All of our dogs have been mixes, and most have been rescues. We’ve found our pets at county shelters, a local non-profit animal education and no-kill adoption center, and even in a neighbor’s backyard. Each time the dogs have picked us out, and they were often very different from the pet we thought we wanted.
Our very first dog, Max, was a 12 lb. Corgi mix. We had purchased our first house, and as soon as the yard was fenced I was determined to get a dog. When my husband said he was going out of town for a few days, I knew I didn’t want to be alone while he was gone, so I headed to the local shelter. I knew exactly what I was looking for: a very young, female, medium-sized dog. As I walked up and down along the rows of cagelike kennels, a small, cute dog came to the front and grabbed my attention. He was male, over 2 years old and while he was underweight, he was never going to be more than 18 lbs.
I fell in love immediately but since he’d been found wandering the streets of downtown San Diego, a hold had been placed on him in case his owners claimed him. If he was still there in a week, they would keep him for me for 1 hour after they opened.
A week later I took an extremely early lunch to go to the shelter and claim my new dog. I put him in the back of my hatchback, but by the time I got to the front, he was sitting in the drivers’ seat. When we arrived home, after a stop in the yard, I left him in our kitchen with the doors blocked to keep him from exploring the house. When I got home from work that afternoon, I raced to the kitchen to see our dog, but he wasn’t there.
I found him asleep on our bed, which he had marked as his own by urinating on it. That first evening he didn’t really react to anything, didn’t bark, and didn’t want to play. As an inexperienced pet owner, I feared I’d made a big mistake. The next day I took Max (I’d thought of naming him “Gizmo”, but my husband overruled that) to the vet and a groomer. By afternoon he was looking and feeling better. That night we had pizza and I discovered Max eating pepperoni and cheese out of the box. At that moment I knew he was okay, and he quickly became our much-loved pet.
Over the years we’ve adopted several other dogs. One was born when a stray ventured into our neighbor’s yard and impregnated their lab. We spent a magical 8 weeks visiting the puppies regularly from the day they were born, and one of the littlest females always came running when we arrived. She was our first experience adopting a puppy, and she was a terror. The next three came from a shelter. The one characteristic all of those dogs had in common was that they picked us out and let us know we belonged to them. One even untied my husband’s shoes as we looked at the puppies in the kennel. It was immediately apparent that we were his family, and he remained ours for more than 14 years.
Rocky (adopted 2007) and Nicky (adopted 2003), both from Helen Woodward Animal Center
All of our dogs but Max joined our family as puppies, and we quickly learned what that meant. Puppies are cute, but they are destructive, they need to be trained, and they often keep you up at night. They can’t be left at home for more than a few hours so you end up living your life on “puppy time.” Rescuing an older pet can be rewarding and much easier, since they are often house-trained. As Arden Moore noted in her recent article, some shelters even give discounts for older pets.
If you are reluctant to adopt a pet from a shelter, many wonderful breed rescue groups exist. They usually keep the animals at foster homes, where the pets’ temperament and habits are noted. This is a good way to find your forever pet, especially if you have specific requirements.
There are also many ethical breeders out there, and if you have allergies getting a dog from one of them, while expensive, may provide the best option for you and your family. Just be sure you get your new pet's medical records and genealogy. Any reputable breeder should be happy to share that information.
Don’t let anyone bully you into adopting a rescue, if that’s not the right choice for you. My two current pets were bred specifically to be service dogs, but they decided they weren’t interested in working. Canine Companions has found that they have the best results with dogs that are bred for this work, and I believe that people with disabilities deserve the best assistance dogs we can provide.
Alma and Wrangler, our Canine Companions "Change of Career" dogs.
Many animals are eagerly waiting for their forever homes, and there are many reputable places you can go to find your next family member. Please remember that whether you are adopting a dog, a cat, a guinea pig or some other animal, they are living creatures and you should be willing to be responsible for them their entire lives. If you think it’s possible that you might return the pet because they require too much time or attention, or you’re not prepared to pay the cost of veterinary care or quality food, please reconsider your choice. There’s nothing wrong with deciding that a goldfish is the perfect pet for your family.