Why You Shouldn’t Adopt a Dog

The ad is well-intentioned, as are my friends who share it on Facebook. “Adopt a less adoptable pet!” the ad urges, with examples of “less adoptable” traits such as old, blind, Pit Bull (really?…), or just different. “Don’t hate me because I’m less adoptable,” the ad pleads, “adopt me because I need you.”

Now, my friends could tell you stories about my love for dogs who fit into some of these categories. I adore senior dogs, and when I put the word out that I was looking for a dog before I adopted Dobby, a friend joked that she would keep her eyes open for a three-legged, fearful, crotchety senior Pit Bull for me. I agreed that such a dog sounded lovely before I realized that she was pulling my leg.

Photo by Erick Pleitez

Photo by Erick Pleitez

I adore many of the “less adoptable” dogs, but I think this ad campaign is abhorrent. In fact, I would urge you never to adopt a dog because he needs you. Don’t adopt a dog because you feel sorry for him. Don’t adopt a dog because of his appearance. Don’t adopt a dog because his story made you cry. Don’t adopt a dog because he looks sad or acts like he was abused. Don’t even adopt a dog because he’ll die otherwise. Adopt a dog because he’s a good match and because you’ll make one another happy. Anything less is unfair to both of you.

I understand the pull to help animals. My first day working at a local pet shop as a fifteen-year-old, I brought home a three-legged, mite-infested guinea pig that was being kept in back to be sold for snake food. My first paycheck didn’t even cover the cost of her vet bills, cage, food, and other essentials. Lucky the guinea pig later became a beloved nursery school pet, and I never regretted my decision to buy her.

However, every week I work with clients whose rescue stories don’t end so happily. Love alone is not enough for every dog. While it may feel good to save the life of that terrified, shivering dog who has pressed herself into the back corner of her kennel, bringing her home to a busy household with lots of visitors isn’t doing her any favors. In some cases, it’s merely prolonging the torture. Remember, dogs live in the moment, and every moment that your new dog spends plastered behind the sofa or barking frantically in the back room because yet another friend has stopped by to visit is painful to her. Emotional pain is every bit as cruel as physical pain. Not causing it doesn’t mean it’s okay for you to neglect to address it. And quite honestly, that bouncy, social dog in the kennel next to her (the one who would be a really great fit for your social lifestyle) needs you every bit as much.

Understand that I’m not saying that you shouldn’t adopt a dog who needs a little extra. Maybe you’re really good with shy dogs, and you don’t ever have any visitors, and you are a naturally patient person. In your case, that terrified dog could be a wonderful fit for your household. You’ll enjoy helping that dog blossom, and that dog will have a safe and caring environment in which to become the wonderful pet she wants to be. The important consideration here isn’t whether your potential dog is perfect, but whether you and she are perfect for one another.

 There are thousands of wonderful dogs who would thrive in a home just like yours, and your job as an adopter is to find them. Working with a responsible rescue will help, but even before you get to that point, you need to take a moment to think about what you need. What traits does your ideal dog possess? Is he active or sedentary? Goofy or serious? Does he need to get along with children, visitors, cats, other dogs, livestock? Are you open to housetraining and teaching him basic obedience, or would you rather he already understand such things? Be honest about what will make you happy. Your ideal dog is someone else’s nightmare, so go find that dog and save his life, even if his situation may not have appeared as desperate as another dog’s.

If you work in a shelter or rescue, stop with the sob stories and emotional blackmail. If the only way you can save that dog is through suckering some soft-hearted person into taking them on, then I have some serious concerns. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t make your adopters feel like heroes. They are! However, you and I both know that most homeless dogs aren’t broken, merely unlucky. Let’s focus on their good traits, those things that will make them wonderful pets. Let’s focus on that ideal home and talk about why that home will be so incredibly lucky to have this great dog. Let’s do everything we can to make sure that the next home this dog winds up in is his last. Let’s make such solid, perfect matches that our adopters would do anything to keep that dog for the rest of his days, such solid matches that those people come back to you ten or fifteen years down the line when they are ready for another dog.

Don’t adopt a dog because he needs you. Adopt a dog because you need him. Adopt a dog because you will make one another happy. Adopt a dog because you can’t imagine your life without him. There is no better feeling in the world, and no more heroic thing you can do.

