Are Shelters a Good Place to get a Pet?

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Recently, the Washington Post published a story, “Why I’d Never Adopt a Shelter Dog Again”. The author told a tale of woe about adopting three shelter dogs and encountering various health issues with them over the years. Mind you, one of the dogs lived to age nine and her complaints were about increased vet care for a senior dog. The article created a firestorm reaction to its negative spin on ‘shelter’ dogs.
SlimDoggy adopt-a-dog

The disturbing part of the story was the shortsightedness of the author in recognizing that health issues she attributed to her dogs being from shelters are issues than could befall ANY pet no matter their lineage or prior home. Cancer doesn’t discriminate and neither does old age. Many health issues arise from what you feed and how you care for your dog.
The following week, Good Morning America aired a piece on the risks of adopting a shelter dog as a follow-up to a story about an adopted dog that bit one of the children. The dog had a known history of aggression, but the family claims there was no warning provided by the shelter. That may be, but the family did not take responsibility on their own to seek advice or guidance on bringing an adult dog into a family with young children.
What’s disturbing about these stories is where they place the blame. In the first story, the blame was directed at the rescues for adopting out ‘sick’ dogs. In the GMA piece, the blame was spread between the dog (absurd) and the shelter. I can’t comment on the specifics of the adoption because I was not involved, but my experience with shelters and rescues is that they are as forthcoming as possible about known behavioral or health issues because it reduces the frequency of returned pets and prevents liability issues.
But this is missing the larger point: most rescue dogs make wonderful family additions and the age-related health problems or behavioral issues they might experience are the same ones that impact “purebred’ or purchased dogs.
When you bring a pet into your home, whether it’s a dog, a cat or a turtle, that animal is in your care and your responsibility. Certainly buying from a reputable breeder and knowing the dog’s lineage is beneficial in predicting the animal’s core nature and potential health issues. But the care, nutrition, training and overall environment you provide usually influences their behavior and longevity more than their breeding.
People should recognize that adult dogs, just like adult humans, have life experiences – both good and bad – and those life experiences shape their behavior and their health.
Case in point, our rescue, Jack was 25 lbs overweight and roughly 7 years old when we adopted him. He had been in the shelter for over a year, returned from adoptive families twice and was so hyper and anxious he was on Prozac. He was reactive to strangers and dogs and spent most of his day either digging or barking. Not an optimal adoption candidate.
Before we brought him home, we did our homework. We asked about his health and his behavior. We took him for several test outings, brought him to our home to meet our other dog and thought long and hard about adopting him and how we would integrate him into our household. Did we think he came with no health or behavior problems or they would magically disappear when he came through our door? Of course not, we knew it would be challenging and frustrating and we might want to give up at times.
We also knew the rewards of giving him a 2nd (or 3rd) chance would be great.
As responsible pet owners, the first thing we did was take him to the vet for a thorough check-up, then to the groomers for an overdue bath and then we called an experienced dog trainer to work with us and Jack to help us get him acclimated to our home and our rules. It’s the first thing anyone should do when bringing an adult pet into the home – get experienced help. And if you can’t find it or afford it, well, maybe you should rethink the adoption. You must be willing and ABLE to care for the pet properly
I’m not going to say it’s been easy, but three years later; Jack is a great dog, pet and family member. He dropped the need for Prozac & the extra weight within months with a healthy diet, steady exercise and lots of love. Jack is now the inspiration and spokes-dog for our company,, a blog dedicated to the health, nutrition and wellness of your pets.
So, what’s my point?
My point is that no dog is perfect, whether from a breeder or from a shelter. It’s the owner that determines whether a dog becomes a successful family member. Adopting a shelter dog, especially ones with ‘issues’ like Jack, and watching them learn to just be a dog, can bring you immeasurable joy. Just knowing that we likely saved Jack from a lifetime in a shelter makes me happy and that in turn helps my health. Please, don’t discount dogs from shelters based on some ill-conceived notion.
Many people, like the ones in those stories, adopt dogs with no thought about integrating the dog into their family. They assume they bring the dog home and the dog loves everyone, is perfectly well-behaved and never gets sick. Unrealistic and unfair. Remember, there is no guarantee your purebred dog will behave better or be healthier. They need to be trained, well fed, exercised, loved and provided for the same as a shelter dog.
Don’t blame the dog, don’t blame the shelter. Look in the mirror and examine the effort you put into creating a safe, secure and nurturing environment for your pet. YOUR behavior is the most significant factor in your pet’s health, behavior and well-being.

