navigating the system
Do have that feeling that a fuzzy family member might be in your future? Whether it's your first dog or an addition to an existing menagerie, it's a big decision. Adopting a dog is a commitment of your time, your lifestyle, your finances - and maybe even your furniture!
It can be even more complex as you try to navigate "the system". When HugABull was founded in 2003, there were around a dozen rescue organizations in BC, along with the municipal and SPCA shelters. Now there are hundreds of rescues and not all of them operate professionally or ethically.
You're excited, you're ready to love a new pet, but please do not make an impulse decision or accept a dog from the first rescue you see. This is an important decision and you owe it to you and your future family member to ensure you are a good match.
The Wish List
First, consult with your family and make a wish list. Some parameters to discuss are:
Age. Are you looking for a brand-new puppy who will require a lot of work and training initially? Perhaps a young dog that is past the puppy stage but still energetic and eager to learn? A mature dog that won't give you any surprises? Or a sweet senior that wants to chill on the couch?
Energy level. Do you want an activity partner for three-hour hikes on the weekend? Or a snuggle buddy for Netflix marathons? An independent dog that appreciates personal space, or a lap dog?
Training needs. Are you willing to work on basic obedience only, or are you able to invest extra effort in working through some behaviour challenges?
Sociability. Does your household have other animals, or does your lifestyle require that your dog interact with other animals frequently? Do you have young children who may not mix well with a mouthy puppy or an energetic dog who might knock them over? Do you live in a dense urban area where nervousness around strangers would be difficult to manage?
Environment. Does your housing complex have size or weight restrictions? Do you have stairs that might not be suitable for a creaky senior? A fence that can be scaled by an escape artist.
Grooming and maintenance. Some dogs, like our bullies, are "wash and wear"! Keep in mind that beautiful, luxurious or so-called "hypoallergenic" coats require daily maintenance and a budget for regular grooming.
These are going to be the most important factors in including a good fit. The more open-minded you are about colour, markings, size, shape and breed, the better your odds of meeting your other criteria, which are much more important in the long run!
Be realistic and fair. A dog is a living, sentient being and not a robot, so some training and adjustments will be required. At the same time, if there's anything you know you can't deal with, be honest with yourself and the rescue you're working with. If you require a dog that is fairly "family ready" with minimal behaviour issues, that's fair, but be prepared to wait a little longer to find your match.
Where do I go?
There are so many places to find adoptable dogs. The most common are rescues, shelters, or private re-homing channels.
Shelters may be run by your municipality or by an organization like the SPCA. They may have public visiting hours or require an appointment to view dogs, and you can likely see several at a time. Many, but not all, post their adoptable dogs on sites like Petfinder.
The shelter is a good option if you want to meet dogs up-front, and you are confident in your ability to assess a dog's behaviour for yourself. Many shelters do a great job of interviewing and matching candidates, while others may be lacking in customer service. It depends on the shelter's mandate, culture, and resources.
The caveat to working with a shelter is that you won't have the screening and support that a rescue can provide. You may also have more surprises once the dog comes home, as the dog transitions from a kennel to a home environment. If you wish to adopt a shelter dog but are uncertain about making your own assessment, you can always hire a trainer to come with you and do a kennel assessment for extra insight.
Shelter dogs should come microchipped and/or tattoed, spayed/neutered, vet checked with any major health issues treated or transitioned to the new family with full disclosure and a clear treatment plan. Shelters should take their dogs back if there are any problems in the first weeks or months.
A rescue should provide a more personalized experience than a shelter, and spend more time interviewing you to determine which dog will be a fit. Expect screening processes like phone or Skype interviews, home visits, and reference checks.
The dogs should be subjected to a foster hold where the rescue can learn more about its personality and challenges. Some rescues may do a "foster to adopt" where the dog is moved directly from the shelter to the home. This is acceptable, as long as you are not pressured into adopting the dog before the foster hold is completed. You should never be pressured into adopting the dog and you should be provided with adequate training and other support through the foster period.
A rescue should not place a dog for adoption without a proper foster hold and assessment. This is in the best interest of the dog, the adopter, and the community at large. We recommend additional caution in dealing with rescues that import dogs from outside the country. These dogs often come with unknown health and behavioural backgrounds, and can even carry diseases we rarely see here. Thorough assessments, vet checks, and foster holds are essential in these cases. Do not let anyone talk you into adopting a dog that is sight-unseen, and do not adopt a dog straight off a plane or transport truck, for the safety of everyone involved.
Rescue dogs should come microchipped and/or tattooed, spayed/neutered, and vet checked with any major health issues treated or transitioned to the new family with full disclosure and a clear treatment plan. Rescues should take their dog backs in the initial weeks and months if the adoption doesn't work out. We feel that the most responsible rescues stand by their dogs for life.
Rescues are mostly operated by passionate but overworked volunteers, so you may not have immediate turnaround to calls and emails. Be patient, follow-up, and invest in a long-term relationship with the organization! But at the same time, it's a matter of "buyer beware". There are no standards or laws for operating a rescue. Rescues can sell dogs, adopt out sick or aggressive dogs without disclosure, or fail to vet, spay or neuter their dogs with no legal consequences.
Many people choose to re-home dogs through Craigslist ads, social media, or other channels. This comes with more risk than the above options, because if you end up with a challenging dog, the original owner has no obligation to take him/her back. You may be on your own. At the same time, many people use these channels and have the best of intentions. They may have good reasons for re-homing privately: their local shelter might be full or unwilling to accept the dog; or they wish to take the time and care to find the perfect home for their pet.
If you find yourself in this position, check out our adoption application for examples of questions we ask during the adoption process. Consider hiring a trainer to come with you to assess the dog in his home environment. Don't be afraid to ask for a couple of meet-and-greets, or trial overnight stays, so you can observe the dog in different environments and take your time to think things over.
The best advice we can give you is to make that wish list, and make decisions with your head, not your heart. Take your time. This isn't about saving a dog, responding to an emotional appeal, or getting a dog into your house next week. This is about building a family, and when you find that right dog, it will be worth the wait.