Adopting a Shelter Dog
October is adopt a dog month! In honor of adopt a dog month I thought I would share some of my many experiences with shelter dogs and reasons to get out there and save a life this month!
Did you know that the Humane Society of the United States estimates that 3 to 4 million dogs and cats are euthanized each year? I also found some very interesting statistics compiled by the NAIA (National Animal Interest Alliance) about the statistics of where our animals come from.
There is no doubt that there are too many dogs for the amount of good dog owners and homes that are looking for them.
One of the biggest misconceptions about adopting an adult dog from a shelter is that you are getting a dog with a problem. Although this is sometimes true, it is often not the case. I remember many years ago while working for a nonprofit organization that took dogs from shelters and trained them for people with disabilities we came across a gorgeous 2 year old Yellow Labrador Retriever Mix who was returned because “The owners got new carpet and the dog’s fur no longer matched”. Really? Really? Since when is fur color an acceptable reason for relinquishing a dog to a shelter?
Now I hear the naysayers whispering in my ear, “That was just an excuse, the dog undoubtedly had behavior problems”. The answer was NO the dog made a lovely Service Dog. But, I shudder to wonder what might have happened to him if we hadn’t come along?
Most of my career has been spent in shelters looking for dogs that would excel as working dogs, most often Service Dogs for the physically disabled. I have taken and worked with hundreds of shelter dogs over the years.
For all the organizations I worked with we never took puppies from shelters, puppies are usually easily adopted. We were always looking for adult dogs 2 to 4 years of age; this is often the age people get frustrated and dump their dogs at shelters.
Although some of the dogs we took did have behavior problems, most of them simply had no training and were never given the opportunity to learn. There are thousands of dogs taken from shelters and transformed into working dogs each year.
Once trained, most people would give their right arm for such a dog, and the irony is they probably would have been euthanized if we hadn’t stepped in. Several of our dogs were on their very last day when we took them.
Once trained a Service Dog is valued at $20,000. I often hoped the former owners would see the dog they dumped on TV, at a demonstration, or even just working in such a triumphant field.
My opinion is that puppy adoption comes with a lot of “what ifs” and “unknowns” even to those of us who are professionals, it is often difficult to know WHO a puppy will grow up to be. Puppies, like children, go through many behavior changes and developmental changes that shape who they will be as adults. Although we may try to control the pups environment and shape who the puppy becomes, ultimately it is a “crap shoot” to many degrees. That is why so many dogs or puppies fail working dog programs.
Adult dogs are kind of “What You See is What You Get”. They are not going through developmental changes and they have kind of evened out on their basic temperament. Usually adult dogs don’t do a lot of changing temperamentally. I like this insurance. Behaviors can be easily changed or shaped once I have picked the right temperament for my family or his new job.
I can also usually see what breeds have gone into the mixing and I can easily see what size the dog is. A mixed breed puppy is difficult to determine what heritage it may indeed have and what size it might be. I worked for a vet that adopted what she thought was a sheltie mix puppy that would only get to be 30 pounds or so but she ended up being 80 pounds.
Mixed breed dogs are often the best of both worlds, and are usually healthier than their pure breed counterparts because they have not endured over breeding.
However, you can find almost any pure bred dog, even rare breeds that have been relinquished to shelters!
I have taken hundreds of dogs both mixed and pure breeds out of shelters over the years and I have seen them live very successful lives either as great Assistance Dogs or as marvelous pets! You can find them too!
If you are unsure what you are looking for, just go and look. You don’t have to come home with a dog; you may decide to go to several shelters before finding your new family member. If you need help, you can employ the help of dog trainer or other expert. Ask the shelter staff or contact a rescue that knows the dogs personally and tell them about your family dynamic and what you are seeking, and for more information on how I find my ideal shelter dog keep your eyes open for more posts on helping and finding the right shelter dogs!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.