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In honor of Adopt a Shelter Dog Month this October, we reached out to our friends at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) for more on the ins and outs of bringing home a rescue dog. Gail Buchwald who is a Senior Vice President at the ASPCA Adoption Center was kind enough to offer her expert advice on these key questions.

1. Why should I adopt a rescue dog?

When you adopt a dog from an animal shelter, you are saving a life. By adopting, you are not only providing a loving home for a deserving animal, but you are freeing up space and resources for another animal in need. Because there are homeless pets awaiting adoption in almost every community in the nation, anyone wishing to acquire a pet should consider adopting one from a shelter or rescue group.

While the internet can be a useful source to locate adoptable animals and responsible breeders, purchasing animals via the internet without first meeting the animal and seeing the conditions in which the animal is kept is discouraged. Many puppies sold online come from puppy mills, where dogs are bred in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions without adequate veterinary care, food, water, and socialization. 

2. Where can I adopt a rescue dog?

You can find a shelter in your area by checking out the ASPCA’s national database at aspca.org/adopt-pet/find-shelter or by visiting petfinder.com. The process for adopting a dog can vary by shelter, but you’ll most likely have to complete an adoption survey and include your contact information and history of pet ownership.

You might also be asked to pay an adoption fee, but it typically costs less than purchasing a dog from a breeder or pet store.

3. What kind of dog should I adopt?

Your personality and lifestyle, along with factors such as amount of time spent at home, should be explored to determine what pet is right for your household. Shelters across the country work hard to match owners with animals that best fit their lifestyle.

At the ASPCA Adoption Center, pets are assessed by qualified shelter staff and then introduced to potential adopters based on the likelihood of compatibility. Shelter dogs are just as loving and affectionate as animals from pet stores.

If you are considering adopting a puppy, you’ll want to consider your lifestyle. Raising puppies properly takes a lot of time and hard work, while many adult dogs have more established personalities and a more manageable energy level. 

4. Do rescue dogs have special health or other needs?

Shelter dogs can be extremely healthy and affectionate dogs, often becoming homeless through unfortunate circumstances rather than any fault of their own. In fact, many may be even healthier than dogs purchased from a breeder and other sources, who may get their animals from large-scale breeding facilities, known as puppy mills.

Because puppy mill operators usually fail to remove sick dogs from their breeding stock, some dogs may have unchecked hereditary defects and congenital disorders, such as epilepsy, heart or kidney disease, and respiratory issues. Adopting from an animal shelter gives you the opportunity to speak with shelter staff directly about an animal’s health and behavioral needs.  

5. Is there any way to know if the dog will have behavioral issues?

While protocols vary at each animal shelter, animals who are surrendered to the ASPCA Adoption Center will often have a history form filled out by the previous owners. These forms are extremely helpful in providing information about the dog’s behavior in a home and will typically help determine what the best home environment for that particular dog may be.

Most shelters also perform behavior evaluations, which can help inform potential adopters about behavioral concerns that each individual dog may have. In addition, many shelter employees and volunteers spend time with the animals every day and can inform potential adopters of behavioral quirks that may help influence a decision to adopt an animal.


Behavioral conditions, such as excessive barking and destructive chewing, can be covered by an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan.


6. How can I get ready to bring the dog home?

Before bringing a new dog into your home, you’ll want to take steps to help make sure your house is safe for them. In addition to purchasing basic items such as a collar, leash, dog bed, and food and water bowls, you’ll want to get rid of anything that may be dangerous for your pet. This includes keeping dangerous decorations or toxic food and plants out of reach. You can refer to this list of 101 Things You Didn’t Know Could Harm Your Pet as a helpful guide.

You’ll also want to use dog crates and gates to confine your new dog when left home alone until they’re housetrained. And providing appropriate toys for your dog to play with will help keep them stimulated and prevent them from chewing on items like shoes and furniture.

In addition, you should know what not to feed your dog. For instance, chocolate, gum and candy, Xylitol, grapes, raisins, macadamia nuts, avocados, onions, garlic, salt, tea leaves, raw yeast dough, spoiled or fatty foods, coffee and alcohol are all harmful to dogs. If your dog does ingest something poisonous, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC) at 888-426-4435 right away. The APCC is available 24/7. A $65 consultation may apply.


Cover your dog for unexpected accidents and illnesses with an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan. Start your free quote now.


7. What can I expect in the first months with a rescue dog?

The first few months with a new dog are about establishing a relationship. From the dog’s perspective, they don’t realize that they’re adopted and loved. As far as they know, they’ve been taken away from an environment they were comfortable in.

It’s important in the first weeks and months of adopting to take things slowly and form a bond with your new dog. As much as you are learning about the dog, they are also learning what to expect from you.

8. What’s the best way to introduce a new dog to another dog in the house? A cat?

It’s important to remember that not all dogs will be compatible with other dogs and cats. Shelters can often provide insight into each dog’s behavior around other animals.

That being said, the best way to introduce a new dog to the household is to meet outside in a neutral location and walk together. Parallel walking is a great way for dogs to get to know one another while not having too much pressure put on them to interact.

Keep some space and walk for a while, gradually allowing them to sniff if they seem comfortable and then continue walking. Eventually, you can make your way inside. Remember to pick up toys, food, and any other high-value resource for the initial introduction period so the dogs don’t get into a tussle over these things.

The best way to introduce your new dog to a resident cat is to keep them separated for a few days and let them get to know one another’s smell. Provide the cat with lots of vertical space to escape to if they feel overwhelmed. Put the dog on a leash if they seem too overzealous about meeting the cat. You can provide them both with treats and lots of encouragement for being polite around each other.

We’d like to thank Gail Buchwald for taking the time to answer our questions. Learn more about the ASPCA Adoption Center and the wonderful work they do at www.aspca.org/adopt-pet. But be warned—you may come across a rescue dog on their website you can’t resist bringing home!


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