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.

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

  1. We adopted,we had 8 wonderful years together, a few chewed slippers, stolen chocolate and many an icecream shared after a long walk. Adopting the right fur family is def the way to go. :-)

  2. This is a very interesting post. When deciding to adopt or buy a pet, people should think carefully about what sort of commitment they are getting themselves into. An animal is a living being, not a possession you can get rid of once it is not convenient for them to take care of them anymore. So, to anyone considering adoption I would suggest think hard and long before you do it.
    I rescued a cat from the streets and 11 years after I have never regretted it. But maybe I was extremely lucky and at a moment when we both needed each other

  3. Definitely the right sentiments! I’ve had one dog myself, 5 years after his death still miss him! Had him from a puppy but knew that when his time came that I wouldn’t get another until I’d done a few things that can’t be done with a pet, pets are a huge responsibility which some people need to think of before they get one! You’re right, you cannot get any pet just because he looks cute! Next dog I get will be for my retiring years to help me stay fit into old age! I enjoy walking which is one of a dog’s first and foremost needs! I can’t stand those people who say,”Oh, he’s only little, he don’t need as much walking as a big 1!”

  4. I agree with you. No one should adopt a dog based on guilt. We have two dogs and one is a rescue. She is a wonderful dog, but not as emotionally whole as the other one that came from a house where to mom got knock up up by the scruffy thing next door. The owners practically gave us that puppy, but he had a good start in life and is much more secure than the one from the shelter.

  5. I agree. When we adopted my cat, I knew instantly what one I wanted. Regardless of my father’s peer pressure to pick a different cat, he and I have been together 16 years and hopefully a lot more!
    He’s my best friend.

  6. A pet is a family member. Chose with only that thought in mind.

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  8. Having volunteered with a rescue, we saw this a lot, even though the people who ran it tried to make sure it was the right home, dogs would occationally come back. I have the most respect for the people who run responsible rescues and help place dogs in the right home.

  9. 4 years ago we took in lab/GS cross to our home – girl called Lilly. At first it wasn’t easy as she was never walked, never travel in the car… but as time went by we started to know each other and trust each other. She is The Best Dog ever! Adopting here was one of the best ideas we had.

  10. thejamiemarie

    I agree! I feel like some families go in WANTING to HELP an animal so they adopt and they aren’t 100% aware of what that adoption will mean. Sometimes there is A LOT of work that has to be done with some of these animals. They’re not all just lovable animals that are perfectly trained and just not loved enough. I see so many people who adopt pitbulls (I own two) because they have a bad rep and want to prove society wrong…well, great, but the breed IS a lot of work! They ARE high energy and they do have breed specific issues (not saying they’re as dangerous as people say, but they are a breed to be AWARE of).

  11. I don’t actually have to choose a pet, they just end up with us through no fault of ours. The puppy my 12 year old begged me for an entire two years (Cant say no to that), the lizard my mom came back from Florida with (i’m afraid of snakes), and the cat was somehow dropped off by my aunt who happens to be a salesperson leaving me to wonder how that even happened. That being said I love them all, but shhh don’t tell anyone or we’ll have another. So I guess you can say I get picked out rather than the pets.

  12. We have adopted two different “dumped” dogs. The first one seemed like the right pup at the right time, the second showed up about the time my hubby started grumbling about getting another dog to keep the first one company. She had mange and was pretty pitiful, but a little TLC and we had a rambunctious although neurotic pup. Neither has been ideal. They’ve both had issues from their prior life, but they are so sweet and loyal, and while I didn’t think I needed them at the time, I can’t imagine life without them.

  13. Jeffrey Baker

    For the most part, I agree with what you say here, but, going to the animal shelter with a check list of traits, and rejecting animals that don’t match that check list perfectly is no different than going out on dates and rejecting someone who doesn’t fit your image of the perfect mate. We all have ideals in our head of what the perfect pet will be like, but, few animals actually meet our ideals.

    I adopted Ruby at a shelter. I was hoping that I might be able to take her out with me when I do fieldwork (I’m an archaeologist), or go for hikes on the weekend. I’m also somewhat of an introvert. Ruby loves people (she spends as much time at the dog park getting attention from the other humans as she does playing with the other dogs). Ruby also has low levels of endurance, and low tolerance of heat (we live in Las Vegas, so heat is an issue).

    When I first adopted her, I thought the low endurance might have been a result of her being in the shelter for 6 weeks, and having been pregnant prior to that. But, her endurance hasn’t improved noticeably since I adopted her. I take her out for an hour walk every morning, and either another walk in the evening or I take her to the dog park. She simply is not a very active dog, and, even now, with high temperatures in the low 80’s, she gets overheated quickly if I take her for a midday walk. When the temperature breaks 100 (which is does for 3 or 4 months every year), her activities outside are restricted to the early mornings and evenings (by her choice).

