Adopting a Dog: Ways You Can Get One

So, you are ready to have a dog. The next step is deciding how to get one. Not surprisingly, there are many ways people go about getting a dog. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, except for pet stores (just don’t).

1. Rescue

An organization that does not breed dogs, but acquires them from shelters or private individuals. It may focus on a specific breed or all types of dogs. Dogs are predominantly held in private foster homes until they’re ready for adoption. A complete history of the dog may or may not be available, but because the dogs are typically kept in a private home, more information about how the dog may respond to life in your home is usually available.

Advantages: The ability to select a dog which has been living in a foster home similar to your own, especially if you have children, small animals, or other dogs. Many times, the rescue will have an extensive history on a dog, but even if one isn’t available, basic information on such issues as house training status, obedience training, crate training status, ability to walk on a leash, and other important issues should be available. Most rescues offer extensive vetting, spay/neuter and health testing, and they may cover the costs of heartworm treatment, antibiotics, or other start-up health care as part of the adoption.

Disadvantages: Typically a higher adoption fee and a more rigorous application process, which may include a home visit or reference checks. The rescue wants to ensure that dogs go to the right home for them, and may also have blanket requirements. Some rescues do not adopt out to homes without fenced in yards, for instance. Also, rescues are run by individuals who are “dog people,” not animal people, so sometimes you can be dealing with extremely difficult people.

2. Shelter

An organization that does not breed dogs and accepts dogs into a kennel area in a specific building and holds them until they are ready to be adopted. These may be kill or no-kill. Kill shelters are typically contracted by a county or city, and are open admittance, meaning that pets may be surrendered for any reason, and the shelter must take all pets. No-kill shelters are typically privately run, but may be contracted by a city or county. They are usually closed-admittance, meaning that they can refuse to accept pets that they do not have financial resources or space for. Shelters may house some animals in private foster homes, but they predominantly stay in a single facility. The amount of history on the dog will vary based on the admittance policy and record keeping of the shelter.

A picture of three dogs standing behind a glass door.
Shelter dogs need homes, too. (Photo credit: Tiko – das Tierschutzkompetenzzentrum via Wikimedia Commons)

Advantages: Lots of dogs available in one place, a relatively low adoption fee, and a simple adoption application. The warm and fuzzy feeling you get from getting a dog from a bad situation and giving them a wonderful home.

Disadvantages: Many dogs do not do well in a shelter environment. Add that to an incomplete history, and it can be hard to tell what you’re adopting. Because a large number of dogs are kept together, and strays or other unvaccinated animals may be accepted, health issues are more common. This could be as simple as kennel cough, or as serious as a heartworm infection. The amount of veterinary care the dog has received will vary with the shelter, so it’s important to find out their policy ahead of time.

3. Finding a stray

This can be a dog that shows up at your back door, breaks into your fence, or that you find along the side of the road.

Advantages: The warm and fuzzy feeling you get from helping an animal that desperately needs it.

Disadvantages: You have no health or behavioral history on the dog, and you may be responsible for a lot of medical costs up front. You also didn’t pick this dog, so there is a bigger chance of temperament mismatch. Depending on your local laws, there may be legal issues if the former owners do wish to claim the dog. Typically, there is something legally required, such as advertising in the newspaper for a set period of time, to prevent this.

4. Friends and family

Typically the result of changes in life circumstances, such as moving or having children. Sometimes friends or family will need to rehome a dog.

Advantages: Dog is a known quantity, and hopefully you’ll have access to vet records and background. It’s also nice for the dog being rehomed to go to someone who knows them.

Disadvantages: Sometimes you find out that your friends and family don’t take proper care of their pets, and that can cause strain. Also, you might feel so sad about a nice dog being given up that you could agree to take an animal who is not suited for your lifestyle at all. This is especially true if you think the owners will end up dumping the dog at the shelter if you don’t step up.

