Adoption Is The Only Option

CityDog Baltimore, January 2017


By Jen Schiller

When it’s time to get a your first pet or add another one to your family, there should be no contest between adopting and buying. Eliminating purchase options, however, does not actually limit your options on where to get your pet. Your local pounds and shelters will have plenty of dogs to choose from. You can also check foster and rescue organizations, or websites like Petfinder and Shelter Pet Project. Rescuing a pet is always the better option over stores, mills, or breeders--and it actually gives you a wider variety of pets to choose from.

You may think buying is better for any number of reasons--you may want a specific breed or only be interested in a puppy. You may want to choose the gender of your pet. Perhaps you believe a shelter or rescue would limit these options when in fact the opposite is often true. On some websites you can even limit your choices by these and other filters. Further, there are certain rescues that cater to specific breeds or dog sizes, like Big Fluffy Dog Rescue or the French Bulldog Rescue Network.

Before diving in, you should certainly do your research on what kind of dog would fit your lifestyle best. Are you planning to spend a lot of time outside, being active with your pet? Do you live in a city, or is there a lot of space for your pet to wander around? Are there other pets in your home? Are there now, or will there soon be small children in your home? Adding a dog to your family is just that--the dog should be considered a family member, and they should match your lifestyle and household makeup.

Choosing your new pet from a local shelter or rescue makes this process even easier, as you can go and meet prospective pups before deciding on one. There are plenty of people who head into a shelter or pound with an idea of the kind of dog they want, but they come out with a totally unexpected pup. Even though breeds have standards, every dog has a personality of their own, and some will take you entirely by surprise. The only way to truly know one dog from another is to meet them before welcoming them into your home. Here are some other reasons that a shelter or rescue is better than a breeder, store, or mill. 



Many gravitate towards puppies because they are cute and small. Often people don’t consider that pups get bigger--and depending on the breed they sometimes get bigger very quickly. Some consider puppies to be manageable because of their size, but don’t take into account the high-energy and bad habits of a young pup. 

Puppies need to be trained on many basic skills. They need to be house broken, and their sleeping schedule is very erratic. They need to be walked every few hours and do not sleep through the night at first--much like a human baby who needs to be fed regularly through the night. Pups should be walked even more frequently to avoid accidents. While they’re inside, they need to be watched so that any soiling can be stopped short and they can be taken outside. 

Not only do puppies have problems knowing when to “go”, they also have trouble knowing when to stop. Puppies often chew on everything from shoes to table legs to human hands and feet. Puppies are teething, learning to socialize, and testing the world around them with their mouths. These habits are a very common reason why pups get dropped off at rescues or shelters; unprepared owners are frustrated with the unexpected behavior issues, and instead of working through them, they give up and leave the dogs to fend for themselves. 

Older dogs have either grown out of this phase or already had it trained out of them. The cliche that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is also untrue--no matter the age of a dog they can usually be trained to follow simple commands with enough patience and practice from a dedicated owner. If you are looking for a reading companion, or a friend to keep you company in your home office, then an older dog is definitely for you. Once dogs grow out of their puppy phase, regardless of their breed, they will certainly settle down a bit. 


The older a dog gets, the less they need to roughhouse and run around in open spaces, and the more amenable they become to lazing about and quietly offering companionship. If your family is looking for a dog to play with and grow up with, a dog in the 1-5 year old range is still a great option. This age is still very easy to find at shelters or rescues, as puppies are often dropped off when they get “too big” or grow out of their adorable baby looks. Many studies have been done on senior citizens and pet companionship, as well. Having a pet gets them moving a little when the dog needs to go on walks, and has been proven to improve quality of life overall. Senior dogs are the perfect fit for older pet owners, as they are a better match in energy level and training needed. 

One major advantage that shelters and rescues have over breeders, stores and mills is that they almost always screen the dogs for temperament. These folks have seen a huge variety of dogs come and go. As a result, they can tell you what a dog will and won’t put up with, they know if the dog will get along with other pets, and whether they’re good with small kids and strangers. Rescues with foster volunteers already know how the dog handles a home environment, how they act on neighborhood walks, and how much energy they have throughout the day and night. Because the rescues want to find a great forever home for the dog, they will never lie or leave information out when telling you about a pet in which you are interested. 

The volunteers and employees at shelters and rescues will also be able to tell you about the horrible effect that mills and stores have on dogs while they are small. Dogs at stores are often isolated into spaces too small for them and away from other dogs. As a result, they are not socialized or don’t know how to get along with other animals. They aren’t taken out and played with, so they don’t know how to act around humans, either. Dogs from mills, and sometimes breeders as well, have similar development problems. These dogs have trouble being alone, so they will often panic and destroy things around the house in response. To avoid this, they can be crated when you aren’t home, but if you are gone for 6-8 hours a day, then the dog can become depressed and sick from being crated so often.

By contrast, a breeder or a store will only have known the dog since it was born. Store employees are likely not experts in animal behavior or breeding. Sometimes they will mis-label a dog either by accident or on purpose to sell it for a higher price. Breeders are selling the pups while they are still very small--as a result they will know little to nothing about each puppy’s personality. They are also in the business of selling dogs, so they may withhold information about bad behaviors, or may not take the time to find out how the pup will react to other pets or small children. 



The simplest reason to adopt rather than purchase is that you are saving money while saving a life. Rescues and pounds, on the other hand, have adoption fees of a couple hundred at most. Once you have your dog from a store or breeder, you will still need to take it to the vet for shots, register it with the city, and possibly pay to get it spayed or neutered. Dogs coming from breeders can cost thousands of dollars, and puppy mills or stores are not much different. If you keep an eye out for adoption events in your area, you can sometimes get a dog with little to no adoption fee. When shelters or rescues can’t handle the volume of pets, they will often add things onto their typical adoption process, like a free rabies vaccine or bag of food. Sometimes they will waive the fee for a week or more in order to help clear out their cages. Adoption fees often vary by age--the older the pet the less the fee--one more reason to consider an older dog when looking for a new pet. 

Shelters and rescues will also frequently spay or neuter dogs before allowing them to be adopted out, in order to avoid overpopulation or poor breeding situations. Paying for a spay or neuter is very expensive, and very important to your dog’s health. An unaltered male dog will mark by peeing on things, and has a tendency to get frisky with human legs. They are far more likely to escape your home and get lost while searching for a mate. 

An unaltered female goes into heat, which changes her personality, can lead to diseases, and makes a mess. Heat lasts for three weeks every six months. While a female dog is in heat, she releases a bloody discharge and a scent that attracts male dogs to her. This means you’ll have to be careful not to let her outside unattended. You should also drive her to an area away from your home to avoid male dogs in the neighborhood following her scent trail to your front door. 

Finally, of course, the ultimate reason to adopt is the overpopulation of dogs all over the country. Dogs are in shelters, rescues and foster homes all America. These dogs come from a vast variety of backgrounds and are often put down just because the shelter becomes overcrowded or their breed is unpopular. Adopting a dog and spaying/neutering your pets are the best ways to help alleviate this problem rather than becoming part of it. So pick out your shelter or rescue pet today, and find a friend for life.