Rachael Rudman, adoptions manager at North Shore Animal League America in Port Washington, New York.
You don’t need to spend hundreds or thousands on a puppy straight from the breeder. There are many wonderful dogs available for adoption through the shelter system. While some may have behavior problems due to abuse or other circumstances, many simply have issues another owner could not handle (they grew too large, for example, or there was an allergic family member). Here is what to consider when adopting a dog…
Where to look: Go online to websites such as Petfinder.com, Adopt-a-Pet.com and the local shelter sites for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) to review profiles and pictures of available dogs. About 25% of dogs in shelters are purebred. You also can contact breed-specific rescue groups. To find them, search the breed name plus “rescue” in Google or another search engine
What type of dog: Are you looking for a mixed breed or a purebred dog? A puppy or a housebroken older dog with a calmer temperament? Many shelters have programs to reduce or eliminate the adoption fees for senior dogs, since many families prefer younger ones.
Your lifestyle issues: Tell the rescue center about everything relevant to your life with a dog—children, visiting grandchildren, other pets in your household, how much time you have to walk the dog each day, whether you have a fenced yard, physical constraints or disabilities, etc. They will steer you toward dogs that will be a good fit.
Personality and needs of the dog: Rescue groups assess dogs on their temperament and safety with children, other dogs and other pets. Get as much of the animal’s history and information as you can when considering a specific dog. Play with each dog, pet the dog and take it out on a leash to assess temperament yourself. Look at the dog’s body language to see how it reacts to you, your family members and other animals at the shelter.
The dog’s past: The stress and chaos of life in a shelter (or possible abuse prior to coming to the shelter) can alter how a dog behaves. It is common for shelter dogs to become possessive of their food and toys, for instance, or to act fearful or aggressive with people or other animals. Those types of behaviors often go away after a dog has been at home with you for a few weeks or months. Talk to your vet or a trainer for guidance.
Your readiness: If you think you’ve found the right dog, some shelters will hold the dog for 24 to 48 hours while you decide or may allow you to foster the dog for a week at home to see if it is a good fit. But keep in mind that it’s not fair for the animal to be on hold for you and potentially not be adopted by someone else if you decide the dog is not right for you.