5. Craigslist (classified)

This can range from casual breeders advertising puppies for sale, to rescues advertising adoptable dogs, to accidental litters “free to a good home,” to adult dogs that need to be rehomed for some reason. The potential adopter has a lot of responsibility to investigate the circumstances from which the dogs are coming.

Advantages: Lots of choices, and the ability to look at many dogs from the comfort of your own home.

Disadvantages: You’ll have to do your own research and work to avoid potential scams. While a history may be available on the dog, sometimes owners aren’t completely honest or forthcoming.

6. Pet store

Many pet stores do not sell dogs, but do allow shelters and rescues to bring adoptable dogs to adoption events at the pet store. The store is available as a space, but the shelter or rescue has their own adoption contracts, requirements, and receives any adoption fees paid. However, some pet stores still sell pure breed, mixed, or “designer breed” puppies, and these are almost exclusively from puppy mills. We are talking about the latter right now.

Advantages: Immediate access to pets if you are buying directly from a store. So many cute puppies.

Disadvantages: Practically, pet store puppies are notorious for having health problems. Behaviorally, puppies are removed from their mother and litter before 8 weeks old, and are often housed and transported in ways that have been shown to encourage the development of behavioral issues. Typically, these puppies are off to a bad start any way you look at it. More broadly, you are perpetuating a horrific system. (If you aren’t familiar with the puppy mills/pet stores issue, Google it.)

An upsetting image of two dogs in a cage at a puppy mill.
If you are considering going to a pet store, chances are that this is the kind of conditions where your puppy was produced. Also, all of the dogs in this picture were rescued and found good homes, so you don’t need to worry about them. (Photo is in the public domain)

7. Breeder

Breeders range from people who casually breed 2 dogs of untested health and temperament, to people who have extensive knowledge of dog genetics, temperament, and the skills needed to promote healthy behavior in a litter of puppies. Breeders are discussed in more detail here.

Advantages: You can have a dog that looks exactly the way you like. Depending on the breeder, you could have extensive history of the dog, which can help predict health problems. Ideally, you should be able to meet both of a dog’s parents and assess their temperament. A good breeder will offer a health guarantee, assistance training the dog, and information about the breed and its suitability for your lifestyle. Some people like designer dogs, like the labradoodle, because these breeds purport to have the strengths of both breeds and none of the weaknesses.

A close-up of the fave of a "bugle" or French bulldog-beagle mix.
This is a designer dog breed called a French bugle. It’s a French bulldog beagle mix. We get the appeal, honestly, we do. (Photo is in the public domain)

Disadvantages: Unskilled or dishonest breeders can con people into spending a lot of money on a pure breed puppy or dog that later develops health problems or behavioral issues as a result of genetics or an unhealthy environment in early puppyhood. Poor breeding can result in dogs which do not match the breed standard in critical ways; for instance, herding breeds which do not have the stamina, temperament, or mental ability to learn to herd. Also, there are a lot of dogs that need homes already; by having one “created” for you, you are missing an opportunity to help some perfectly awesome dogs.

So, now that you have learned these ways of getting a dog, you should decide which one is best for you. Except for pet stores, because you are not an evil, foolish person.

By Moretta

Moretta will take that applause. Her Twitter is

21 replies on “Adopting a Dog: Ways You Can Get One”

Remember that if you go the shelter route, you should set aside lots of time and bring the whole family to meet your possible new pet before adopting. You want to spend enough time to let your adoptee calm down a little and start showing their personality. Consider bringing an old pet too, so that you can introduce them away from home in a safe place.

My in-laws bought a puppy from an Amish breeder, assuming that Amishness would equal caring/responsible breeder. This was decidedly NOT the case. Poor girl had a horrible case of hip dysplasia-so bad that they eventually had to put in an artificial hip. This is a known issue for the breed and should have been screened for, but apparently such “genetic awareness” is perhaps a bit too modern. Or, you know, would have decreased the profitability of the puppy mills they run.

We’ve had 2 rescues and one breeder bred so as not to deal with heartworms or extreme behavior issues. Joke was on us-breeder pup had elbow dysplasia, cherry eye, and refuses to do his business outside when it’s raining…and we live in Seattle-it’s always raining!

