If you’ve been following our PetPickings.com Facebook page and started following our new PetPickings.com blog you will know that we strongly encourage people to “be part of the solution” by adopting pets from shelters / rescue organisations. Buy from a pet store or unregistered back yard breeder and the problem of ever present puppy / kitten mills is perpetuated, which results in an increased number of unwanted, homeless pets that invariably end up at the already filled shelters … or worse … suffering at the hands of uneducated humans who don’t want them, can’t care for them or resent / abuse them. This article is written from the perspective of adopting a dog from a shelter, however the same principles apply to any pet – eg: cats
Many people believe that rescued dogs are ‘damaged goods’ and therefore feel it would be best to buy a dog from another source that seemingly sell dogs that don’t or shouldn’t have ‘issues’. The truth however is that responsible (registered) rescue organisations / shelters work diligently in rehabilitating these lost and abandoned souls to ensure that the adoptive family takes home a well balanced pet whose only yearning is for a loving family, warm bed and a full belly.
Shelters are stressful environments for the pets that find themselves there, so I thought I would give you some insight into how to approach choosing a dog in this type of environment. Here are some things that you need to consider and do when adopting from a shelter:
1. Family dynamics
Everyone in the home should be excited and happy about getting a new dog. This includes any existing pets that you may already have at home. Is your existing pet friendly towards other dogs? If you see a dog that you like, observe him with other dogs / cats before you bring him home. If he doesn’t get along with others at the shelter, he most likely will not get along with yours either. Also keep in mind that it would be inconsiderate to get a young boisterous puppy when there is an old geriatric pet in the home. It would also be potentially dangerous to get a small breed puppy if you have very young children at home, as little pups are more prone to injury with clumsy and inexperienced handling.
2. Be realistic
Do your research and think carefully about what type of dog you and your family can handle before you go to have a look. An experienced dog owner would be able to cope with a stubborn or assertive personality calmly and more constructively than an inexperienced person. Be honest, is your family made up of mostly “Duracell bunnies” or “coach potatoes”? An active family that goes for regular walks in the forest or hikes up the mountain will get much pleasure from an active dog that will equally benefit from and partake in their lifestyle activities. A more sedentary family with a hyperactive dog however could lead to much frustration and destructive behaviour on the part of the dog. One of the reasons many Jack Russell Terriers sadly end up at shelters.
3. Time factors
Do you and your family have the time and energy levels needed to be consistent in handling and training a puppy? If you’re not sure, then the answer is probably no. Although puppies are absolutely adorable with their puppy breath and adorable “doey” eyes, keep in mind that puppyhood is the shortest period of a dog’s life. A dog is a puppy from birth to eight months, then an adolescent from eight months to three years. Why is this so important? In a blink of an eye this puppy will physically resemble a grown-up dog and unless you’ve invested considerable time and patient energy, your puppy will be a troublesome adolescent. Don’t pick a puppy if the novelty will wear off once it no longer looks like a puppy.
If you don’t have the time to invest in raising a puppy into a well balanced dog, it may be an idea to consider adopting an adult dog instead. Divorce or death can leave a middle-aged or senior dog without a home. Generally they’re well house trained, don’t find joy in dragging towels, chewing up your slippers or ripping up a newspaper, they tend to be more settled and calm, and are usually easy to take for walks or a drive in the car.
Think long and hard about the kind of dog that will be best for you and your family, speak to an animal behaviourist for advice … and only then start hitting the shelters.
4. Consult your ‘secret weapon’
It’s never a good idea to charge head long into adopting a dog based on its looks alone – because he’s cute looking, because he has blue eyes, because he has big floppy ears. You need to ensure that his personality will compliment your existing family dynamic. The only way to start finding a dog that will be a part of your family is to make a point of meeting with the animal shelter workers and asking them which dogs are their favourite and why. Shelter staffers are an adopter’s secret weapon as they handle the dogs on a daily basis and know each one’s quirks and personality. Shelter workers are also eager for the best possible outcome for their charges, so are more than willing to share everything they know.
