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How do I get a rescue dog?

Every year animal shelters are filled with unwanted dogs of all ages, shapes and sizes, all desperately in need of ‘forever’ homes. Some are there because they have behavioural problems, others through no fault of their own — perhaps handed in by owners who for some reason can no longer cope or abandoned by those who no longer care.

Maybe you can’t rescue every single dog but if you can save just one you will be helping to make a difference — both to that dog’s future and your own life.

Finding a dog for you

Although pedigree dogs sometimes end up at animal rescue shelters, the majority tend to be cross breeds. Puppies also tend to come up for adoption less frequently, so your puppy may be a little older; this has an advantage in that by the time a crossbreed is several months old, you will have some idea as to its adult looks and size.

However, young pedigree dogs and puppies can be handed in through no fault of their own. Their owners may not have researched the breed properly and consequently found themselves unable to cope, or a change in personal circumstances may have made it impossible to keep them.

It may be possible to find out about their pedigree, but with others, nothing may be known about their background — and as some inherited conditions might not become apparent until a dog is as old as five, you may be taking pot luck to a degree. If a dog appears healthy with no obvious problems, however, it’s often a gamble worth taking.

Rescue organisations will also offer you ongoing support and advice should you have any problems with the dog. They may also visit you occasionally to check you are still happy with the dog, your training is progressing and you are able to meet its needs.

Choosing a rescue organisation

There are many rescue organisations all over the country, some are larger and better known, but don’t forget the other smaller, more local centres. Find out where these are via your vet or training club, from Your Dog magazine.

Before you visit

It can help if you make out a list before you visit a centre with any definite preferences, such as age, size, sex, activity level, coat type, compatibility with children, other dogs and so forth. This makes it easier for kennel staff to guide to fit the bill and could help you to avoid making an impulsive mistake.

The next step is to check out the opening hours of the shelter and pay a visit; allow plenty of time as you’ll need it! Weekends are often busy, so if possible try to go along on a weekday.

You’ll normally be asked to fill out a questionnaire; this can be very detailed and sometimes very personal. Remember that it is aimed at ensuring that you can offer the right sort of home, as well as identifying the sort of dog that would suit you and your lifestyle.

The next step will be to view all the prospective dogs; not all shelters will allow you to walk round but will bring the dogs out from the runs to meet you instead. Depending on the facilities available and each shelter’s individual policy, a room or outdoor exercise/play area may be available for you to start getting to know each other. Spend as much time as you can with each dog so you can make a careful and considered decision.

As well as making your observations, ask questions of staff — preferably the person responsible for the dog’s care who will know him best — about his background, any assessments that have been made, his personality and so forth, to help give you as full a picture as possible. Don’t feel obliged to take what you are offered if you don’t feel the dog is right for you, even though you may feel mean doing this. Remember this will be the start of a lengthy and, hopefully, happy relationship, so it’s important for both of you to get it right.

If you do meet a dog that you feel is ‘the one’ don’t expect to walk away with him there and then. You’ll need to arrange for a home visit fi rst and if the other members of your family (or other dogs you may own) don’t accompany you on this visit, you’ll need to visit again with them so they can meet and you can see how they react to each other.

Breed rescue

If you are torn between wanting a specific breed of dog and taking on a rescue case, breed rescue could be the perfect solution.

Virtually every breed has its own rescue organisation — contact details are available from either the relevant breed club or The Kennel Club. Copies of the Breed Rescue Directory, compiled by The KC, are also sent to veterinary practices, the police, dog wardens and those involved in dog rescue and welfare. Every breed rescue group operates its own policies but generally you’ll fi nd that:

  • There may be a waiting list of prospective owners.

  • Waiting lists do not come on a first-come first-served basis, but rather on finding the best match of dog to owner.

  • The majority of dogs are aged eight months plus: puppies come up for adoption less often.

  • Conditions are frequently attached to the adoption, such as neutering and the breed rescue retaining ownership, the adopter becoming the dog’s guardian.

  • Availability is usually in proportion to the popularity of the breed.

  • Home checks are likely to be every bit as stringent as those made by any other dog welfare organisation.

  • There is usually a monetary charge for the dog.

Not for free

You will be expected to pay a fee, but this shouldn’t be begrudged, since most rescue organisations rely on them to continue their work. The charity also usually retains ownership in case you have a change of circumstances and have to return the dog.

Not found what you are looking for? Email your advice question to advice@yourdog.co.uk for the chance to have your question answered by our panel of experts!