It is widely believed that so-called “shelter dogs”, or “rescues”, have inherent problems that dogs purchased from a pet store or breeder do not. For years I’ve worked day in and day out with both purchased dogs and dogs adopted from shelters, and I have never found the shelter dogs to be worse. Some of the most problematic dogs with the worst behavior I’ve worked with came from expensive breeders, while some of the sweetest, smartest, most loyal and obedient family pets were adopted after being bounced around among many shelters and foster families.
Why then does this misapprehension persist? First of all people think that shelter dogs must have been given up for a good reason. However, many shelter dogs are taken in as strays. And even most of the ones that were voluntarily relinquished by previous owners don’t have behavior problems that render them unadoptable. The number one reason for relinquishing a dog is “moving”. Other top reasons given are “not enough time,” cannot afford care,” “allergic,” and “new baby.” (From AHA)
Even more common is the thought that the shelter environment, and bouncing around from one to another, leads to behavior problems. True, shelter dogs are often starved of adequate exercise, socialization, and leadership. However, give them the things they need to be fulfilled, and most dogs make a full recovery and make perfectly adoptable, happy, social, friendly, calm family pets. By the same token, if you don’t fulfill those needs for a dog you buy from a breeder, you’ll run into just as many problems.
Why, you might wonder, AREN’T shelter dogs more aggressive, resentful, depressed, anti-social, and overall more problematic? Toss a human child into the streets alone, then bounce him from home to home every six months, housing him in loud spaces packed with other screaming kids, and deprive him of physical, mental, and social stimulation, and you’re bound to have a “problem child” on your hands. Why ISN’T this the case with dogs? The reason is that dogs live in the moment, they live in the now. They don’t pine over their missed opportunities like humans do; they don’t wallow in self-pity; they don’t hold grudges against the people and forces that kept them down for so long; and they don’t have egos that keep them from settling down and becoming just normal, calm, happy social creatures, as soon as they’re shown how and given the chance to be.
In short, then, what are the pros and cons of adopting shelter dogs? Here is my take:
Pro #1: You don’t kill a dog. Instead you save a dog’s life. Every dog purchased from a breeder signs the death warrant of some fully adoptable, friendly, social, loving dog in a shelter just dying to join some family happy.
Pro #2: There is often lots of information available about the dog’s temperament, likes and dislikes, and suitability for various living situations. Unlike with dogs from pet stores – and even from breeders, especially for puppies – many shelters have performed temperament tests on all of their dogs, and know from previous owners what a good fit will be for them.
Pro #3: Dogs that have had a rough life can be the most loyal and appreciative of simple pleasures and a stable home. There is no joy more heartwarming than watching my twelve-year-old rescued Italian Greyhound – who was locked in a cage for nine years and all of whose teeth had to be removed due to painful infection – manically gum a bully stick for hours in sheer bliss.
Cons: none. Well, maybe not. If money truly is the root of all evil, then since adopting a shelter dog will save you money, adopting a shelter dog will leave you with more money and so will cause you more problems. Somehow, though, I think that is a problem that most people won’t mind having. 😉