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Adopting a Rescue Dog

Updated on December 5, 2014

I have rescued three dogs so far, and every one of those experiences has been different. As with most things in life, there are things you just can’t anticipate when adopting a rescue dog until they happen to you. I’m sure I have plenty more to learn, but I have picked up many valuable lessons along the way, which I am going to share below, in no particular order.

Ah, the satisfaction of a job well done

Hope, aka Hootie, helping with laundry
Hope, aka Hootie, helping with laundry | Source

Try to be at least a little objective

Try not to fall for the first handsome face you see
Try not to fall for the first handsome face you see | Source

Lesson #1: Make a list of questions, and decide what your “show stoppers” are.

Websites such as Pet Finder are pretty good about providing basic information about dogs, like whether the dog is house trained, heartworm status, medical issues, if the dog gets along with other dogs, if the dog responds well to children, and basic temperament of the dog. Make your own list and make sure you get answers to all of your questions.

I always ask if dogs are house trained. From my experience, a vague or “tap dance” answer means no. You might hear things like, “Well, we really don’t give him the opportunity” and “We take him out every two hours,” etc. Assume any answer other than an emphatic, “Yes, he’s house trained, and never has accidents” to mean “Actually, no, the house training has not been a booming success.”

It's Different Adopting a Puppy vs Adult Dog

Miss Mocha Bean at about 6 weeks old.
Miss Mocha Bean at about 6 weeks old. | Source

Lesson #2: Don’t expect your new dog to be like your old dog.

My first experience with adopting a rescue dog was Miss Mocha Bean Crayne. She came from a veterinarian’s office when she was only four weeks old. She was a Boykin Spaniel, and the doggie love of my life. My next rescue dog, Hope, was also a Boykin, and without realizing it, I was expecting her to be the same as Miss Mocha Bean. I guess being the same breed, somehow I thought they would be alike. Pretty silly right? I got Miss Mocha Bean at four weeks old, and Hope was somewhere between three and four years old. It was unknown how long she had been living in the wild. I’m sure puppy vs adult had something to do with it, but their differences were many, and Hope’s responses in situations often caught me by surprise.

Our Beautiful One-Eyed Hootie

The vet did a great job of closing her eye socket
The vet did a great job of closing her eye socket | Source

Lesson #3: Ask for your new dog’s medical record.

I found my second Boykin, Hope, online. She had been hit by a car in Charlotte, N.C. and taken to a vet by a couple good Samaritans. She had a fractured pelvis, and had lost an eye. There is a Boykin rescue organization, but the volunteer refused to care for her because of her injuries. She was then taken in by a small local rescue, Project Halo. She was kept in the house with the family, and it took about four months to nurse her back to health. They actually did not expect her to walk again without surgery, but one day she started walking.

I was stationed in Illinois when I got Hope. One of the Project Halo volunteers met my brother and me halfway, in Knoxville, Tennessee, at her aunt’s house. We had some nice transition time, which I think is important. She brought me Hope’s x-rays and medical record, which had quite a few surprises. I think Hope’s foster mother misunderstood a few things, like why her hip surgery was deferred. It was deferred because she had multiple internal injuries, and they were waiting to see if she would survive before doing orthopedic surgery.

Keep Something Familiar

Nothing like the comfort of a soft familiar blanket.
Nothing like the comfort of a soft familiar blanket. | Source

Lesson #4: Ask to keep something familiar to your new dog.

Ask the foster family for something that you can take that will smell and feel familiar to your rescue dog, and give him comfort. This could be his bed, blanket, or a toy. Take new replacement items to exchange. Don’t worry if your dog’s items are old and second hand, and you bought new items. It’ll be worth it to your dog. Sebastian’s foster parents gave us a blanket, and his favorite goodie bones.

Get an Appropriate Sized Kennel


Lesson #5: Buy an appropriate sized kennel.

Before you bring your adopted dog home, make sure you have an appropriate sized kennel. The kennel should be large enough for your dog to stand up and turn around. They want to feel like they’re in a small cave.

I must admit, we’re not very big on kennels at our house, but when we first brought Hope, and later Sebastian home, we used the kennels a fair bit. We put them in the kennels so we could eat our meals in peace. We put them in their kennels for their meals. Sebastian went to his first vet visits in his kennel, and was transported in his kennel for a few road trips.

Working Dogs

Hootie after working the night shift.  Have you ever been so tired you could sleep sitting up?
Hootie after working the night shift. Have you ever been so tired you could sleep sitting up? | Source

Use a Kennel, Harness, or Dog Car Seat

Hootie in her harness in the truck
Hootie in her harness in the truck | Source

Lesson #6: Buy a harness or car seat, and do not transport animals in the front seat.

For small dogs, it works pretty well to use their kennel for traveling. Hope weighs over 30 pounds however, and her kennel is pretty large. We have a padded harness for her, and strap her in through the seatbelt in the back seat. She would much prefer to be up front, but the back seat is safer, just like with kids.