    I can’t take her with me when I’m going to be out hiking 8 miles in a day, particularly if the temperature is over 100 degrees.

    But, she had a great personality when I met her at the shelter, and I have no regrets about adopting her. She is a great dog and a great companion. I make sure to take her out to so she can interact with other humans on a regular basis (whether it is taking her to my office, taking her to the dog park, a restaurant or a pet store). And, when we go for hikes, I am very aware of her limitations and take plenty of water for her, along with giving her frequent rests. And, weekend excursions with Ruby are kept intentionally shorter than they otherwise would be.

    Other than being a 3 yr old pitbull, Ruby definitely would not fall into the category of being less adoptable.

    • But, see, in my opinion this dog would have been a better fit for someone who wanted more of a couch potato. If your goal was to get a dog you wanted to take on long expeditions with you, why did you settle for one that wouldn’t? High energy dogs are rough to get rid of because of their exercise needs, you could have really helped a dog out. Instead, it sounds like you settled for a pretty face. I’m sure you love the dog and she’s an excellent companion, but she can’t be with you when you go on these expeditions which is why you wanted a companion in the first place. It makes no sense, not to me. My advice to people looking to adopt is not to bend on must-haves – like good with children or cats, good for car rides if you intend to travel, the right energy-level as in this case and etc. .

      • Jeffrey Baker

        The point I was trying to make is that if you go looking for the perfect dog, you will always be disappointed, because no dog will ever meet all of your expectations. You have to be willing to make changes to your lifestyle to fit the needs of the dog you adopt. Dogs will try to adapt to your lifestyle, but, you need to be prepared to make changes to your lifestyle.

        There are some things that you shouldn’t accept. If you have children or other pets that the dog doesn’t get along with, that dog is not acceptable.

        In regards to Ruby, everything I had read (and the pit bull- mixes I’d met) indicated they are high energy dogs. When I adopted Ruby, she had been in the shelter for about 6 weeks, and had clearly had a litter shortly before that (she was spayed about 5 1/2 weeks before I adopted her). When I first adopted her, I assumed that she simply lacked endurance because of the pregnancy and then the time in the shelter, and thought her endurance would recover over time. It hasn’t.

        It took me several months to realize that her endurance was never going to improve. Based upon the pit bulls we’ve encountered at the dog park, Ruby is definitely on the low end in terms of endurance. When you adopt, you can’t always tell how the dog matches up with known traits for that breed. My weekend excursions tend to involve shorter hikes, with frequent breaks. I’m fine with that. I don’t think Ruby would have been fine with getting abandoned a second time.

        The only time I don’t take her with me is for work related activities, or when I need to go to a store that doesn’t allow dogs. I think you can make that same statement about most dog owners.

  14. FANTASTIC post. I really, couldn’t have said it any better. I’ve volunteered at a SPCA for the longest time and I could have anything to do with the adoptions, and seen so many dogs go – and come back. It was sad. I wanted to adopt a dog but never found one that spoke to me, I instead bought my dog and saved her a life chained up with the owners others dogs because she is a “husky” and lives out side. I don’t regret buying her verses adopting a dog. She is really great we are exactly alike. Both hyper and love to run :) and get distracted easily. Visit my blog :) if you look at my categories under “pets” you can see the couple of blogs on her, her name is Dutchess.
    Great post~

  15. “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 agree with this extremely. We have neighbors that always adopt dogs and then they end up giving the dog to someone else or going and putting it back in the pound because after the two week “trial” period, the dog was just “not for them” What is some advice that you could give me to give to my neighbors?

  16. But ..In your own words…you never regretted getting that Guinea pig!!

  17. kris10bennett

    This is an excellent column and can be applied not only to needy animals, but also to people!

  18. “Don’t adopt a dog because he needs you. Adopt a dog because you need him.” — I was fully expecting that I would have to write a snide comment on this post (never judge a book by its cover!). This is great! I must admit I adopted my first dog for the wrong reasons. It ended up working out but it was a long road! I made a much better decision for her sister! Great post!

  19. I adopted mine because they were the right match. Had them since they were puppies. I am soo glad I did. They are interesting to watch play and after a long and exhausting day, the make me smile again. While I do feel for special needs animals, the right rescue group can place the right pet with the right human family. What makes me mad is when people adopt dogs/cats/guinea pigs is because the pet is causing issues within the family or chewing up furniture. Mine have done that and I did not give them away. If I had children my furbabies are not leaving. They are staying with me until they pass on…..

