Five Lessons on dog adoption from a shelter worker

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Most people have a lot of questions when they’re considering to adopt a dog. Questions range from responsible ownership to feeding schedules and from training to grooming. One thing is for sure though, when you decide to adopt a dog, it’s important that you know you are capable of giving them a loving home that will last a lifetime. Once you know that you can, create a little list with questions and visit a few shelters before you make any decisions. To help you along, we spoke to a shelter worker and asked what they would ask if they were and aspiring adopter.


Don’t judge a book by its cover


It’s relatively easy to walk into a dog rescue shelter or dog adoption charity, peer through the doors and choose a dog based purely on the first bright eyes that fixate on you. But this is not the best way to choose your companion for the next 10-15 years. Even though you’ll always be drawn by the appearance of a certain breed or size (who isn’t?), it’s far better to choose a dog with a temperament that suits your own personality and lifestyle. Take a Husky for instance, they look fluffy and cute but they need their human companion to be the leader of the pack.

Ask shelter workers about the temperaments of the various dogs that are up for adoption. All shelter or adoption dogs will have undergone thorough testing, so employees will be able to give you all the info you need:


Ensure the important questions are asked by the shelter


Before you adopt a dog, you should be home-checked and assessed. Questions should include topics such as your lifestyle, your home, other pets, kids etc. Dogs will be matched to you based on this information. Don’t see this as an interrogation, it’s mainly a formality to ensure the dog of your choice will thrive in your household and vice versa. In this way, shelters can make sure the adopted dog has found a forever home. If you have a cat for instance, there’s no use falling in love with a shelter dog who hates cats. Equally, if you have a child or children who regularly visit the home, you need to look for dogs who are child friendly.


Be open about your experience – or lack thereof


If you have years upon years’ experience of handling large or powerful dogs, then you may be the saving grace that the shelter is looking for. There are always more complex dogs needing homes too, so if you feel capable and willing to take on more of a challenge, indicate this. Helping a dog work through unwanted or difficult behaviours can be so rewarding. But also, if you aren’t able or don’t have the knowledge or experience, be clear on this with the shelter during your assessment.

Not all dogs who end up in shelters have complex issues, some end up being re-homed due to relationship breakdowns, eviction and lifestyle changes meaning that their previous owners could no longer provide what they needed.


Consider an older dog


Unfortunately, all dogs of all ages and breeds find themselves in shelters. Sometimes older dogs end up in shelters as their elderly owner has passed and there are no family members or friends willing to take them on. These old dogs can be stable and well-rounded dogs who just need a calm home to live out their last years. These rescues can be a little more emotional as they can have health issues as they age, but it’s lovely to think they are spending the time they have left in a home environment.


Visit multiple shelters


Whilst you are searching for an adoptee, visit a number of associations and shelters. Speak with the staff and ask them about the temperament and personality tests they carry out. Staff should be well informed and have a solid understanding about dog behaviour. If you do find a dog that suits your lifestyle, you should be encouraged to play with them or take them out for a walk. It’s best advised to carry out a number of visits to interact with them before committing to taking them on.

You need to be sure that you will be able to bond. This can be a long process so don’t expect to turn up to a shelter and walk away with a dog on the same day! If this is even suggested, walk away. Shelter staff should be just as patient and keen to see how the bond develops before the dog is re-homed.


Conclusion on dog adoption


Adopting a dog can be incredibly rewarding, when done responsibly.

You must consider your experience as a handler and what you are able to offer to shelter dogs; whether you can manage more complex issues or not.

Be patient with the process, assess your lifestyle and figure out what personality and temperament will suit best.

Ask shelter staff questions, they should have all the information you need to decide whether a dog is suitable for your home.

Above all, don’t just walk into a shelter one day and choose that dog who looks up at you with sad eyes.

Take a look at our Companion Animal For Life project to find out more about responsible adoption and why it’s important.


Featured image and text by John Woods.

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