If the shelter’s policy allows you to walk through to the kennel area, don’t judge the dogs by their initial reaction. Keep in mind that you are a stranger to them, so most dogs will be barking excitedly creating a loud din in an already stressful kennel environment. The dogs are merely reacting to the call of the other dogs and they shouldn’t be judged by this initial behaviour in the kennel, as it is not an accurate reflection of the dogs’ true personality. For this very reason, many shelters do not allow you to aimlessly wonder through their kennels “browsing”, but rather interview you first to ascertain what dog would best suit you and your family circumstances and then bring the best suited dogs out to you in a quieter, more serene environment. Remember however that you’re not shopping for a shirt of a certain size and colour, but looking for an addition to your family that has an individual personality with likes, dislikes and requirements.
6. Eye contact
The manner in which dogs communicate through eye contact is very different to humans. The more dominant dog in any group or pack uses eye contact as a way of managing the other pack members. Direct eye contact is seen as a challenge to the alpha dog, who may themselves use direct eye contact to signal displeasure with another subordinate dog. Eye contact between socially equal dogs signals interest and even excitement and is often seen when greeting each other or when playing. With this in mind, when looking through the kennels initially or first meeting a prospective dog avoid making sustained direct eye contact. Cesar Millan, the internationally reknown dog trainer, agrees and takes it one step further. When you meet a shelter dog for the first time he suggests a no-touch, no-talk, no-eye-contact rule. “Ignore the dog,” he says, “but stand or sit close to him, so he can get used to your presence [and scent]. Save the eye contact for when you really know each other better.”
7. Invest time
Don’t rush your decision in choosing the right dog for your family, after all an adoption is for life. Take the family along to meet the potential prospects at the shelter and that includes your current dog. Most shelters that are well organised are happy to facilitate introductions of your existing family pet with the potential new addition. Once you have narrowed your choice of dogs down to two or three, ask if you can take each one for a short leash walk in the grounds. You can learn a great deal about a dog’s energy and personality during a 10-minute walk. If you have the opportunity, return to see the dog on a second day, at a different time of day, to determine if there are behaviour variations.
8. What to avoid
Try to avoid rush hour at the shelter if possible. Weekends and afternoons are likely to be busy and potentially crowded, which can excite or agitate the dogs. It will also allow you less time to spend consulting the shelter staff about each dog that interests you, as they will be particularly busy. Instead, go in the middle of the week when it’s a bit slower and you can spend as much time as you need to make sure the dog you’re considering is a good fit for you and your family.
9. “Brakking” beautiful
Pavement specials / mixed-breed / Africanis dogs (what ever you prefer to call them) often make the best pets because they carry the great traits of all of the breeds in their make-up. It is widely believed that mixed breeds are generally healthier than purebreds, due to their decreased risk of passing along recessive genes. Some Pit Bull mixes also often find themselves in shelters around the country, so please be open to the Pit or Pit mix possibility. The main and most endearing trait in Pit Bulls is their loyalty to their guardians. They are intensely loyal dogs that are grossly misunderstood and deserve to have devoted, caring owner who is worthy of that intense loyalty. Their bad reputation stems from irresponsible owners. There’s also a theory that adopted shelter dogs are smarter and happier than those dogs born into more privileged circumstances, but I’ll leave that for you to decide!
10. Follow Nike’s advice
Once you’ve completed all your prep work, are ready and have made your decision, go to the shelter and ‘Just Do It!’ You don’t want to risk walking away from the dog who could become the most loyal member of your family and your new best friend!
Visit the Cape of Good Hope SPCA’s website for information on their pets available for adoption.
Footnote: We at PetPickings.com are honouring the Pit Bull breed in the month of October which is the birthday month of our very own beloved rescue Pit Bull Bruno. We have taken the liberty of declaring October “National Pit Bull Month”, during which we will be publishing various stories and facts related to Pit Bulls in an attempt to provide a better understanding of this highly misunderstood breed.