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Choosing a Rescue Dog

There is something immensely satisfying in taking in a rescue dog, in many cases someone else has either been unable to handle or it became a burden or a nuisance, it amazes me that people take on dogs almost as a fashion accessory and discard it when it is either no longer cool or convenient.

The decision to take on a dog should never ever be taken lightly the whole family must buy into the idea or the problems it can cause can be terminal for a relationship that may already be creaking.

I have had clients that told me that they bought a dog so as not to look out of place when walking, they clearly hated the animals and the dog sadly knew it was unloved and unwanted. In most of these cases I recommended re-homing.

Dogs can be incredibly perceptive they can suffer from loneliness, anxiety, stress depression, and often grieve for lost pals and owners. Sometimes they give up the will to live and die from their grief. The owners do, not always reciprocate this total and utter loyalty,, they sometimes take on dogs without thinking through just what a commitment long term dog ownership really is.

This article is to give you some idea of what it is like to take on a Rescue Dog.

Which Rescue Group?

Rescue societies come in all shapes and sizes and with a variety of policies. Some rescue groups have no facilities to keep dogs; they make referrals from the current owners to potential adopters. Others such as Battersea have enormous resources and large kennel facilities,

All try and help owners find new homes for their dogs, give advice for solving problems, maintain a list of available dogs, and screen potential owners. Most rescue societies are anxious to place dogs in good homes. A few are over-anxious and skimp on temperament evaluation, health issues, or sterilization. And a few have such strict contracts and adoption procedures, that it is easier to adopt a child. These are the ones that place very few dogs. And it is the poor dogs that suffer because of this. If you have gone through an exhaustive interview process only to be turned down because of some minor rule, it can be very annoying in the extreme and puts some really good people off taking on rescue dogs,

Some rescue societies go overboard in establishing guidelines for responsible dog care. I recently lost a much-loved dog to cancer; I have two other dogs and decided that I would like to take on another rescue. This well-known rescue centre (no names) insisted on a lengthy interview and a home visit, even though they knew me and regularly contacted me for advice. Given what I do for a living I found that somewhat institutionalised. They even said that the staff at the centre would have to go through this same procedure.

Please try and support your local small rescue charity. In my area. “Hounslow Animal Welfare Society” (HAWS} do a brilliant job with all types of animals, including cats, dogs, parrots, rabbits, etc, all on a shoestring budget and run by unpaid volunteers. These are the charities you should give too, not the bit multinationals such as RSPCA whose vast charitable donations are eaten up by enormous running costs, it has been suggested that approx 3p in the pound go to the animals they are supposed to help and 97p go on running costs including millions on their political agenda's.

Rescue dogs should always be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and at least relatively healthy before purchase. A dog on medication for an ear infection or arthritis can easily go to a new home; a dog with heartworm or an active respiratory or intestinal infection should stay put until the disease is cured to avoid the stress of relocation while under treatment.

Good rescuers try to match each applicant with an appropriate dog. They know if a particular dog likes kids, can get along with other pets, needs lots of exercise, plays rough, is easy to train, is afraid of men, jumps fences, etc. They cannot make a good match if they don't ask questions about the type of home the adopter will provide. So be prepared for the following questions . . .

  • Why do you want this breed?
  • Do you have enough time and energy for a Border Collie (or a Jack Russell Terrier, Labrador Retriever, or a...)?
  • Do you have a fenced garden?
  • Do you plan to walk the dog a mile or more every day?
  • Will the dog live indoors or outside?
  • Do you have children? How old?
  • Do you have other pets?
  • Do you plan to visit your Vet at least once a year? Etc etc etc.

Choosing the Rescue Dog

Most rescue dogs have had at least one home and sometimes numerous homes. It will normally come with behavioural baggage and some problems, purely from the fact that it has been rejected at least once and in some cases many times.

