Over the past 10-12 years or so, rescue groups have developed as an alternative to shelter surrender for purebred dogs and as a source of healthy, well-mannered, spayed or neutered pets for families. In some cases run by individuals, in others by local or national breed clubs or rescue networks, these groups have undoubtedly saved thousands of animals from death and provided thousands of families with beloved pets.
Many people like the idea of saving a dog that has had a tough life, so they gravitate to a shelter or rescue when looking for a pet. Rescues are usually preferred for a purebred pet; shelters seldom have a selection of dogs of a particular breed and almost never have time to teach manners, evaluate temperament, or treat minor illnesses and are not usually aware of the nuances of breed behavior.
The dogs in rescue groups traveled many routes to their destination. Some were purchased by families on a whim, families that did not understand the temperament or the needs of such a big, hairy, noisy, or energetic pet. Others lost their homes when an owner became too old or sick to provide the necessary care or when a family's lifestyle changed because of job loss or divorce, and still others were picked up as strays or dumped by owners who wanted freedom from the responsibility of dog care. Some go directly from a home into rescue; others come by way of shelters.
Once the decision is made to obtain an adult dog from a rescue group, choice of a breed should be done with as much care as if the purchase was to be a puppy from a breeder. (More on choosing a breed) The next step is to locate the rescue you want to do business with.
Rescue groups come in all shapes and sizes and with a variety of policies. Some rescues have no facilities to house dogs, so they make referrals, help owners find new homes for their dogs, give advice for solving problems, maintain a list of available dogs, and help shelters screen potential adopters. Other rescues can house multiple dogs in foster homes or kennels until the right owner comes along.
Most rescues 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 processes that they place very few dogs.
There's no doubt that rescue has become a cause célèbre among dog lovers. Some rescuers take themselves so seriously that the comment “adopting a child is easier than getting a dog from XYZ rescue” is no joke, especially to adopters who have gone through an exhaustive interview process only to be turned down because they work full time or live in an apartment.
Some rescue groups go overboard in establishing guidelines for responsible dog care. In a recent case, a dog entered rescue from a shelter after being turned in by the owner's estranged boyfriend. The woman traced the dog to the shelter and then to the rescue group, but she did not get her dog back until she spent several weeks in negotiation with the group and agreed to abide by rules for exercise and veterinary visits.
Many rescue groups send out an application to be returned before a potential adopter even sees the dogs. Some rescuers visit the applicant's home and check his references before inviting him to see the dogs. When the applicant finally meets the available dog, the rescuer may still deny the adoption based on the dog's reaction to the people.
Some rescues will not adopt adult dogs to families with small children. Rescuers of smooth-coated dogs often do not adopt to families that plan to keep the dog outside for a substantial portion of each day. Rescuers of guardian breeds and of breeds with lots of energy usually require the adopter to have a fenced area for the dog so it does not take off. Rescuers of large breeds — especially large boisterous breeds — may not adopt to an apartment or condominium dweller.
Potential adopters should be on the lookout for any unreasonable questions or requirements, such as rescues that insist on annual vaccinations, heartworm preventive, more than yearly checkups, use of a crate, unannounced home inspections, maintaining ownership interest in the dog, or any other stipulations that interfere with the adopter's right to make decisions about the dog's care.
Rescued dogs are usually more than six months old, are housetrained, are past the chewing-everything stage, and are happy to be placed in a loving home. Many have been precipitously uprooted from a beloved 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 lives.
The initial adjustment can be difficult as the dog learns to trust again or 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 family, the bond is forged.
To generalize about breeds, sporting dogs are high energy and people oriented; hounds are focused on the scents and sights in their world; terriers are scrappy and can be yappy; working dogs tend to be tough to train and variously dominant; herding dogs are people-oriented but have a high need to work; and toy dogs can be fragile and have poor temperaments with children. Mixed breeds tend to have the characteristics of their component breeds. Chow and Akita mixes can be animal aggressive, aloof, and dominant; Poodle and terrier mixes can be high strung and neurotic;
Labrador and Golden Retriever mixes will have high energy and a prolonged puppyhood, etc.
If you have not chosen wisely, don't expect rescue to bail you out. However, do ask rescue for help in managing the dog's behavior so the situation does not get worse.
Obedience training is the best prevention and the best cure for behavior problems. A dog can be trained at home, from a book, but it is better to attend a class where the he can get social contact with other dogs and strangers. A dog that learns from the beginning to obey everyone in the family is less likely to become a juvenile delinquent. Consistency, with everyone using the same commands and expecting the same reactions from the dog; patience, with everyone willing to teach the dog the appropriate behavior instead of screaming at him for transgressions; and understanding that this is a dog, not a little person, and has a different perspective on the world are the keys to a successful life with Phydeaux.
Training for manners includes teaching the dog to walk quietly on a leash, sit and lie down on command, come when called, and quit any irritating or destructive behavior when told to do so.
Unless you have made a dedicated attempt to train the dog, please don't expect rescue organizations to bail you out.
[More on obedience training]
Don't forget: rescue groups often need foster homes, spotters to visit shelters and look for particular breeds, and donations of equipment and money to pay veterinary bills.
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