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Shelters and Pounds

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If you're thinking of adopting a shelter dog, ask the shelter staff these questions:

  • What do you know about this dog's background?
  • Do you know why this dog was turned in?
  • Has he shown any behavior problems since he's been here?
  • Has he growled at anyone since he's been here? Has he bitten anyone?
  • Does he appear to be friendly with other dogs?
  • Do you know whether he's housebroken?
  • Does he appear to have any obedience training?
  • What health tests and vaccinations has he had?
  • Has he been wormed? When, and for what kinds of worms?
  • Does he appear to be healthy now?
  • Has he been exposed to any contagious diseases since he's been in the shelter?
  • Has he shown any limping or other signs of orthopedic problems?
  • Is he a purebred, or do you know which breeds he has in him? Can someone at the shelter refer me to information about his breed or breeds?
  • Do you offer any postadoption help if he has behavioral problems?
  • Do you offer any obedience classes, or can you recommend an instructor?

Good dogs often show up in animal shelters. Some are turned in by their owners for reasons much like those given in the rescue section you just read. Some are strays whose owners never bail them out. Many wonderful pets are adopted from shelters, but it pays to understand a bit about shelters and shelter animals before you adopt.

Adopting a dog from a shelter can be rewarding if you prepare ahead of time to select the right one. You save a life and gain a wonderful friend and companion. Adopting a shelter dog is usually less expensive than getting one from a breeder. Shelter dogs, especially those turned in by their owners, may already be housetrained and have some manners, although few have had much training. Most will be more than a year old and full grown; new owners won't have to wonder how big he'll get or how much grooming she'll need.

Most states require each county to maintain a facility for the impoundment of stray animals. Local law enforcement often works with these facilities to enforce laws against animal cruelty and neglect. These public shelters are sometimes run as government agencies or are contracted out to private organizations. They are usually funded by tax dollars, dog and cat licensing fees, loose-dog and other fines, donations, grants, and adoption fees.

Private shelters vary widely in their policies and practices. Some work much like public shelters, except that they don't receive public monies. Some accept any animal in need, but because space is limited, they must limit how long they can keep each animal before turning to euthanasia to make room for another. Others, sometimes called “no-kill” shelters, do not euthanize healthy animals to make room for others. That sounds great, but such shelters turn away many animals. The reality is that the paid staff and the volunteers in private animal shelters are nearly all there because they love animals. They work hard to find homes for the ones in their care, and they mourn the ones that must die or be turned away from their doors.

If you're looking for a dog from a shelter, you should be aware that although some shelter workers are knowledgeable about dogs, some are not. Shelter staff are usually dedicated and caring people, but some are not able to identify and differentiate breeds accurately. A dog doesn't have to be a purebred to be a great pet, but if you want to be reasonably certain of getting a dog with the traits typical of a specific breed, take along someone who knows the breed well to help you evaluate candidates.

Find out how dogs are evaluated when they arrive at the shelter, who does the evaluation, and what is included in the evaluation. Some shelters have all incoming dogs examined by a veterinarian and checked for heartworms and intestinal parasites. Some evaluate the dog's temperament and behavior in the shelter, and, when possible, keep notes about the dog's health care and behavior in his previous home. But many shelters lack the resources to provide such in-depth services and have to get by with minimal evaluations.

Not all shelter staff are able to evaluate canine behavior effectively or to assist adopters with difficulties after the adoption. If you're thinking of adopting, ask lots of questions. Find out whether anything is known about the dog's background, and ask what steps have been taken to evaluate his temperament. Many shelter dogs make great pets, but unfortunately some are there due to problems, such as aggression. Others will do well with the right owners, but may not be right for you. If you are the least bit uneasy about a dog's behavior, walk away. And if you don't feel that the shelter staff can offer you the advice and support you need, find another shelter or a rescue group.



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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Dog © 2003 by Sheila Webster Boneham, Ph.D. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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