What do I know about dog adoption?

I have always adopted rather than bought a dog. It seems only right – there are so many unwanted dogs in the world needing good homes. And adopting a dog can be incredibly rewarding despite some possible initial problems.

So far I have had six adopted dogs: one mongrel, two greyhounds, two West Highland White Terriers, and most recently a Spinone Italiano dog.

Would I recommend it? – Absolutely!

What can dog adoption offer?

As far as the dog is concerned, of course, you are providing an animal with a home who would otherwise either be left in a kennels or even potentially euthanized.

For your family, you have the satisfaction of knowing you have given a dog a good home as well as gaining a loving family pet.

Why do dogs come up for adoption?

It's a myth that all dogs come for adoption because they have behavioural problems. Those dogs are few and far between, and a responsible re-homing organisation will always try to put behavioural difficulties right before they allow the dog to be adopted.

There are a number of possible reasons for dog adoption. Ours have included owners who have separated and are no longer in a position to keep their dog, older dogs whose owners can no longer afford vets' bills, families who have a child with asthma who can not tolerate the dog's hair, puppies who become too boisterous and need more attention than their owners can give them, and – in the case of greyhounds – dogs who have just outlived their usefulness.

So do not assume it's the dog's fault. It's more likely to be the humans who have had the problems.

What are the benefits of dog adoption?

* Rescue dogs are usually older dogs, so you will not have the same problems with house-training and puppy chewing, for example.

* Your rescue dog should be spayed or neutered so you will not have that cost to deal with.

* A good rescue centre will know each dog's personality and temperament and will be able to match your family's needs to an appropriate dog.

Deciding to adopt a dog.

Owning a dog is a big responsibility. Before you go to a rescue centre, ask yourself these questions:

* Do your homework. If you are thinking of a particular dog breed, make sure you read everything you can about that breed – look at its personality, its exercise and grooming needs, whether it has any particular health issues, how easily trained it is.

* If you do not mind a "mutt", make sure you decide what size dog would suit your family. If you live in a small apartment for example, do not look at adopting a German Shepherd cross.

* Have you owned a dog before? If not, look at adopting a quiet, small to medium sized dog who will be easily maintained and trained.

* How much time do you have to care for your dog? If you do not have a lot, look for a dog with a curly coat who will not shed and will not need a lot of grooming, and a dog which will not need a lot of exercise. Greyhounds, for example, only need two quite short walks each day.

* What's your budget? If it's tight, get a small dog who will not need as much food, and avoid older dogs who may need more veterinary treatment. But do be aware that all dogs need treatment from time to time, even if it's only yearly inoculations. If you do not have the money, do not get a dog – it's unfair to take on a responsibility you will not be able to follow through on.

* Do you have children or elderly people living with you? If so, do not get a large, dominant dog – look for a smaller, quiet breed. Whippets are particularly good with older people.

* Be prepared to spend time with and on your dog – walking, training, grooming, feeding, cuddling – and picking up its mess!

How to find a dog adoption centre.

* If you want a specific breed, look on the internet for your country (or regional) association for that breed. Most will have a section on their site about how to adopt a rescue dog. For example, when I decided to adopt a Spinone Italiano, the starting point was the website of the Italian Spinone Club of Great Britain.

* If you want a mixed breed dog (a "mongrel"), look locally for your nearest adoption centre. The best place to start for most countries is the Society for the Protection of Animals (in the UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals) – they have adoption centres in most countries and are very clear in their adoption policies.

* You will probably also have a local rescue centre. These centres often do an excellent job of re-homing unwanted animals – just make sure they have been checked by a vet. We have personal experience of a local rescue re-homing very sick animals who should really have been considered for euthanasia.

What's the next step?

Our second article in this series will discuss what happens next – what happens during the process of adoption, and how to find the perfect dog for your family.

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