Solvit 62295 Pet Vehicle Safety Harness, Medium
Solvit 62295 Pet Vehicle Safety Harness, Medium
Hootie is ALWAYS harnessed in for car trips.

Cave Bed

Dachshunds love to burrow, and Sebastian loves his cave bed.
Dachshunds love to burrow, and Sebastian loves his cave bed. | Source

Lesson #7: Buy a dog bed, toys, food and other basics.

When adopting a rescue dog, it is a good idea to already have the basics.

Aside from a kennel, you’ll want to have necessities such as a dog bed, collar, leash, toys, shampoo, dog food, and goodie bones.

Think of it as their homecoming present. You don’t want to get your new family member home, then realize you need to make a shopping trip because you weren’t prepared.

You could browse Doctors Foster and Smith or Care A Lot Pets for ideas.

Sock Monkey Bed

Sebastian is not sure about this bed yet.
Sebastian is not sure about this bed yet. | Source

Couch Bolster Bed

Hope sleeping on her new "couch".
Hope sleeping on her new "couch". | Source

Lesson #8: Just like kids, you can’t control who your new dog will bond with.

When I got Hope, it was shortly after my brother graduated from college and came to live with me. I had to leave every day at about 6:30 a.m. to go to work, and he didn’t have to leave until two hours later. He and Hope spent that two hours having lovey dovey time. So my new Boykin bonded to my brother. Traitors both of them!

I finally knew how my ex-spouse felt. He had rescued Miss Mocha Bean from the vet he was working for. He took her to work with him, bathed her every couple days, and took her to the park. Despite it all, she bonded to me. He used to always say, “I love her and she loves you.”

Look, I'm a Meercat!

Actually, we highly discourage this posture, because doxies have bad backs, and it's not good for them.
Actually, we highly discourage this posture, because doxies have bad backs, and it's not good for them. | Source

Vet Visit Means Sedation

We carry Sebastian to the vet on a large serving tray.
We carry Sebastian to the vet on a large serving tray. | Source

Lesson #9: Before adopting, ask if your recue dog has been socialized or if he shows signs of aggression.

Since my brother stole my dog, a couple years later, I went to the internet again and started shopping for another dog. I decided I wanted a male dachshund. I’m not really sure why. I had not had a male dog since I was a young child, and I had never had a dachshund. I found Sebastian on Pet Finder as an All Texas Dachshund Rescue. He was about five hours away in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Unbeknownst to me, dachshunds are in the top five of dogs that bite. I knew he was with a breeder, and he and his mate were dropped off at a shelter. I even knew she was adopted right away and he was “terrified”. It didn’t occur to me that he would have poor “people skills”, and be fearful. It didn’t occur to me to ask, and neither the ATDR nor the foster family volunteered this information.

Sebastian has to be sedated before any vet visit, then given additional sedation by injection and knocked completely out for any veterinary care. In the early days, he bit every member of the household. Mint Julep Masque prevents infection. Good to know with a doxie.

Getting Along

She doesn't try to eat me anymore.  Now I'm her favorite toy.
She doesn't try to eat me anymore. Now I'm her favorite toy. | Source

Lesson #10: Get a Trainer or enroll your dog in school.

It took a long time to decide to get our second rescue dog Sebastian, because we discovered early on that Hope did not like dogs. We used to dog sit for our Air Force work friends in Illinois. The first to stay with us after we got Hope was Benji Williams, a 3 ½ pound Yorkie with chronic renal failure. When we introduced him to Hope, she tried to eat him! We were shocked. And it wasn’t just her initial reaction. She ended our dog sitting days.

When we moved to Texas, my brother and Hope found a trainer through Pet Smart, and had some private lessons. After we got Sebastian, all four of us enrolled in puppy school, even though we were all adults. Our trainer just wanted us to concentrate on socialization. The up side is the course and the course book has lots of great, basic information.

Hootie Girl at the computer, taking a little rest from research.
Hootie Girl at the computer, taking a little rest from research. | Source

Lesson #11: Buy a book.

As we say at our house, books are our friends. First of all, if you are considering adopting a purebred dog, get a book that outlines basic traits, exercise needs, grooming needs, etc., and common medical problems of various breeds.

We bought about three books when we were considering what breed of dog we might want to adopt. One book did a great job of outlining most common health issues of each breed. Another book did a good job of outlining breed traits. Three books might be a little nutty, but I highly recommend at least one.

If you are considering a specific breed dog, get a book on that breed. It should cover all of the above. It should also give house training and other advice specific to that breed’s traits.

Well Doggie Visits

Hope's first visit with Dr. Davis.
Hope's first visit with Dr. Davis. | Source

Lesson #12: Take your new dog for a “well doggie visit”.

I’ve always taken my rescue dogs in for well doggie visits. I figure I want the veterinarian to know what my dog is like when s/he is well, so there will be a baseline in case I need to take him or her in sick. I also get basic blood work, including thyroid profile and ehrlichia titer, for baseline numbers.


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