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Rescue dogs: Separating myth from fact

A friend and I were talking about adopting dogs recently and she had a lot of questions about rescues -- she's nervous about bringing a second-hand dog into her family with two small children. It's something I hear a lot, and it's the No. 1 reason people tell me they buy dogs from breeders. The unknown is scary.

As the proud adopter of two formerly unwanted dogs, I can honestly say I'd never get a pet another way. But the questions are valid, so I sent them over to my friends at Lab Rescue, which re-homes more than 1,000 dogs every year, to see what they'd say. Wendy Finn, vice president of the rescue (and lucky enough to share her life with three rescued black Labs named Tank, Yahma, and Buxton), said they're questions she hears all the time, and was happy to share her wisdom:

Q: I'd love to adopt a rescue dog, but don't they all have problems or issues?
A: Dogs come to rescue for many reasons, but most of those reasons reflect human circumstances.  People may no longer be able to care for their dogs due to life changes that affect their financial and time constraints, including divorce, job loss, foreclosure, new babies, and more.  Some rescue dogs do have special needs, either health or behavioral, and those dogs are placed with families who are open to the challenges and rewards of adopting such a dog.
 
Q: Why would someone give up a dog if it's not aggressive, destructive, or sick?
A: In addition to changes in life circumstances, many young dogs are given up because  people purchase a puppy not realizing that the 12-pound wiggly bundle of cuteness will grow to be an active 90-pound dog in a few short months. That dog may not be a good match for its initial family, but will do wonderfully in a more active home that is willing to devote some time to training.
 
Q: What can I expect when I bring a rescue dog home? Is there a break-in period?
A: It depends on the individual dog and situation. In general, you might expect it to take a few weeks to get to know one another. During that period, you will want to devote some extra time and care to the dog.  The rescue can provide you with tips for success. If the dog has been in a foster home, as is often the case, the foster can assist with suggestions to help ease the transition. The booklet "Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home" by Patricia McConnell also provides valuable information.
 
Q: I've heard it's impossible to train an older dog. Is that true?
A: Older dogs are eager to please and often are more responsive to training as they are calmer and more focused.
 
Q: How do I know I won't end up with a dog that's too rough for my children?
A: Rescues may have different policies about placing dogs with children, and it is important to ask about the policy. All rescues are strongly committed to ensuring child safety and will work with you to identify a dog well suited to life with children. It is also important to educate your children on behavior around dogs.  There are a number of online resources available on the subject including LivingWithKidsandDogs.com.
 
Q: What if we want a puppy?
A: Rescues have dogs of all ages in need of homes, from 8-week-old puppies to senior citizens.
 
Q: Why does the rescue volunteer ask me so many questions and why am I required to fill out such a long application?
A: The rescue is committed to ensuring that each dog in its care gets the right home and that you adopt a dog that is well suited to your lifestyle. It will take an hour or more of your time, but in return you will have a wonderful new member of your family and the joy of  helping a dog in need.
 
Q: Why do rescues charge an adoption fee? 
A: Most rescues provide complete veterinary care for each dog in their care. The adoption fees are generally less than half the cost of providing that care at your local veterinarian. The rescue covers these added costs with donations from caring members of the community.
 
Q: What advice would you give a person considering adoption?
A: The key to success is finding a dog who is a good match for your lifestyle.  It is essential that you consider the breed’s activity level and temperament.  Most importantly, don’t choose a dog solely on looks!
 

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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