Adopting a shelter dog has been both frustrating and the most rewarding experience in my life, but there are some things I learned having gone through it that I wish someone would have told me.
- All shelters are different. There is a spectrum of due diligence. Some are CRAZY thorough — think home visits, 6 page adoption applications, background checks. On the other end of the spectrum there are places like the humane society where you can look for and adopt a dog all in one day as long as you don’t have a criminal record.
- Again, all shelters are different. The adoption process varies. At some shelters they let the dog meet multiple prospective adopters and then they choose who they feel is the best fit, at other shelters, they meet one prospective adopter at a time. Also, sometimes the process is clearly communicated, other times it isn’t. Make sure you understand the process from the start. This will help manage your expectations, and on that note…
- Be prepared for some heartache. There are a lot of people looking to adopt a dog – and probably the one you’re looking at. You’re one of many who are interested and you could be last in line. We inquired about a lot of dogs we never even met. Also, sometimes people mess up. I was in a situation where I was misled and poorly communicated with by the foster home. I was led to believe that I was the first in line to meet a dog and then potentially adopt if we felt it was a good fit. The foster never mentioned that the dog already met a prospective adopter and I was left in tears when they abruptly cancelled our meet and greet because the dog was adopted that morning.
- It might take months before you find your dog. I have a friend who applied for 10 different dogs over the course of several months before finally buying a puppy from a farmer in Iowa. I don’t blame her, because finding exactly what you’re looking for in a dog and being the first person to reach out doesn’t happen easily. It can be really discouraging, but honestly it’s normal. Set your expectations now.
- Ask any and all of the questions. Many organizations are volunteer based, which means if you have a question, ask it. Call the shelter. Email often. It’s up to you to be an advocate for yourself, don’t wait around for someone to reach out because it might not happen. There is literally no stupid question, even though I thought I had every question covered, in hindsight there are a lot of others I hadn’t considered until after the fact.
- Spend time with your prospective dog before adopting. See if you can hang out with your prospective dog in various situations — your home, the dog park, etc. While we love our girl Hillary, she is absolutely terrified of moving cars and just about everything loud about the city. We live downtown. The information about shelter dogs vary. Doing a trial run will cut straight to potential issues. You can’t just lean on the paperwork (we submitted a thorough adoption application indicating where we live) because oftentimes the fosters/shelter don’t even know about an underlying issue. With Hillary, we found out after we adopted her that she is terrified of cars, and gets a lot of her confidence from being around larger dogs. If we had done a trial run, spent a day with her in our home, we would have quickly figured that out.
- All dogs come with baggage – make sure you’re ready to do some work. Especially if you are adopting an older dog. There is a reason why every adoption application asks if you’re prepared to do training. Hillary is three and due to her absolute fear of cars we have our work cut out for us. My good friend adopted a dog that had underlying aggression and he spent months training her, buying every piece of equipment that might help and she still had problems.
I don’t want to scare anyone off of adopting a dog, we are absolutely in love with Hillary. I just wish I knew some of these things before going into it. It’s so easy to get confused and a little bit lost in the process and between shelters.
And just to put my 2 cents in, rescuing a dog and watching them come into their own is one of the best experiences I’ve had so far in life. Hillary has grown and changed so much in the past 7 months in ways I wouldn’t have expected and it’s been fucking awesome watching it happen. She played with a toy with me for the first time yesterday – don’t give up on rescue dogs.