I’m glad you mentioned this. Twenty percent of the nation’s puppy mills are Amish-run. It’s shocking and I have never been able to think the same way about the Amish since then. It’s not that I think that all Amish people run puppy mills, but when you are looking at that kind of huge number of puppy mills, it’s pretty clear that it is an accepted practice in Amish communities. A lot of people are either looking the other way, or don’t think it’s a problem to see animals treated like that.

THIS THIS THIS. I grew up in a community with a huge Amish population and there are puppy mills everywhere! I get furious when neighbors but one of these dogs, when they should be reporting the owner. Not that it would matter. The kennels are literally on wheels so that they can be quickly moved to the next farm in case they are reported.

I discovered a new way on Sunday: walk into Petco to buy dog food, see that a South to Northeast transport rescue is doing an adoption event, and leave with a new family member! We ended up bringing home the sweetest little girl. We’re treating her for a few parasitic infections, which is not uncommon in dogs who come from kennel situations, not to mention she was surrendered by an animal hoarder. :(

I consider that to be a subset of rescue because the vast majority of such dogs are pulled on behalf of a rescue group. It sounds like you cut out the middleperson.

A note to others who are considering this option: PoM is an extremely experienced dog owner who LOVES animals, but I don’t recommend that people who are inexperienced do things this way. We’ve had dogs that have come to us when the owner fell in love with a dog on Petfinder, got it directly via transport, found that the dog had problems that they couldn’t/wouldn’t handle. So my caveat to anyone who considers this is that you are buying a pig in a poke, and you need to be prepared to handle these problems yourself. Ask yourself if you honestly are willing to do this.

PoM, might you consider posting a pic of your new dog so that the commenters can admire her?

Everything she said. We’re currently treating her for a number of parasitic intestinal infections that are very common when many dogs are kenneled together, which is not cheap or fun. (Ask me about Day 2 of horrible doggie diarrhea! Wait, don’t. You don’t want to know and I don’t want to relive it.) She’s also extremely skittish and untrusting, so we need to spend a lot of time and attention getting her through this. We are willing to spend anything, time and money-wise, making sure our dogs are healthy and well cared for, but you really do take a risk when you go this route.

HOWEVER, our new little girl is beautiful:

Thanks for writing this. I didn’t realise how many rescues there were in Ottawa until I found petfinder. My family’s been with the same vet for the past 20 years (I did a co-op position there in high school as well), so they advised me against one of them, but it’s seems like something of a crap shoot. I understand the good intentions and how they can easily become overwhelmed.

One other note, I’ve never taken in a stray dog, but both my cats were found in areas that are common dumping sites for unwanted pets. Free cats are expensive. I think I spent as much on each cat getting them vaccinated and neutered/spayed as it would cost to adopt a dog from the local rescue for animals with treated health problems. I wouldn’t trade them for the world (see blatantly attached pic), even if they are both _seriously_ food driven (paranoid), and one is smart and the other is… let’s call him “generally affable”.

In the UK you can be pretty sure if you’re buying puppies online or from newspaper ads you’re buying farmed puppies. Unless the people invite you to their home to see them… avoid! Most rescue organisations here AFAIK offer very good vet care to their animals, making sure they’re vaccinated, neutered etc. before they’re rehomed.

So, SPCA (in the no-kill shelter category) or a rescue :) Which was my plan anyway, leaning more toward the SPCA. The local facility is pretty nice; they have rooms for the animals, with crates/kennels/cubbies, and animals that don’t do well with company have their own space (as well as those with medical issues — one of the dogs had her own room while she was recovering from a joint injury), they take REALLY good care of the animals they’re caring for, AND!!! they post party posts on their fb page when a “long-timer” is adopted. You really get a sense that they care deeply about the animals and want them all to be safely, happily homed.

And, rescues — rescues are just awesome. More pricey, but awesome.

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