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  1. While both my current dogs are from a rescue, they were shelter dogs first. I love them both, warts and all!
    Lee and Phod recently posted…Black and White Sunday – Jazzi’s TacosMy Profile

  2. I couldn’t agree more with you. My Labs have come from a variety of sources. Actually, the ones with the known and best lineages have had the most problems. A certain amount is genes but I agree that a lot is how we care for our dogs.
    KB recently posted…Sunset SundayMy Profile

    • It’s a combination of nature and nurture for sure – just like with humans, but most dogs are so eager to please…if they know what is expected of them.
      mkob recently posted…Are Shelters a Good Place to get a Pet?My Profile

  3. Hi Y’all!

    Until Hawkeye, all our dogs had been rescues. (Hawk was 14 months when we got him)

    We’ve had mostly retrievers. Shelter dogs are so appreciative of a loving home. A good training class helps bonding with the dog and with socialization. A good AKC instructor can help you, the human handler, overcome any bad body language that confuses your dog. Even living in very rural areas, and although we had to travel an hour to a training class, it is definitely worth it when bring an adult dog into your home.

    BrownDog’s Human
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Y’all Missed It!My Profile

  4. Great rebuttal of both stories!! Ducky is our shelter pup. While we were not prepared for the challenges we have had to face, we love her dearly and are determined to help her grow into a happy, healthy, adult. (Which is why I like the term \\\”pet parent\\\”. Our pets are as much our responsibility as a human child would be. And we do our best to allow them to be dogs, not furry little humans with 4 legs.)

    • Thanks, we agree you are the parent of the pet…and need to ‘raise’ them, even if like Jack they are 7 or 8 or whatever.
      mkob recently posted…Are Shelters a Good Place to get a Pet?My Profile

  5. OMD! Your last few sentences are spot on. Wherever you get the dog from, if you–the human–aren’t properly trained, nothing matters. And who wouldn’t want to save a life? Good for you for rescuing Jack. This is one of those cases where everybody wins!

    Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats.
    Susan and the gang from Life with Dogs and Cats recently posted…Story (and video): A Dog and His Ball: a cautionary “tail”My Profile

  6. We couldn’t agree more! All dogs want to do is please humans, it is up to US to show them. Whenever I see a troubled dog, I always look at the other end of the leash! Great post!!
    Miley’s Daily Scoop recently posted…Soaking in MischiefMy Profile

  7. I agree with you, dogs aren’t perfec, no matter if you have a puppy from show winners or if you rescued a dog you found on the street. people who expect to get the perfect dog what never barks, never destroys something, and what’s healthy for 100 years should get a tamagotchi :o(

    easyweimaraner recently posted…easyblog MISCHIEF MOANDAYMy Profile

    • A tamagotchi …hahaha – I had to go look that up, but you’re right Easy – get one of them if that’s what you expect.
      mkob recently posted…Are Shelters a Good Place to get a Pet?My Profile

  8. Wow! WHat an incredibly powerful interesting post!
    Thank you so much for sharing this.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…Dog lives after falling into hot tar pitMy Profile

  9. This was too good not to share. 🙂 All four of our furry indoor critters are adopted. In addition to the whole getting an already housebroken dog, adoption rocks on so many levels.
    Flea recently posted…Dogs on Trampolines, FBM 92My Profile

  10. *Standing and clapping!! What a great post about choosing a shelter pet. Integrating any new member into a family takes love and patience. I’m sure it’s the same with children or blending families. Jack is such a great success story. ☺
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Healthier Pets Happier Lives #GetHealthyHappyMy Profile

  11. I adopted a little dog from the shelter that would have been euthanized as it was during Hurricane Jeanne (Florida), and there were too many dogs surrendered to the shelter. She was, and is still is, mistrustful of other people. She has mellowed through the years, but I do not trust her completely as now she has cataracts and has trouble with her vision. But Lola has become the perfect little girl. Lola was loyal and followed my mother everywhere, trying to take care of my mom when she was ill. Now I dress her up like a baby when it’s cold, and kiss and cuddle her daily. Lola is about 12 pounds and now I take care of her like she took care of my mom. I am sure Lola has a reason to be mistrustful of people……….. dogs never forget. 😉

  12. “If it bleeds, it leads.” The news will always go after eye-grabbing stories as opposed to providing a nuanced evaluation of a subject. But you can’t control the news, and you can’t control how shelters run. What you can control is your own actions. It’s a big responsibility to bring a dog home and it’s up to each one of us to make sure we’re fully prepared to manage all aspects of that responsibility. Awesome post.

