Before you Rescue that Shelter Dog or Buy That Adorable New Puppy

Feb 15, 2021
Shelter dog

This is not my normal blog post topic. But my husband and I just adopted a bonded pair of senior dogs and I got to thinking. The day that we adopted them the owner of the rescue was getting ready to get a dog who had been left alone in the basement hungry and with no opportunity for exercise or ability to toilet outside. Why? Because his attorney owner was too busy and didn't have time to train or walk him. That same day, another woman who fosters rescue dogs was going to pick up a dog whose owner was giving up because, "this just wasn't what we expected."

We see those sweet faces on Facebook and on television and think, "I'm going to adopt that poor dog. I'm going to bring him/her home and they're going to be instantly thankful and settle right in and we'll all live happily ever after." I can guarantee you that that is not likely to happen - at least not at first. Here's what I CAN guarantee you will happen:

There 100% of the Time Will Be Potty Accidents at the Outset

Your new family member (because that's what they should be is a new family member who you've committed to care for for the rest of their life) WILL have potty accidents for the first few weeks IF they're said to be potty trained. Think about it. The dog has never lived in your home. Doesn't know how to tell you that they need to go out. And is anxious and nervous because he/she is in a brand new setting. And if you're getting a dog that is not potty trained, the process will take considerably longer. Be patient and be prepared to spend time on the process.

If you are unable to, don't adopt the dog or get the new puppy.

This is an Investment

Your new family member will cost you a lot of money. In vet bills, dog food, grooming, and possible training help. Rescues typically come with baggage and new owners often need to hire trainers to not only train their dog, but train them as owners on how to manage the dog.

I have a friend who recently adopted a one year old dog from a rescue group. After about two months, the dog bonded with them and became territorial. She started to growl at people and other dogs. So, instead of deciding that she was aggressive and they couldn't keep her, they signed her and themselves up for training. In the meantime, she has developed some health issues.

Long story short, this couple has spent many days either at the vet or the ER trying to figure out what is going on medically with their pup. And they have spent thousands and thousands of dollars. They are getting to the bottom of it, but the reality is that their girl could require medical care for the rest of her life. Has it occurred to them once to return her to the rescue? No. Because they took their commitment seriously when they got her and she is a family member.

Not everyone is able to spend that kind of money. If you can't spend money on the dog - don't get the dog. They are expensive. Many who buy that cute puppy or rescue that sweet sad looking rescue dog are surprised at this and often realize, too late, that they can't afford the expenses.

Your Rescue Will Not Walk into your House, Look Around, and Instantly be Settled and Thankful Because They Just "Know" That They're Safe There

The reality is that most rescues have some sort of PTSD. Getting them to a place where they feel safe and calm and settled can take weeks, months, or longer. And once they are calm and starting to bond, additional issues can surface.

  • Donovan spent his whole first two years of life tied to a doghouse outside. It took him months to bond with me and realize that he wasn't going anywhere. And once he did bond, I had to hire a trainer because he became very territorial and aggressive if any dog or human came anywhere near me when he was on leash.
  • Turbo and Jaeger - after their female owner died, her husband put them into an enclosed room where they lived for months in their own filth. They never went outside. They spent the first few nights we had them pacing up and down the hallway dragging their harnesses. Their anxiety was through the roof. It's two years later and Jaeger still has residual anxiety and always will.
  • My husband transported a little guy whose family had moved and left him in the backyard of their old house. He'd been out there for who knows how long in horrible weather. His coat was matted and caked in mud and he was starving. He's going to require lots of time and patience to trust humans again.
  • We just adopted Chloe and Maya - an adorable little Yorkie and Shitzu who are 10 and 7 respectively. They spent their entire lives in a crate having litter after litter to make money for a puppy mill. Many are assuming that they'd be easy adoptees because they're cute and small and purebred. But, they've still been abused and still have baggage. They've never been free in a home, every noise makes them jump, and they are not potty trained. The only part that's easier because of their size is that their pee and poops are much smaller than Turbo and Jaeger's. It's been three weeks and I expect it will take a few months for Maya to really adjust and relax.

