The Last (and Only) Heroes for Too Many Dogs
Finding Your Dog at the Local Shelter
Originally instituted as a service to the public, to help people be reunited with lost animals and to keep potential nuisance animals off the streets and out of the garbage, the focus of Animal Shelters has changed dramatically . As irresponsible pet ownership continues to grow as an issue, Animal Shelters are left as the final help, defense and relief for unwanted dogs. With the resources they have, most shelters do a remarkable job to offer a safe, clean environment for those in their charge, even if that is only a few days prior to being euthanized and dumped in the local landfill.
Shelters vary greatly in their appearance and procedures. Virtually every community has a "kill shelter". This shelter (typically municipal) will destroy and dispose of the bodies of those that ran out of time. The same community may also offer "no kill shelters". These shelters are more often privately owned and keep their wards until adopted. The structure and relationship between shelters and with rescues can vary greatly from shelter to shelter, it might be helpful to ask a few questions.
A final note on the structure and position that shelters occupy in their community. The stress that shelter employees contend with is immense, at least, presuming they love animals. As a result, many are often defensive over relatively simple questions. They are regularly the focus of people who love animals (and accuse the staff of being murderers) and people who don't care (who dump puppies and refuse to get their pet neutered because "that is what the shelter is there for"). Shelter Staff are truly the stoic heroes in this effort to gain responsibility for our decision to have companion animals. Strive as you can to help them with their load, try to offer your questions with an attitude of support and concern.
Adopting from a shelter is not for the faint of heart. While risks are there, for those with some knowledge and commitment, the experience can be gratifying rather than horrifying.
First, do NOT take your children there on your first visit. Their reaction will be purely emotional. This is not a time that you can afford such choices. The health and temperament must be carefully assessed for the sake of the dog and your family.
As much as it is tempting to go look at the dogs, try to first find out about the shelter's adoption procedures and if they have any program for assessing the dogs. Take information offered by owners with a grain of salt since many have agendas, to help the dog get adopted or to avoid feeling guilty or judged by others for dumping the dog, when offering this history.
Watch the dogs as you come through, those that stay to the back and avoid eye contact are scared and depressed which is perfectly understandable in the first few days. If they have been in the shelter for more than a couple days and are not "Collie" types, they may be lacking in socialization. Some experience has indicated that Collie type dogs tend to be overwhelmed by a shelter environment and improve dramatically when removed (but this is anecdotal and likely not true of every dog).
The dogs with some coping skills will come to visit you. Their eyes may seem to say, are you here to get me? with a slight wag of a tail. These would be the ones that DigitalDog would suggest you give the most consideration.
As you bend down outside the kennel, do they scoot back or try, gently, to come closer with the kennel door still between you? Again the latter is preferable. Those that act wild, jumping and barking, may be perfectly fine dogs but they are anxious and potentially a real handful!
Another note, in asking about the dog's history, strays are the ones the shelter will have the least information on, but may also be indicative of dogs with more socialization (even if it was self-directed). The dog that was an owner-turn-in could have been kept in the basement, garage or backyard rarely seeing enough of the world to be able to cope. Take the above notes into consideration while contrasting it with the history.
The question of purebred versus mix is difficult to wade at the shelter. Sometimes purebreds are dumped by owners for reasons as simple as housetraining issues. Typically there is a reason as people tend to value something they spent money on. Mixes are a mixed bag. Strays are often the result of people who didn't care enough or value the dog enough to keep it up (and thus are very unlikely to come reclaim it when they can just "get another one"). If you are truly inexperienced, look for the sweetest scenthound in the bunch. You can be sure that you would likely have a dog that is tolerant and gentle (even if not always the easiest to influence).
When you have narrowed your choices to one or two dogs, then its time to introduce the family. Keep attention on those dogs you've chosen through explanation of other dogs not being available or not suitable. Be prepared that you will likely not be able to take the dog home that day. Screening and vet work will need to be completed before the adoption is final.
If you are inexperienced with dogs and have children, the Animal Shelter might not always be the best choice. Consider working with a rescue, they have the potential to help address many of the risks and issues here. Even volunteering with the rescue can provide invaluable insight.
Did DigitalDog leave something out? Find this helpful or horrible? Let us know at DigitalDog@DigitalDog.com.