Second Start: Creative Rehoming of Dogs

A innovative look at a perpetual problem


In 1996, the Center for Animals and Public Policy at Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, reported in Anthrozoos that 13 percent of the dogs acquired by US families each year come from shelters. This translates into one million dogs (about 25 percent of those entering shelters) – 600,000 adults and 400,000 puppies.

Also in 1996, Gary J. Patronek VMD, PhD, and colleagues reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association that dogs at the highest risk of surrender appeared to be dogs that had been adopted from shelters.

These two bits of information indicate that dogs entering so-called kill shelters are at high risk for euthanasia even if they are healthy. Many of these dogs could be wonderful pets for the right families, but the challenge is to help people match their expectations of a dog with the dogs available for those folks who don’t want to start with a puppy. This is where Second Start comes in.

Author Jacqueline O’Neil starts off by extolling the virtues of an adult dog. These dogs tend to be housetrained and past the chew-everything-in-sight stage. Even if they aren’t housetrained, they have larger bladders and are more mature than puppies, so they should learn quickly.

Adult dogs have already reached their full size and developed their personalities, so what you see is what you get – no guessing necessary. They have a full coat as well, so prospective adopters can tell at a glance whether the grooming needs will be beyond their time or budget. (Many of these dogs are already spayed or neutered, know how to walk on a leash, and have some basic manners as well.)

O’Neil then takes the next step, one that makes this book eminently valuable to anyone looking for an adolescent or adult dog – she gives readers clues on how to find the perfect match among adult dogs just as Michele Lowell, Chris Walkowicz, and others do for people choosing a breed and a puppy.

In the “My kind of dog” quiz, O’Neil asks readers to answer a series of multiple choice questions about the behavior they expect from a dog. By the time the 35 questions are answered, prospective owners should have a good idea of the type of dog that will make them happy as well as a certain amount of determination to keep looking until the right dog is found. The questions cover activity level, sociability with dogs and people, appearance, trainability, and more. Just to make sure, O’Neil follows the dog quiz with more questions for the reader to help him determine if he has the desire, time, and energy to take care of his ideal dog.

Sources of adult dogs

The temptation is great to think that all adult dogs that lose their homes are the victims of abuse, neglect, or ignorant owners. O’Neil carefully points out that there are many reasons why people give up their dogs and there are many sources of wonderful family pets just waiting to be matched to the right family.

Shelters and rescues are the most obvious sources of adult dogs. Rescues generally make sure the dogs are healthy before placing them for adoption and usually require adopters to fill out applications and sign contracts regarding the housing and care of the pets. They also may visit the prospective home before approving the adoption and follow-up afterwards to make sure the match is working out.

Shelters may be as careful as rescues to assure that dogs go to appropriate homes or they may adopt any dog to any person who walks in the door. If this is the case, the potential adopter should be careful to ask questions about the dog (Why was it surrendered? Has it been adopted and returned? Does it like other dogs? ), take it for walks, groom it a bit, try some obedience commands, and spend some time getting acquainted.

Breeders, exhibitors, and newspaper classified ads are also sources of adult dogs. Some breeders offer retired breeding dogs or young dogs that didn’t quite reach show or breeding potential to new homes, and some exhibitors retire their titled obedience or conformation dogs to pet homes. Once a breed is chosen, the best way to find these dogs is through a local kennel or breed club.

Owners often advertise in the newspaper classifieds when they have to give up a pet because they are moving, developed allergies, are ill, lost a job, or cannot take care of the animal any more. These folks should be quizzed about the dog’’ behavior and habits to make sure they are not passing along problems they couldn’t or wouldn’t prevent or solve.

O’Neil goes into great detail about adopting a “destitute dog,” one that has been neglected or abused and needs weeks or months of care to become healthy and develop trust.

“Turning a destitute dog into a desirable pet is an act of faith mixed with an aura of magic, backed up by a lot of hard work and sometimes more than a little money,” she wrote on page 110. “Destitute dogs need more understanding, more love, more socialization, and more training than dynamite dogs. Many people relish the challenge. If you always root for the underdog, this could be your opportunity to turn one underdog into a lucky dog.”

Second Start is rich with anecdotes about successful adoptions. The second part of the book reminds adopters that their dog has a past that may affect his current and future behavior and offers plans and suggestions for acclimating the dog to his new life. The last part of the book takes the reader through the competition opportunities that are available for both purebred and mixed breed dogs. Purebreds can compete in most AKC performance events as long as they are spayed or neutered. Mixed breeds can compete in obedience and agility events through the United Kennel Club and other organizations.

Unfortunately, Second Start is hard to find. does not guarantee that it can get the book, but bookstores (including second hand bookstores) or libraries may have a copy or two. The scarcity is a shame; this is a very nice book with an honest look at dog surrender and adoption that deserves a place on every dog lover’s bookshelf.

Second Start; Creative Rehoming for Dogs Jacqueline F. O'Neil /Hardcover/1997

Norma Bennett Woolf

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