They Might Bite

Many rescues are in "fight or flight" mode. They may bite, especially if you rush at them or have an overzealous toddler who tries to give them a hug. It's not because they're feral or mean. They have PTSD and have zero idea what is going on or coming at them next.

I made this horrible mistake with Ruby, who was one of our rescues. She was a bichon who also spent her whole life in a crate breeding puppies that were sold on Craigslist. Her back legs didn't work very well and she was a very scared girl. I mistakenly let her off leash when we first got her and she started to try to run away. I had to dive on her to keep her from running away and, of course, she turned around and bit me. And that was completely and totally my fault.


They will Chew, Shred, Pee, Hide, and a Myriad of Other Things That are Less Than Desirable

If possible, be home for the first week or two that you have the dog. Bringing them to a new environment on a Saturday, being there on Sunday, and going to work first thing Monday morning for the week is going to bring with it a whole set of issues. You may come home to things chewed up or potty accidents. These are not the dog's fault. They have never lived in your home before and don't know the expectation.

My favorite story occurred on the night that we brought home Reggie, 9 month old shelter puppy who was scheduled to be euthanized that day. I couldn't leave him there. He weighed 100 pounds and was a Great Pyrenees and Yellow Lab mix. On his first night, Reggie jumped onto my bed and proceeded to lift his leg and pee all over a nice clean pile of laundry along with my bedspread. I spent the next few days cleaning up copious amounts of 100 pound Reggie's diarrhea. The excitement of the new home and the change in diet had upset his stomach. I cried for days because I felt like I had made a huge mistake. But, I also knew that he was my responsibility now and that it was up to me to make it work. Taking him back was not an option.

Reggie went on to become a cherished member of our family.

A Couple of Tips if you are Thinking of Adopting But are a Dog Newbie

Offer to Dog Sit

Spend some time taking care of a variety of dogs - different ages, different personalities. You may be thinking you want to adopt a small dog so why would you need to dog sit a big dog, but dogs are dogs and rescue dogs all have baggage regardless of their size. If you are frustrated because your friend's lab who chewed your coffee table leg while you were at work and you're glad that's not your dog, then you aren't ready to have a dog. Which leads me to my next point....

Know Your Limitations

It doesn't make you a bad person because you got mad that the dog chewed your coffee table. What is questionable is the idea of simply returning the dog because "that's not quite what I was looking for."

Know your limitations. Be honest with yourself. If you're going to be upset that there's dog vomit on your white couch, getting a dog might not be a great idea right now. If you're living paycheck to paycheck before dog, it is not a good time to make that financial commitment. Do you work 14 hours a day at a demanding job? It's not the right time to get a dog.

These rescue places are full of dogs with sad stories. Dogs that people threw away because they:

  • had allergies they didn't realize they had (which is the most bullshit excuse ever)
  • they had a baby and couldn't manage both
  • they had to relocate.

The excuses are endless. But, in 95% of the cases, the excuses and explanations boil down to one statement - "I didn't know how much work, money, time, etc. that having a rescue dog or any dog was going to take and I'm not willing or able to put in the work, money, time, etc." Be self-aware and realize those things BEFORE you bring that new family member into your home.

Take Time to be Around the First Week and More is Better

This will give your dog time to get acclimated to his/her new surroundings and give you a week or more where you aren't stressed about losing sleep because you have to get up and go to work the next day.

It will also give you time to create a routine for yourself and your new family member, as well as introduce them to potential dog sitters so that they are familiar.

Maybe it's Not the Right Time for Me But I Really Love Dogs

Volunteer at the shelter or your local rescue. They need dog walkers and people to play with the dogs.

Pick up a side hustle dog walking or dog sitting.

And pat yourself on the back. For knowing that this may just not be the right time. And at the end of the day, you're doing yourself and a rescue dog a favor by not taking that leap right now.