Shop or Adopt Responsibly
Updated: Feb 6, 2021
So many people have already tackled this subject but I want to give my take anyway. We live in an era where getting animals from shelters is popular. That's not opinion, that's just fact. I grew up with rescue animals. My parents got our English Cocker Spaniel from a shelter. Our cats (largely) came from shelters. My roommate came home with a rescue mix. And then I brought home a little rescue mix too. And a year later brought home another rescue, this time a purebred dog.
My roommate's dog came with a host of issues. He barked at me for literally eight hours the first time I met him. He submissive urinated with every new person he met. He was missing a leg (though honestly he got around just fine). He was reactive on leash and very prone to ear and eye infections. I loved that little dog, but he was a handful and, if I'm honest, was the dog that got me started down the road to dog training.
With Argos, my little italian greyhound/chihuahua mix I lucked out in the temperament department. After a month or two he was a perfect, well adjusted dog. I lucked out. He'd spent the first seven months of his life in a yard and was practically a blank slate. But the rescue I got him from (now defunct) removed his rear dewclaws before sending him home. The stitches were badly done and the first day I got him home, he tore them out. I had to spend hundreds of dollars to put him under anesthesia again in order to get them fixed and he also had giardia. Aside from that he developed epilepsy around three years old and he gets vaccine reactions. And I got lucky with him. So lucky.
Ash was rescued from a yard in Qatar- he was likely under three months old, malnourished, and covered in fleas and ticks. The Sighthound Underground brought him to the US where he stood a better chance of being adopted (yes, he had all his documentation. They've very thorough and vetting their dogs). I adopted him a month after he came to the US. I love Ash dearly but he has so many quirks. To this day he will still hide under the table when something too out of the ordinary happens. He has relatively bad leash reactivity (now well managed) and mild barrier reactivity. He resource guards mildly as well. He is prone to a variety of skin issues. He had a never ending string of urinary tract infections when I got him. He also had giardia when I got him which took forever to clear up. And I almost lost him to an intestinal infection about a year after I got him. I've spent a couple thousand dollars in his vet bills, easy. He has flat feet and badly attached shoulder assembly (I would guess both epigenetic caused by bad nutrition as a young puppy). His skin tears so easily and it didn't help that he was the clumsiest teenager I've ever met. He submissive peed for almost two years when we went to leash him and finally grew out of that. And yet I am still incredibly lucky with him. No again, manageable prey drive, super smart, great with people including kids and dogs.
All three of these dogs are mild compared to many of the rescue dogs that I've worked with. I've seen true aggression and level four bites (the dog grabbed and shook or bit multiple times deeply). Far more commonly, however I see fear reactivity (and some fear aggression), leash reactivity, barrier frustration, separation anxiety, terrible resource guarding. And it has only been the rescue dogs that I've had to recommend muzzling with before I felt comfortable working closely with them. There are certainly exceptions to this. I have worked with many dogs with bad resource guarding that clearly has a genetic component for instance, but that's a post for another time. The more I work with newly rescued dogs, the more I realize that I personally will not likely rescue again. There may be an exception, but it's not likely. I work with dogs that have behaviors issues all day, every day. I don't want a project. I want predictability. And both of those are okay.
When I bought Anubi home I finished his last with of puppy shots and the next time we into the vet was for his boosters. He has been incredibly healthy beyond a bump or scratch here or there, this despite the fact that we play so many dog sports. And then I brought home Amidi and then Amalu and there were no surprise health issues. No allergies suddenly. No surprise epigenetic issues. No behavioral tendencies I wasn't already prepared for because I knew the breed and knew what to expect. And let me tell you, it was so incredibly restful.
I had a client once tell me: "It is my privilege to rescue a dog." And those words resonated with me because they are so profoundly true. You have the have enough resources to deal with unexpected medical issues or behavioral problems. You to have enough time and mental energy to working through (or adapting to) a dog's quirks. That is mental energy I don't have any more. I just want to go home and have reliable and desireable behaviors. And while raising a puppy is a lot of work too, I know exactly what to expect and when while I'm doing it. That's a luxury I don't have with an adult rescue. Ultimately, it comes down to priorities and preferences. In now way am I against responsible rescue. I just finished processing an application for the group I got Ash from. I volunteer through my local humane society and have a job interview with them as well. Find the dog that fits best for you. If you're stay at home people with young kids, don't get a dog because they're cute when that dog is a border collie who will nip you running kids and then wasn't a ten mile hike a day. If you want a high drive working dog, don't get the seven year old lab mix from the shelter. If you want a steady dog that has loads of handler focus and work ethic but isn't doing of getting pet by strangers, please, come get an azawakh from me (no really, please do, that's my ideal home). I got turned down from saluki breeders before getting Ash (my friends with salukis would laugh at that these days). I got turned down from rescues too; I was too young, in an apartment at the time, worked eight hours, etc. If that's your case, do your research, find a breeder or rescue that has shared values and form a relationship with them. And please, if you need help choosing a breeder or rescue, contact me and in happy to help.