184 responses to “Why You Shouldn’t Adopt a Dog

  1. How about “consider the ramifications before adopting a less adoptable dog”? I lost my dog two months ago. I was holding her when she went. I can’t really think about adoption now; it feels like betrayal. She was by my side for eleven-and-a-half years, since I was 19 years old. We were a team for all my adult life. Without a dog, I also don’t get out. I don’t have a fenced yard: I walked her most days (unless the weather was really, really awful) and took her outside at least several times a day. Most of my neighbors I know I terms of dogs. For the last six years, I’ve been walking a child-loving pit bull. The kind of dog who thought that any amount of pulling and poking was lovely when it involved small, cute faces I tongue reach. A dog who loved, and was loved by, all the children she knew. With other dogs it was a toss-up, but with children, she was consistent, patient, and loving.

    I’m accustomed to waking up multiple times during the night to go outside for a potty break; hell, as much as I grumbled at the time, I miss it! I had a perfect setup of a big, heavy cloak and a pair of knockoff Uggs that could be thrown on quickly, so even standing outside at night in the middle of winter was doable. I even miss cleaning up after the accidents.
    And a dog in need is what might override my guilt, the fear of replacing my baby (as though anybody ever could!)

    I don’t *want* any other dog — but honestly, I’m I need of rescuing, and I suspect that it will have to be a dog who needs it too. That need is probably the only thing that might get me out again.

    I can’t be the only person for whom the possibility of a mutual need is the only logical option? Surely other dog people need that after losing a best friend? It seems to me like sometimes, what you need is to be needed. And I suspect that that’s true of both humans and dogs.

    So if I’m looking for a dog, it’s a pit bull in great need that I would want. Is that a bad thing? Pits are what I know, and I can’t quite consider anybody who isn’t as broken as I am.

    Sure, there are limits. I have a cat and a free-roaming ferret (who both grew up with my dog) amd I couldn’t keep a dog who was agressive towards them. But besides that safety issue, I’m pretty sure that what i need is the need.

  2. Claudia Prather

    Maggie you are absolutely right. Need is something some of us feel and it isn’t out of pity for the animal you want to adopt but a need within yourself that says I need to be needed, which the author completely negated. I tell potential adopters that have recently lost their pet they are honoring the dog/cat recently lost by adopting another.

  3. Pingback: Rescue Decisions: The Dog, or the Community? | Paws Abilities

  4. I think this is an important and well-written post. “Need” is not a good enough reason if you aren’t well-equipped to deal with those needs – you’ll only exacerbate them, or the rescue will exacerbate your issues. My partner and I spent a lot of time trying to pick the perfect shelter dogs to match our lifestyles and abilities (we’re first time dog owners, so we’re learning!), and I had to say no to a lot of very sweet, needy dogs whom I knew I couldn’t do well by.

    In the end we got two dogs that didn’t really resemble their descriptions (one was described as happy and playful and she stayed on her bed, immobilized with anxiety, for almost six months until we got her a friend; the friend was described as well-behaved in the house and a lover of all creatures, but when we left her alone we’d come back to destruction and it turns out she’s reactive to almost all other dogs – has gotten in a couple of scraps and had a few stitches as a result – and wants to eat cats), so I would really stress the importance of honest adoption ads and being honest with yourself as well. We absolutely adore our dogs now, they have many wonderful qualities and we couldn’t imagine giving them up, but they’re just not quite what we wanted or needed, and we’ll have to wait another 10-15 years before we can try again. I wish that adoption agencies would actually aim for the best matches possible rather than the most adoptions possible. It feels like they made us go through so many hoops, only to let us down. :\

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I happened upon it when I Google-searched “why guilty when a rescue isn’t a match?” because I went to meet a dog to potentially adopt today, and realized we weren’t going to be a good match for each other. On the hour and a half drive home, I started over-thinking it, and guilt started to creep in. By the time I got home I was on the phone with my Mom bawling because I felt like I had just let this little guy down somehow. That I had judged and rejected him in some way. Is that weird?

    A brief history: two years ago I left a relationship of 6 years with someone who owns two amazing rescue Chihuahuas. They were so funny and personable and leaving them absolutely broke my heart, especially the male. Much like Maggie’s comment, I was so heartbroken I couldn’t bare the thought of getting a new dog because I felt he/she would be a rebound dog.

