You’ve looked at the shelter pets with their big puppy dog eyes and enormous feet playing in their enclosure. Anyone of them could make a good choice for your family. But then you see the dogs who look away when you come near and don’t thump their tails in excitement. That rescue dog may come from a puppy mill, where they are kept in deplorable conditions. Other rescues come from homes where owners hoard pets and can’t care for the dozens they’ve taken in. Still, others were abused or neglected by their owners.
These pups need patience and understanding from those who adopt them. With time and a new home full of love, a rescue dog may recover both physically and mentally from the experiences of their former lives.
Adopting a Dog with a Difficult Past
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates 1.6 million dogs in the U.S. are adopted from shelters each year. Forty-four percent of dogs taken home in 2018 came from a shelter, according to data from Shelter Animals Count, up from 35 percent in 2012. The Humane Society of the United States says it’s rescued 41,550 animals from abusive homes and natural disasters since 2010.
Some facilities are shelters for pets who aren’t from abusive situations but have no home. Some are just for rescue animals, while others combine the two populations. Facilities for rescue dogs are usually smaller than shelters and are privately run. Some groups focus on rescuing specific breeds, such as boxers, beagles, or cocker spaniels.
Because rescue groups want to ensure their dogs are going to loving homes, they often have complex adoption processes, including background checks, that can take several weeks. Sometimes this means that the dogs cannot be adopted into families with young children, as that environment might make the dog anxious or afraid. And they often ask that you reimburse them for veterinary care or foster the animal for a time before formally adopting.
Before you look into adopting a rescue, do your homework on whether or not your budget can afford to handle a furry friend. Rescue dogs can give you the greatest fulfillment, but it would be heartbreaking if your rescue dog had to be given up yet again because of financial reasons.
Some rescue dogs have already had a chance to acclimate to healthful home life by living with foster families while waiting for permanent homes. These dogs will likely have a smoother transition to their new residence.
But other dogs that have been traumatized may have both physical and emotional challenges to overcome. Some rescue dogs were starving, and you can see their ribs prominently. Follow a veterinarian’s advice on the best way to introduce proper nutrition to these pups, as letting them eat anything and everything in sight may end up making them sicker.
Your vet can also let you know if your new pet has parasites, such as tape or other worms, fleas, ear mites, and other pests. The dog may have skin conditions or injuries from neglect or abuse, as well as wounds that need treatment. You may also need to take your new dog to a groomer to trim and comb his coat. In some instances, the fur may be so matted that shaving may be the best option.
The physical abuse your dog has encountered can also lead to behavior challenges. Your dog may have trust issues and back away or even growl and bite if you try to pet her. Take your cues from your dog. Move away if she seems angry and walks away when you set the food bowl down so she can see you aren’t going to take it away. Talking with her softly and offering treats often can also help. The more time she is with you, the more trusting she’ll be.
Your dog may also have separation anxiety, becoming agitated and afraid when you leave the house. He may damage furniture or other objects in your house when you’re away. This likely stems from being abandoned by previous owners or neglected for long periods. Plan to be home a lot in the first days after adoption, stepping out for five or 10 minutes at first and gradually extending the time you’re gone. Leaving soothing music or the TV on while you’re gone and liberally handing out treats may help ease the transition.
Your rescue dog may also not be housebroken, either because he lived outside or on the streets. The trauma of moving into a new home, however loving it is, can also cause him to regress in toilet training. Regularly take your dog out after meals and before bedtime to help enforce good toilet training habits.
With patience and time, your rescue dog will likely become your best friend. The more love and care you show her, the more love she will reflect. You may be amazed at the transformation of your dog’s physical appearance as he gains weight, and his shiny coat comes in.
Dogs also provide many benefits for their human companions in turn. Pets have been shown to decrease our stress levels and have even been helpful to people recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. Not only do dogs give you companionship at home, but they can also help increase your social circle. When you take your dog for a walk, you’ll not only reap the benefits of physical exercise; you’ll meet other dog owners.
If you have children, pets are a great way to teach responsibility. For children who are having a difficult time in school, struggling to socialize, or acting out, differentiated disciplinary strategies are often necessary to help them cope in social settings. These strategies are often defined by alternative methods such as the introduction of music to soothe repetitive behaviors. Another alternative could be introducing a pet into their lives—the pup may be what they need to learn responsibility and the rewards of taking care of something, and your child’s teacher may even notice the change. The gentle discipline needed to correct unwanted behaviors in rescue dogs is something kids with emotional issues may be able to learn from as well. In helping their troubled pets, they may see new ways to address their problems.
While rescue dogs require extra attention and patience to help them recover from abuse and neglect, they can make loving pets who can enrich your life as much as you have helped theirs.