  13. Rescues Rock! We had such a great time filming our episode about debunking myths about these awesome dogs. They all deserve a second chance. Adopt Don’t Shop!

  14. Wonderful article! While most people who adopt dogs expect (and enjoy) working with a shelter dog and watching their progress, there are a few people out there that expect things to always go perfectly with little or no effort on their part. I just wish they would keep their opinions to themselves.
    Elaine recently posted…Getting Your Dog’s AttentionMy Profile

  15. These days, humans never want to take the blame for anything, so they blame the shelters. Mom adopted her Trine from a shelter…a 100 lb adult black dog, and she was the best dog ever I hear. They had some rough patches in the beginning, but it all came together with a bit of work. I think especially families getting their first dog just assume every dog is like Lassie on TV, smart, trained, would never hurt a flea no matter what etc, but that is not reality!
    Emma recently posted…Break The Ice With A Walk #DogWalkingWeekMy Profile

  16. Hear! Hear!! I love it. I am standing up and applauding this post!!

    You may not believe this but Delilah was a tad bit wild when we got her. 😉 That very first day I wanted to return her, but then she showed me some vulnerability and I knew that I would NOT be another human who failed her. And that is the right wording. Humans fail animals all the time but the animal gets blamed.

    Thank you for making that point and doing it in such an articulate way.

  17. The best takeaway from your post is that any dog could end up with health issues and any dog could end up with behavioral problems. Don’t we all know plenty of “purebred” dogs from breeders that ended up as nightmares for their owners? It’s like some people take it to the other extreme too and assume all “purebred” dogs will somehow end up perfect. They won’t. No dog is perfect.

    There are so many shelter dogs out there that are very good dogs and would make perfect pets for the right families. So glad Jack is in a good home where he is loved and understood.
    Lindsay recently posted…Do you play fight with your dog?My Profile

  18. Jack has blessed you because you were/are a true blessing to him. Wonderful! Thanks for sharing.

  19. Such an amazing article – dogs really can amaze us when we give them the kind of environment that makes them thrive. I know from owning Laika that no dog is perfect – with the help of professional trainers and a whole lot of commitment we\’ve managed to turn her into a wonderful, loving companion. It was so discouraging to hear those stories about shelter dogs – for all the hard work so many great people to do to find homes for animals in need these are the stories that tend to get so much attention – it\’s a shame. I\’d really love for those same journalists to cover all the health problems that arise from buying dogs from bad breeders to prove the point that there\’s no guarantee on health no matter where our dogs come from or what their breed.

  20. Great piece, I love the advice you offer to anyone considering bringing a dog into their family, it really is a huge commitment, no matter where you get them, a huge commitment that requires a lot of research and resources, but when done thoroughly is so rewarding for all! 🙂

    I hope you’re having a fun day,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂
    snoopy recently posted…Monday Mischief – Is Snoopy in trouble again?!My Profile

  21. Great article and commentary! Yes, again and again, humans fail animals. But what can we do? We can re-dedicate ourselves to doing the right thing: Spending the necessary time and energy (and even $) to fulfill the needs of our companion animals, to give shelter/rescue animals a second chance at having a forever family and home, to speak out or comment when you see bias/prejudice being passed off as ‘fact’ online, to champion animal welfare rights in your community, etc.

