Advice on adopting a pet from a shelter or a rescue

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Question: What tips and advice you can give about adopting a pet from rescue or a shelter?

Hi we’re looking to adopt a pet from a shelter, but we are curious on what factors should someone consider before owning a rescue/ shelter dog? How can we prepare for the unexpected when adopting a rescue? What are proper or healthy expectations to have when you rescue a dog from a shelter? Do you have any interesting personal stories about owning a rescue dog or working with one that might give people a little insight into what owning a rescue can be like?



Pet parents often overestimate the predictability of purchasing a purebred animal. Individual variability plays a huge role in a dog’s personality. For example, while Boston Terriers have a well-deserved reputation for being absolute sweethearts, one of the most aggressive dogs I’ve ever worked with as a veterinarian was a Boston.

A big benefit of adopting a dog from the shelter is having access to shelter personnel. They truly want to make a good match, and they know the pets they’ve been caring for. Shelter personnel can often give you a good idea of a dog’s personality and help you determine if they might be a good addition to your family. Dogs in shelters will have undergone a thorough veterinary checkup and should have at least started their vaccinations and other forms of preventive care.

If health problems were noted, they may have been treated (a dental cleaning with extractions, for example) or they will at least be noted so you have an idea of what you might need to address. Many shelters also have extensive socialization programs so they will assess and work on a dog’s behavior before putting them up for adoption. Never overlook shelters and rescues. Dogs who have experienced the rough side of life can be extremely affectionate when they finally find a loving, forever home.

Tips from Our Vets

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If you have any specific health concerns related to your pet, please be sure to take the pet to your vet or an emergency vet, or if you have concerns related to something your pet may have eaten another option is to call a pet poison control line. Be aware that there is a fee to use these services. Two that we can recommend are the ASPCA Animal Poison Control at (888) 426-4435 and the Pet Poison Helpline at (855) 764-7661.

Dr. Jennifer Coates
Dr. Jennifer Coates was valedictorian of her graduating class at the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and has practiced in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado. She is also the author of numerous articles and books including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms: Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian.