From Shelter to Forever Home: The Emotional Journey of Adopting a Rescue Dog

Posted by Jackie Ly on

A woman petting rescue dogs at the shelter

Not a lot of dogs get a great start to life. Many find themselves facing uncertainty, wandering the streets, getting abandoned or surrendered, and stuck in shelters. No matter how bleak their situations may be, there will always be a chance to rewrite their stories.

Adopting a rescue is a transformative experience for both you and the dog. It’s an emotional journey that sees a pup go from living in horrible conditions to enjoying life in a safe and loving home, and their owners get all the joys of gaining a new companion.

Why should you adopt a rescue dog?

There are numerous reasons why you should consider adopting rescue dogs.

You’re giving them a second chance at life. Most rescues have experienced traumatic situations, such as being abandoned or abused. Some have even experienced being adopted, only to be sent back to the shelter.

When you adopt a rescue dog with the full intention to give them a forever home, come what may, it gives them a second chance at a happier life. For dogs who have had it ruff up until this point, you can only imagine their happiness at finding a space to call their own.

You’re freeing up space and resources for the shelter. Animal shelters do great work making sure all pets—not just dogs—are at least in a safe space with enough to eat. Shelters are, however, mostly non-profit organisations run by volunteers and get their gear and other needs through donations.

The best way to help them is to adopt. One less furry friend to take care of means one more spot for a pup in need.

Reduces demand for puppy mills. Puppy mills are behind most of the dogs you see in pet stores. Because they’re driven solely by profit, they’ve been known to keep dogs in inhumane conditions.

This is where the popular saying, “Adopt, don’t shop” comes from. By adopting rescues instead of buying dogs from stores who get them from puppy mills, it contributes to decreasing the demand for the mills and making it difficult for them to operate.

They’re a wonderful addition to the family. They aren’t called a person’s best friend for no reason! Having a dog around makes any space brighter. They can be great companions for children, bring with them a ton of laughs, and open up a whole new world of activities for the whole family.

Before, during, and after adopting a rescue dog

Adopting a rescue requires a lot of careful planning and preparation. It’s a lengthy process that starts way before you pay your shelter a visit and long after you bring your new canine companion home.

Before adopting

Consider your schedule and financial situation: Do you usually work long hours? Does your job or any other activity often  require you to leave the house for long periods of time? If you say yes to either of these questions, reconsider getting a dog. A dog, especially a puppy, a rescue, or a senior dog, needs a lot of attention and care.

You’ll also need to be in a good place financially to provide for your dog’s needs, which includes their food, their supplies, and medical needs (which may differ according to the dog’s age and health status).

Consider the size of your house: This determines the breed and size of the dog best suited to your living space. Some dogs find it harder to adjust to smaller spaces than others, and may end up getting frustrated and stressed.

For those living in smaller spaces, like apartments, you’d be better off with smaller dogs and/or dogs with calm temperaments. Senior dogs, for example, tend to enjoy quiet places. Pugs, shih tzus, and bulldogs are also examples of pups who tend to become couch potatoes.

Do your research on shelters in your area: It’s best to choose reputable shelters that are the most accessible to you, as it’s likely that you’ll be making frequent visits. If you’re a first-time dog owner, you might want to consider volunteering first at your local shelter so you’ll get some hands-on experience.

Some shelters may also ask you to fill out a form first before you can head down to see your potential pup.

Dog-proof your house: Buy all their necessary supplies, like their crate, their bed, their food, and their toys. Prepare your home by covering sockets and keeping wires hidden or out of reach, and by putting fragile items and food poisonous to dogs away. 

During adoption

Go to the pet adoption counsellor: Some shelters have pet adoption counsellors, who match you with the dog best suited for your living situation and other factors. If you’re still not sure what kind of pup you’d like to bring home, they help a great deal in narrowing down your choices!

Ask the shelter staff for more information on the dog you want to adopt: Don’t hesitate to ask questions! You can ask the staff about the dog’s breed, their personality, and their health status (such as their vaccination history).

You can also ask if the dog’s been microchipped, if they’ve been rehomed, if they’re house-trained, and if they get along well with people and with other dogs.

Leave an item of yours at the shelter: Chances are you’re not going home with your chosen rescue immediately. There’s still paperwork to fill out, medical tests to run, or other circumstances that will require you to wait a few more days before you bring your newest companion home.

Leave your dog with an old T-shirt of yours or something similar to get them used to your scent. This will also help them acclimate to their new home, making the transition from the shelter a lot easier on them.

After adoption

The 3-3-3 rule, or 3 days, 3 weeks, and 3 months since bringing your rescue dog home will serve as a guide to their behaviour. Your adopted dog will need 3 days to adjust to their new environment. They need 3 weeks to learn about you and your routines, learn to trust you, settle in, and let their guard down. After 3 months, they’ll be finally completely comfortable in their new home.

Note that some dogs may follow the 3-3-3 rule down to a T, while others may take faster or longer to bond with you and settle into their new home.

Stick to a general routine: Dogs find great comfort in routines. Help them get to know you by being consistent. That means getting up at roughly the same time, spending time with them regularly, feeding them during the same parts of the day, and going out for regular walks after they’ve been vaccinated. This helps your dog get used to their new life.

Gradually incorporate training into their usual routine: This may take quite a bit of time, especially for extremely traumatised rescues and senior dogs, who may find it difficult to follow commands. But they should at least know basic obedience training, such as recall, sit, and stay.

Incorporate commands like sit and stay during meals. Call them to you from different parts of the house to get them used to their name. Crate training is important, too, as it’s part of curbing their anxiety.

It’s okay to leave them alone sometimes: We all have our designated “me” times, and so do dogs! No matter how awesome your place is or how much you convince them that they’re now in a safe place, rescue dogs will almost always find certain things overwhelming.

They should have a designated private area where they can rest and be alone. This can be a separate room or their crate. Make sure to have their food and water bowls nearby, as well as some toys and other comforting items, like blankets.

Bringing a new dog to the family is always a cause for excitement and celebration. When you adopt a rescue, however, it adds a unique and heartwarming feeling on top of everything else. You’re not only giving these pups a new home—you’re giving them another chance to experience the incomparable sense of companionship.

As you and your newfound companion begin your lives together, you may find yourself taking small steps first, but with enough time and effort, the two of you will soon be bounding off into a brighter and safer future.

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