    Fast forward to today, I finally feel ready for my own dog, and wanted to meet Bowie. He is a 3 and a half year old Chihuahua rescue, who’s bio suggested he wasn’t the most social dog, but gets along with [most] dogs. Per the foster Mom, he is cautious with all new humans, allowing some to pet him, some he gives the Elvis-teeth sneer to, and others he either ignores or does the “air nip” at, as a warning. I understand Chi’s can be a bit protective and at times snippy, but since mine weren’t, I at least wanted to see which category I fell in, if any. Unfortunately, I fell in between the you-can-pet-me and the Elvis-teeth-sneer. Only being able to pet him with a treat in my hand. I did get a quick nose-lick, but as he sat in my lap, he still sneered when I would try to pet him. I was there for an hour and the other two Chi’s warmed up to me so well in that amount of time, but Bowie, did not. The foster Mom experienced the same (she said) when she brought him home, and now he follows her everywhere. So, it’s possible (she said) that if he came home with me, the same would happen. The problem is that a) he might not, and b) I would really like to be able to bring him places. I am not a social person in that I stay home a LOT and don’t go out in big crowds or to bars, etc. But I would like to take him to visit family and friends once in awhile and it seems as though it would be too stressful of an environment for him. Especially around children. His bio suggested the reason he was surrendered might be because he may have bitten a child, although it wasn’t confirmed. So, instead of thinking I am a Chi-whisperer, and could break him of this, I feel it best that I just don’t put him in situations that will stress him out, or set him up to fail.

    I feel it’s probably what’s best for him, so why does it feel bad? Did I act too hastily? Why do I feel so terrible about it? This is my first time adopting a rescue so I’m learning, but man, it really feels awful. Is this normal to feel this way? Sorry for such a long post. Today was so emotional and very confusing so any insight would be grately appreciated. Thanks in advance for reading and responding :)

  6. After having owned over 24 adopted animals from shelters or rescues, our family has learned the hard way that these dogs can never be healthy because of all the vaccinations and poor nutrition they received before coming into our home. Poor health and abnormal behaviors are the norm in animals today. Our next dogs will only be from a natural rearing breeder who doesn’t vaccinate and who feeds the correct diet of raw meaty bones. Our friends have 2 of them and they are so much more intelligent and are super healthy. As puppies, they potty trained in just a few days! Some rescued dogs we’ve owned were never able to get this so we suffered with bathroom messes their entire lives.

  7. Wow, great things.

  8. Adopt a dog after you’ve done the BREED research and know you will be a good match. Don’t get anything terrier, husky or malamute if you’re a couch potato, don’t have a well fenced secured yard or work all the time and have neither the time or energy for a dog that will become a problem when it’s ignored, under exercised and under stimulated. Don’t get a jack russell or another GAME dog and expect it will stay out of your neighbors chicken coop. Don’t get dogs like Akita’s and cane corso’s if you have strangers at your house all the time.

  9. i love how your just saying not to adopt a dog ON A DOG WEBSITE!!!

  10. This is a somewhat relatable subject, which is the rescuing of stray dogs on tv. Usually done by individual non-kill-shelters.
    They always go for the most mite-infested, tick-bitten, wounded dog.
    Never the nice one. Never the dog that seems to be doing o.k., but would surely enjoy a new home, inside.
    And after spending 3 grand on the dog, pushing it through hell with 2 different spinal-surgeries, one broken-leg-healing and the removal of several ticks from his nose and the worms out of their eyes and god knows what, you’re left with one limping ‘dog’ that can’t see and has a lifetime of veterinary bills to come, for his poor dental hygiene, his bad genes and his anxieties.

    Dogs aren’t humans. You want to help the dog that’s scared and sad, because he needs you “the most”, but that’s at the cost of several dogs that’d be easy to re-home.
    The longer you let those wait outside..the bigger the chance they will eventually also develop broken bones, tick-infestations and long term health-problems.

    As a dog-owner, I would honestly say (and I know people will gasp in horror) that the most humane thing to do, is take 2-3 dogs from the street that seem to wánt to be rescued and are social and seem proper pets.
    If you come across a dog that is suffering, blind and limping and starving or dehydrated and lice-infested with severe health-problems, (AND doesn’t have a collar or chip) then give him a small meal, pet him on the back, tell him he’s a good dog and make the shot quick and painless, so that the last thing he experienced is a proper meal.

    Make sure the other dogs don’t see/aren’t frightened and remove the dog from the street, in a black bag, in the freezer.

    That way, instead of spending all the money on óne dog, you could help 6-8 dogs with the same money and turn them into nice pets, that people will want to care for.
    There’s no reason to torture an animal with well-intended surgeries, when it’ll end up barking in the corner, frightened of any sign of affection the owner might show to it.

  11. disparateinterests

    Reblogged this on Disparateinterests's Blog.

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