Some will have been in Kennels or the Rescue centre for some considerable time, that has an effect on the dogs, especially those that are normally used to family life and constant attention. The dog may have been put in a rescue centre because of behavioural problems, which could include aggression, toileting, excessive barking destructive tendencies etc.

Rescued dogs are usually more than six months old, are housetrained, and mainly past the chewing-everything stage, they are normally happy to be placed in a loving home. Many have been precipitously uprooted from loved family by some misfortune, and some have been abused or neglected and need lots of patience and tender loving care, to get past the trauma in their short lives.

The initial adjustment can sometimes be difficult as the dog may need to learn to trust again or even for the first time. Separation anxiety, fear of noises, and attempts to run away are common. But once past the first few months, when the dog learns to depend on the kindness of his new owners, then the bond is forged.

Here are some points to keep in mind when choosing a dog .

  1. If your time is limited, choose a dog that needs little grooming, minimal training, and only moderate exercise.
  2. If your budget is tight, choose a small-to-medium dog that needs little grooming and minimal training ands less food.
  3. If you are an inexperienced dog owner , do not choose a large dominant dog or a dog with high energy level unless you are committed to six months of steady, patient, consistent training and a dozen years of daily walks of a mile or more.
  4. If you have children or elderly people in your home, do not choose a large, dominant dog that needs lots of training and exercise or a high-strung dog that is fearful of high-pitched voices and childish behaviour.
  5. Be prepared to walk the dog at least twice a day and to clean up his/her waste.

They may not be any background or information on the dog not even the dog's original name or age or even what crossbreed it really is. Many will have been found wandering the streets cold and hungry. Whatever the case there are a few principles and rules you should adhere to.

Rule 1. Do your homework decide on size and basic type of breed before you even start looking. Look at your working and time commitments. Can you really afford the time and expense of dog ownership?

Rule 2. If you have children under five I would strongly recommend against taking on a rescue dog, the temperament may be unknown or masked by the environment of the kennels. In most cases responsible rescue centres will not allow their dogs to be re-homed to couples with young children.

Rule 3. Never buy on impulse or because you feel sorry for a frightened and timid dog, especially if you are not an experienced and confident dog owner.

Rule 4. Discuss what you want in a dog (e.g. an active dog that will play willingly, happily go on long walks, or a homely laid back breed of dog that will happily sit for hours by the fire, and only requires gentle exercise.

Rule 5 . If you have decided on a pedigree check the breed requirements and possible problems, discuss the positive and negatives of that breed with breeders and the rescue staff.

Rule 6. Don't expect to walk into a rescue centre and walk out with a dog. They will need to check your suitability to own a dog including your home, garden, and work commitments, in many cases they will pay a home visit and will require you to complete a long questionnaire.

Rule 7. Once you have decided that you are going to re-home a dog then prepare the home and garden well before the arrival

Remember your new dog will be ‘Stressed' , worried and uncertain of you, your family and the new surroundings/environment. He/she must have time to adjust. By taking on a rescued dog, you will be taking on his/her past too, and this could be an unhappy past.

Among companion animals, dogs are unmatched in their devotion, loyalty and friendship to humans. Anyone who has ever loved and owned a dog will confirm that. The excitement your dog shows when you come home, the wagging tail at the sound of the lead being picked up, the delight in the games and it's head nestled in your lap, these are just some of the rewards of keeping a dog.

Having said that owning a dog is not just a privilege it's a massive responsibility. These beautiful animals depend on us for at the very minimum, food, water and shelter, but they deserve so much more. If you are considering taking a dog into your life, think long hard and seriously about the commitment that dog ownership entails.

Stan Rawlinson ( Doglistener) is a Dog Behaviourist and Obedience Trainer who has owned and worked dogs for over 25 years, starting with Gundogs then moving on to the behavioural and obedience side of Pet Dogs in 1996. He now has a successful practice covering London, Surrey and Middlesex you can visit his Web Site at www.doglistener.co.uk .