Did you know that October is Adopt a Shelter Dog month? Well, it is! And Charlie was a rescue, so I'm going to take this opportunity to tell you why I think adopting is so great. Instead of throwing out catchy soundbites about the altruism of adopting, though, I want to address some common misconceptions about buying versus rescuing a dog.
I've read a handful of posts and articles floating around the internet that defend a pet-owner's right to purchase a purebred dog from a breeder - honestly, though, as long as dog owners are responsible, I don't think those who don't adopt have anything to apologize for. If you're thinking of getting a dog and you've done all the research and you want to buy from a breeder, then go for it. Give a dog a loving home and I'll be on your side no matter where it came from. But in case you're on the fence about whether or not to adopt, let me share some facts about rescuing shelter dogs by busting a few of the most popular myths:
You can't rescue a puppy.
Most shelters and rescue organizations do, sadly, have puppies available for adoption – many as young as eight weeks, which is how old a puppy you’ll get from a breeder will generally be. Some are born to a mother who was pregnant when she was rescued; others are strays or were surrendered by their owners for one reason or another. It is all too easy to adopt a dog less than twelve months old from shelters and rescues, and it’s also worth remembering that many dogs retain their youthful natures long past their first birthdays. “Puppy” is a subjective descriptor!
(We knew when we got Charlie that we wanted a dog who was around a year and a half old in part because we didn’t want to experience the chaos of true puppyhood but we still wanted a young dog so we could play a major role in his formative early years.)
Rescue dogs endured abuse/trauma before they were rescued, so they'll have lots of emotional issues.
Some dogs do come to rescue shelters after having been treated horrifically, it's true. But, as I mentioned above, some dogs are surrenders, which means that they could have had perfectly happy lives with their first owners despite the fact that they had to be given up. And, in some cases, dogs might come into shelters with no known history. But most rescue organizations will place dogs in trusted foster homes so that any issues can be identified in a safe environment. It is in the organization’s best interest that dogs are matched with forever homes that will be able to take care of them both physically and emotionally; you'll often see dogs' bios include notes about temperament so that families know if their lifestyle works for the dog they want to rescue.
(We have no idea how Charlie came to be rescued. He was brought to Lab Rescue by a kennel out in VA who had been sheltering him, but his history before that is a mystery. We emailed back and forth with his amazing foster mom a few times before meeting him, and she warned us that he "definitely has a couple of cute little quirks, and he's a young guy, so he can be a bit mischievous too sometimes." It's been more than two years, and that is still true!)
Rescue dogs will have a lot of health problems because they haven't been cared for properly.
Well, as with rescues' emotional issues, many physical issues can be identified, addressed, and even cured when the dogs are in shelters and with foster families. Most rescue organizations will pay for everything from heartworm treatment to surgery if it's needed. And, looking ahead as shelter dogs age, many might have fewer health problems than dogs you'd get from a breeder. Purebred dogs are predisposed to serious breed-specific health problems - Labrador Retrievers, for instance, often get hip dysplasia - that are eliminated in cross-breeding, a pedigree that many rescues can claim as mixes. Of course, there are diseases like cancer that can't be predicted, and dogs from breeders and from shelters are equally susceptible to those.
(The only dog we considered adopting before we found Charlie was heartworm positive, and her expenses were being entirely covered by Lab Rescue. We decided not to adopt her because she was about to go into phase two of her treatment and we knew that our lifestyle wasn't appropriate for the care she needed. However, she ended up being a "foster failure," which means that her foster family loved her so much they officially adopted her!)
Rescue dogs are mutts and I want a purebred dog.
There are actually tons of rescue organizations that cater to specific breeds. Even shelters and humane societies that mostly save mixes will sometimes have purebred dogs like Soho, a purebred Australian Cattle Dog at the Washington Animal Rescue League.
(We knew we wanted a lab or a lab-mix so we only worked with the LRCP to find Charlie. He's got something else in him, too - maybe some kind of hound, though Mom thinks he's half gazelle!)
I want a dog that can be trained to work as a therapy dog or a hunting dog or a security dog.
Did you know that a lot of dogs who work in therapy and for the police/military are rescues? It's true. Many dogs used by veterans and in K9 units were found in shelters and trained after being adopted. There are specific breeds that are best suited to specific tasks, but as you read above it's totally possible to adopt purebred dogs if that's what you really want. For other jobs, a dog's suitability for certain kinds of training is based on his temperament, not his breed.
(Before we got Charlie, we actually looked into "rescuing" failed seeing-eye dogs, or young labs who had gone through all the training to be a guide dog but who didn't pass the final tests. The waiting lists for these dogs are years long, though, and they cost a lot of money.)
Adopting from a shelter doesn't have to mean opening your home to an abused, sick, and elderly dog. It can, and people who rescue dogs who check just one of those boxes are saints in my mind, but it doesn't have to. For us, adopting meant choosing a healthy, breed-specific dog who was old enough to already be housebroken and partially trained but who was young enough to have a puppy temperament and about a dozen good years ahead of him. For us, adopting meant bringing Charlie into our lives.
There's a Charlie waiting for you in a shelter right now, if you want him!
all photos from a Lab Rescue party at Dogwood Acres this past August