  20. I enjoy Ceasar’s show Leader of the Pack because they work hard to demonstrate how to get the correct pet for you and family. :)

  21. My rescues picked me. I didn’t ‘pick’ them.Maybe I didn’t get the one I wanted, but in my experience I got the ones I needed. And yes, I did feel sorrow for them. Which in turn, gave them a happy life. Opportunity’s are in the guise of challenges and they come in all forms. I find the most challenging are the most rewarding and are the ones I wouldn’t trade for anything.

  22. I adopted my two shih-tzus several years ago. The agreement was that they had to be adopted together. The process took a very long time, as they were coming from a foster home and the pet parent was demanding ‘visitation rights’. After basically getting a restraining order from the Humane Society, Fancy and Colin found their new forever home. They love each other, and they love me. I cannot imagine my life without them, and the patience I had to have to get them was definitely worth the wait. Thank you for your post. Everything you stated is spot on for those looking to adopt a pet of any kind. Everyone should read this before beginning the journey of pet adoption.

  23. Good point & I agree. All four of our pets are cast-offs, run-aways, or otherwise found and given a home.

    Along with your urgings I’d LOVE it if people stopped spending loads of money or purebreds. Too many pets in shelters to be buying dogs. I have an uncle who lives in northern NJ where the folks have LOTS of money and it’s all about keepin’ up. He actually was telling me that showing up at the dog park with anything but a pound dog is now frowned upon! Pound dogs are in, purebreds are out. That’s great! (though I hope it’s more than just a fad).

    • Maybe a purebred dog is the “right” fit for someone. Responsible breeders are never the cause of pet overpopulation. I would be extremely sad if the breed of my choice (for certain personality traits) was gone from this earth. I’m a huge rescue advocate, but I also see the value of quality breeders.

  24. Great article!! I completely agree. It worries me when folks impulsively adopt a pet, without thinking of how that animal will fit in with their lifestyle, home,and personalities
    Both of our dogs and both of our cats are rescues. However, I was very careful to make sure each of them would fit in with our family, including the pets we already had. When I adopted my last dog from a shelter, I even asked permission to take her into the cat room on leash to see if she had any aggression toward cats. I knew her breed type, and could tell her personality was one I would enjoy, but it was important that the cat I had at home would be safe with her, also.
    All of our animals are perfect for us. We chose them using our brains AND our hearts, and that’s the best way to do it. :)

  25. I think it should also be noted, “Don’t adopt a dog because your one dog just died and your kids want one and they are sad,” and then you get upset when the new dog is nothing like the last dog, so you want to get rid of it.
    And don’t rescue a dog off the street if you don’t know anything about rescuing dogs that need tons of behavior modification, but you’re upset anyway because the saved dog should know better on how to behave. That one still kills me.

  26. Found one of my dogs and adopted an so called adoptable dog. with no social skills. Challenging yes. Wouldn’t change it for the world. Behavior assessments are a snapshot in time…..

  27. And do not forget: Adopt a dog only of you are certain that you cant take care of him. I’m still learning the subject and struggling with some challenging issues.

    Thanks for the important and interesting post.

  28. Love it, I must admit my husband, had to put down his 17 year old friend last year, it was his time. Well in January while I was in bed with the flu he comes home and shows me a picture of this pub from the shelter down the street. It is a bully pit puppy about 8 months old. I say know why! He of course gives me the I lost my dog line. I give in and he takes our other mix breed dog to see if they get along. It was a great fit. But the moral to the story is we had to learn about bully’s to understand they. They are very good dogs but very lazy I thought my husband got a broken dog. LOL I look forward to following your post.

  29. I like your perspective on this! It got me thinking on different angles…thanks!

  30. **stands up and cheers** This is the most important advice anyone could ever follow when adopting a dog. Good intentions probably wind up with more owner surrenders and rehoming than any other reason. People just never think about how important personality matching is when adopting a dog. Bravo!

  31. Pingback: Step away from the dog | The Quirky Diva

  32. I could not disagree more with you. I am only speaking from personal experience, but no dog I have ever had (and I’ve had dogs since I was little, and I’m 52 now) has been planned. In essence, every dog has chosen me, not the other way around. The best dog not only that I’ve owned but that I’ve ever met came to me a flea-bitten, scared, skinny mess trapped on a busy streetcorner trying to cross the road. I took her home and she and I spent the rest of her life together, happy. The dog I have now was not a hard-luck story per se, but he was not wanted by his owner and so I agreed to take him. He has the most unique personality of any dog I’ve ever owned. Love is enough, at least it is for me. I understand that for many love would not be enough. But perhaps those people should not own a dog in the first place.

