Monday, June 30, 2008

A dog is not a chocolate bar

Here's a secret. The best way to get a dog is to volunteer at a shelter. Why? Because you get first pick from a vast assortment of dogs, purebreds and mutts, before they are even put up for adoption to the general public. You get to walk them, interact with them, see how they behave around you and around the other dogs, cats and people. You also learn to distinguish the nuances in their personalities so that when you finally meet the right dog for you, it'll probably not only be a good choice but it'll be the best choice you could possibly make.

Most people want a certain breed of dog because of some preconceived notions about the breed, but dogs, like people, can very often thwart their own stereotyping. You want a dog that is affectionate with everyone so you think lab but in the shelter the most affectionate dog I've ever come across has been a pit bull. The gentlest dog I've ever come across has been a border collie. The scariest dog I've ever come across has been a lab. Like anything, the more you get to know your subject, the better the decision you'll be able to make. It's a helluva lot better than seeing a puppy in a pet store window and going "ahhhh" and then impulse buying it on the spot as you're paying for the goldfish food.

Okay, so you don't have enough time to volunteer, you don't feel the need to do such intensive personality research and you have a specific list of breed, size and colour requirements that you're not willing to stray from. Unless it's a super exotic dog, like an Anglo-Francais de Petite Venerie or a Peruvian Hairless Dog or a triple-eyed dog from Mars named Pookie, the best thing to do is an on-line search for breed specific rescues. Pretty well every breed of dog has a rescue dedicated to it and chances are good that those rescues will be well stocked. Of course also try Humane Society, SPCA and local city pound websites which will allow you to sort by breed and size. A great clearing house for many rescues is the fabulous where literally hundreds of thousands of pets up for adoption are listed.

Once just the right dog has been googled and bookmarked, more research still needs to be done by you and by the rescue organization you may be trying to adopt from. That's the thing with a good rescue, they do their due diligence just like a good breeder - in fact maybe even better than most breeders. Often, the rescue will send someone to check out your home to make sure that you are who you say you are and that yes you do indeed have a 6 foot fence and that no you don't live in a no dogs allowed apartment building.

Now do your own research. Find out as much about the dog as possible from the person who is fostering the dog. Is it good around kids, other dogs, cats, plants, furniture, ham and cheese sandwiches left on the counter? Does it bark at old men in wheelchairs, at kids wearing baseball caps, thieves in the night? How much does it eat? What does it eat? What can't it eat? Is it housetrained? Is it trained at all? And whatever other concerns you may have. The foster parent is an excellent source of information but you have to ask the questions.

Of course, check out the dog yourself if at all possible before committing. Someone's idea of nice little doggie may not be in line with yours. Then again, they might be spot on. Anyway, better safe than sorry.

There will likely be some fees to help offset costs borne by the rescue, like neutering, spaying, vaccinations, food, etc. and if those fees, usually in the hundreds of dollars, are a turn-off then maybe you should rethink your ability to properly support a dog in your home because hundreds of dollars annually is likely what it's going to cost at a minimum to keep a dog happy and healthy - unless you're a vet who also just happens to run a butcher shop. Still, the costs charged by a rescue will probably be significantly lower than if you were to go to a breeder or pet store.

If you do the research and the planning, you won't get any nasty surprises but that's true with every bit of commerce.

So, to sum up, when you adopt from a rescue or shelter, you'll find a great friend, you'll save a bundle of cash and you'll also save a life - and that's important if you're looking for a dog as a long term companion and not just as a walking piece of fur that matches your furniture or this season's purse.

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