighten you? This does not necessarily mean a thing! Perfectly wonderful dogs often behave in this way when kenneled, especially in a kill shelter environment. Any truly dangerous dog will have a "Bite Case" sign on its kennel.

E. Determine how long the dog has been in the kill shelter by looking at the paperwork above its kennel. Ask questions of the attendants. See if you can "interview" the dog outside the kennel. (Some kill shelters encourage this, others refuse.)

6. Make a list of the dogs you have seen that "pass" your inspection and which you might consider as part of your family. Go back to the kill shelter(s) with your ENTIRE family (husband/wife/kids/housemate/significant other, et al). EVERYONE must feel comfortable with the dog(s), even if only through the bars of the kennel.

7. If you are still unsure, put a "DND" (Do Not Destroy) on the dog(s) in question and THINK HARD.

8. Go back to visit the dog(s) as many times as you can WITH your…..(see above).

9. If a kill shelter calls you because you have placed a "DND" on a dog, and you do NOT REALLY WANT that dog, don't TAKE IT!

10. If you find a dog that is perfectly suited to you, ADOPT IT without placing the "DND" on it, or someone else might get it first.

FURTHERMORE, expect your new dog to be smelly, dirty, possibly flea ridden. Some kill shelters will bathe a dog (a simple soapy bath does kill fleas), others won't do a thing. If your dog has to be spayed/neutered, ask that the Veterinary office bathe the dog with a flea shampoo before neutering (although some kill shelters do this before sending a dog to the Vet for neutering).

If your new family member is already spayed/neutered or the kill shelter doesn't CARE about that (very rare in NY State now), expect to go to the back door of the shelter to collect your dog. Bring a Martingale (NOT CHOKER) collar and STRONG leash. If you have a crate, have it ready in the car. Otherwise, cover the upholstery of your automobile and have a family member (if possible) sit with the dog during its trip to its new home.

NEXT INSTALLMENT: The First Two Weeks: Living with a Kill Shelter Rescue

Staff: [email protected]  

Return to Animals in Print 4 March 2003 Issue

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Please send comments and submittals to the Editor: Linda Beane [email protected]

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