  33. We have two Cairn Terriers. This is the breed my husband wanted when we decided it was time for a dog after our Boxer passed away from old age. Both dogs came from shelters (not at the same time). One is 10 years old the other we believe is 5. They both came with their issues and quirks, but there were plus sides too. Since they were adult dogs and not puppies no house training was needed. We also did not have to confine them when we left the house fearing they would tear the house apart. My husband and I felt we did the right thing taking them out of the shelter. Neither was really adoptable and were in the shelter for some time, one because of her age, the other because she was not fixed and had a huge growth on her bottom which we had removed. Both dogs seem to love us very much. Maybe they are grateful for a place to sleep, clean surroundings, food, and people who love them back. I don’t know. Yes, they do stuff that drives us crazy at time but when they look at us with those eyes we just melt and can’t imagine life without them.

  34. Pingback: How I spent my last Winter | glowingletters

  35. A very clever, non sentimental article written with great sentiment. :-)

  36. Beautiful! And very true. Pity is always a bad basis to any relationship.

  37. To find the right breed you can use our new test -> http://www.dog-breeds.com/which-dog-is-right-for-me/

    Regards ;)

  38. Pingback: The Week in Tweets – 9th June 2013 | Some Thoughts About Dogs

  39. In reference to doing research before adoption their was not any difference in the number of dogs being returned to the sheltet whether adopting by impulse or by doing research. From a recent study in 3 major city shelter performed by AHA and Pet Smart. Charities. Just sayin…..

  40. I could never work at a shelter, I would want to bring them all home with me. However, I do have a dog that was a rescue. She actually picked me. I was just looking and she walked over and literally sat on my shoes. I looked at her and she looked at me and that was it. My wife and family have enjoyed having Bailey as part of our family for 11 wonderful years and counting.

  41. I know this is a tad unrelated as I noticed how many were saying one should adopt a bunny rather than buy but the same principal applies. You see, whether or not you adopt or buy, it is neither win-win because, when you buy, you deny a chance for a shelter pet to have a home, and, when you adopt, you take away the chance for a pet store pet to get a home.

    In my case, I would pick buying, that, and the dog I grew up with was from a breeder and she lived to be fourteen (I was fifteen when she passed and this was about two years ago). As long as I am not stealing the animal I want as a pet, then I am fine.

  42. How selfish to only adopt a dog because you need him. Shame on anyone with that frame of mind. I wouldn’t hesitate to adopt a dog because he NEEDS me. I have four but would take in another if I have to. I don’t need another one, but will take one that NEEDS me.

  43. Adopt a dog only if you need each other. I adopted my border collie/ black labmix a year ago and feel good that I saved that little dogs life an in return she provides me energy and joy and love.

  44. Thank you so much for posting this article! I read it at just the right time. I was feeling guilty that I was unable to adopt a dog I had been planning to adopt when I found out he wouldn’t be a good fit for my family. I had originally been told he was just stubborn and needed training, which would have been fine, but then it came out that he was aggressive and needed more help than I could give. Although I had seen him online and not actually met him I still felt sorry for him but you’re right, that’s not a good reason to adopt a dog. A dog with issues needs the right environment to overcome them and the wrong environment is just setting the dog up for failure.

  45. This article is wonderful. We have two lovely dogs in our home and they are our family. One is an adopted as a puppy from a reputable breeder, and then the other is a rescue who spent the first two years of her life horribly mistreated in a puppy mill. We do not regret either and love them both dearly, but, particularly with our rescue there were many days that we questioned what we had gotten ourselves into. She is a wonderful addition to our family, but there are things that will always be a challenge. Even after 2 1/2 years with us, she may never be fully housetrained and daily accidents are something that we may always need to deal with. Kenneling her will likely never be an option as she will likely never think of a kennel (a happy place for our other dog) as a good thing. She has never understood playing with a toy, although she enjoys watching her puppy sister do so. Walking her in a busy area is a terrifying experience for her as she remains anxious around strangers. The first night we came to live with us, she was so intent on putting space between us and her that she fell off the bed. It took her a year to voluntarily come into the kids rooms. After 2 1/2 years of hard work and lots of love and patience, she trusts us and cuddles and is so wonderful and we do not have a single regret about bringing her into our home. But, that’s us. If someone is hoping to bring a neglected dog like she was into the home and have an instant companion – well, this never would have been the case with her. People really need to understand their own personal needs and limits when adopting certain types of pets – and this can include pet backgrounds (such as rescues) as well as breeds (if you aren’t active – don’t adopt and active dog). The more educated people are, the better – and the less at risk or high need dogs that will likely need to be rescued.

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