  22. Excellent article – it makes me sad when I read/watch news which puts having or adopting pets in a negative light. Obviously pets can get sick and have huge vet bills (one of my cats broke his leg which required surgery…let me tell you, I never imagined that would happen and it was shocking how much that cost!) but why should those negatives outweigh the benefits of having a pet. I like your point that disease doesn’t discriminate – pets from any walk of life can unfortunately get very ill, it is not specific to just shelters.
    Holly recently posted…Tuesday’s Tails: Adopt a Shelter Dog!My Profile

  23. What the mainstream media forgets to remind people of is that there are no guarantees when you get a pet from anywhere. Puppy, kitten, adult….you just can’t know, and you just have to be prepared to deal with whatever comes along. We got our first dog from a shelter and she died of cancer at age 6. Our golden retriever Moses died of cancer at age 8….he came from a home breeder. You have to commit to whatever you get, like anything else in life.
    Jan K recently posted…Tuesday’s Tails – Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog (or Two) MonthMy Profile

  24. Great post! I got back from vacation and found out my boss adopted a 2 year old pregnant dog from a rescue group, she is sweet as pie. The rescue group wanted her to have the puppies so in two weeks we will have puppies to rear in the right direction.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Wordless Wednesday~Some Privacy Please!My Profile

  25. I agree with your points, it doesn’t make much difference whether you adopt a dog from a shelter or any other place. The thing is that the dog will adapt the things which teach him. If you take proper care of your pet and give healthy food, then pet from any place is a good place to get a pet.

    • That’s right – we’ve had pets from all sorts of places – how we care for them is most important.
      mkob recently posted…Walk Your Dog Week – Wrap-upMy Profile

  26. Catching up after vacation. 🙂 I do think that at times shelters are to blame. Just as there are breeders who make bad placements or do not disclose issues in breeding or dogs, there are shelters that do the same.

    Case in point. I have a friend who adopted a puppy from a “no kill” shelter. Almost immediately the dog started to show aggression issues. Very unusual in a puppy. The shelter denied seeing anything out of the ordinary with this puppy. The new owners took the pup to puppy classes and used only positive training. The puppy was smart. But the aggression was starting to become pretty severe over food, toys, its space. They consulted trainers, again using only positive training. Fast forward to when the puppy was 9 months old. It bit the owner so severely that it required an emergency room visit and stitches, (50+). Before the dog bit, it did not give the classic warning signs.

    They immediately called the shelter for guidance and the shelter just said they had none to offer. They had not seen issues with this puppy so could not suggest any help. I suggested a couple of trainers that I know who recommended a couple of behaviorists to evaluate and help with the dog’s issues. They took it to one and didn’t like his advice so consulted a second.

    Both behaviorists had said the same thing. The dog had major issues and training would not solve them. They could take the people’s money but the dog would not improve. It would always be dangerous. One even predicted that the dog would injure someone before the month was out. Both recommended the dog be put down. Both also said there was no way this behavior could not have been seen when the dog was a young pup.

    They did not want to give up on the dog. It was about 10 months old by now. Still a puppy. Sure enough within about a week it attacked the owner again and another trip to the ER and more stitches.

    They again contacted the shelter and they said they could not and would not take the dog back. They were a no kill so they weren’t taking this one back. They offered to put it on the adoptable list but the dog had to stay with them. That was all they offered.

    By this time keeping the dog was not an option so they took it to the Humane Society and had it put down. They were heartbroken…still are.

    I realize this is an extreme case, but I have heard of others. As I said, I also know breeders who are not supportive of puppy buyers either. But my point it that the people may not totally be to blame in the case of the aggressive dog. I do not think shelters always disclose a dog’s history if it involves aggression. IMO that should be mandatory. They should also be required to take pets back in cases like this.

    The larger point I guess is that anyone who knows my friend and hears the story, what is the likelihood they are going to seek out a shelter pet? It was a bad situation all the way around.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Wordless Wednesday–Tree MazeMy Profile

    • A sad story and a tough one. Not knowing how old the puppy was when they adopted him it’s hard to know if the shelter created the aggressive behavior or if some of it was just innate. I mean there are many humans who’s brains just don’t fire right – could be the same with a dog. I agree the shelter should have taken him back, but they probably foresaw the need to put him down and being no kill…not an excuse, just a rationale. I hope your friends find there way to getting another pet.
      mkob recently posted…SlimDoggy | Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

      • Pup was 8 weeks when they got it.

        Yes they got another dog fairly quickly. They are dog people. The pup was because they had lost an older dog. They also have another older dog. This time they went to a breeder. I was unsure of the breeder they picked, but so far it has worked out. They got a lab with a gentle temperament.
        2 brown dawgs recently posted…Wordless Wednesday–Tree MazeMy Profile

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