Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rescue Myths

This post is the personal opinion of the blog owner and does not reflect any opinion by the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) of Alberta.

Frequently, I hear different myths or stereotypes about rescue dogs that are usually not all true. This topic has been on my mind more lately because of the debate surrounding whether or not retail pet sales should be banned in Calgary (For more info see Actions Speak Louder Calgary). I keep hearing all these reasons why people don't want a rescue. Below, I've posted the top 5 myths I've come across and my personal explanations for them in hopes that someone will read this and re-think rescue.

Myth 1: All rescue dogs have been abused.
This is a big one and it isn't always true; it's an unfair assumption on our part. Most of the dogs I've come across have been strays. Some may have been neglected or not always treated with compassion, but they haven't been beaten and tortured, they're usually just really hungry. Truth is, if you've seen a skittish dog in a shelter there is a good chance he was under socialized and relinquished to the shelter for one of many reasons (lack of funds, housing, new baby, new boyfriend/girlfriend, not enough time etc., etc.).

Most puppies are found living in sheds or under stairways.

For example: ARF's dogs mostly come from First Nations communities and rural areas around Southern Alberta and many people just assume they were abused because of where they came from. This assumption is usually pretty far from the truth and a pretty terrible one at that. It is more likely that the mom was semi-feral or stray and the puppies just happened to be curious or hungry enough to approach someone for food. Rescuers would then catch them, bring them to the vet to be vaccinated and spayed/neutered and put up for adoption; all the while socializing the heck out of these puppies. Depending on their age, they may have missed out on some very important socialization windows and rescuers will have to work a little harder. If the mom was, in fact, semi-feral (which most of them are darn close to), these puppies would have been kept far away from people and just not properly exposed to them, therefore giving them no impression of humans. If they haven't been handled by or even seen a person by the time they are 6 weeks old, there is a good chance they will be quite nervous and shy. Typically, this obstacle is easily overcome when the dogs get into foster homes. They are socialized with adults, children, other dogs etc. and the foster homes always make sure potential adopters know what kind of personality the dogs have, so if a family isn't exactly sure of how to handle a shy dog, they will match them with a dog that is more suitable to their experience and comfort level.

Myth 2: All rescue dogs have behaviour problems.
No, they don't all have behaviour problems; see Myth 1. There is a difference between a dog who needs some training and a dog who has serious behavioural problems and most dogs need training!

Again, dogs are usually surrendered to shelters for a myriad of reasons; lack of money or a major lifestyle change are the top reasons. Sometimes previous owners have not invested a lot of time into their dogs... especially if they are between puppy-hood and 1.5 years old. The most common issues you will find in a shelter/rescue dog are simple things that some training and patience will overcome. Things like walking properly on a leash, house manners and basic obedience are easily solved with positive reinforcement training. Taking a training class with your new dog is probably one of the best ways to form a relationship with them; besides, all dogs need training, no matter where you get them from.

Rescues are a little different and it usually depends on where the rescue receives their dogs from. Some breed-specific rescues do take owner surrenders and others, like ARF, take in stray and abandoned animals. Generally speaking, those stray dogs seldom have any house manners or basic training and the foster homes are well equipped to start the dog off on the right foot. They work on house & crate training and basic obedience so that the dog has some sort of foundation for the adoptive family to start with. Occasionally, there are behaviour problems like, reactivity and fearfulness but those dogs are placed with foster homes that know how to work with these issues and ARF has CPDT-KA trainers willing to work with the dogs and their foster homes. Not to mention one of the most beautiful things about a rescue with foster homes is that they know their dogs well. Potential adopters are not matched up with a dog that is outside of their skill/comfort level.

Soon after rescue, it was evident Kya had separation anxiety. She was
placed in an experienced foster home and she found a wonderful
family that could accommodate her special needs.

In my time involved with rescue, I have seen few serious behaviour issues that would deem a dog un-adoptable. I'm not saying rescue dogs never have behaviour issues, some do, but any dog from any source has the same potential, at least a good rescue will tell you up front what they know about the dogs in their system. That's more than you'll get from a back yard breeder who just want's to make some money off you.

Myth 3: Rescue/Shelter dogs are all mutts.
Again, not really that true. There are so many breed specific rescues in Alberta, it's not even funny! If you are looking for a specific breed you can start with the Calgary Humane Society or the City of Calgary Animal & Bylaw Services. About 20-30% of owner surrendered dogs are pure bred. There are also a number of small breed rescues that frequently have small, pure bred dogs of various types. You can also use Google to your advantage. In your search bar type the following: (breed) rescue, Calgary (if you were looking for a Great Dane, you would type: great dane rescue, Calgary).

Commercial breeders (puppy mills) supply pet stores with dogs,
they also sell through online classified sites. Many dogs from these locations are sick,
malnourished and have myriad of genetic health issues. Breeding females are kept until
they can no longer produce puppies, then, they are thrown away like trash.

If you really need to have a pure breed dog, do your research and please, please find a reputable breeder. Chances are the folks selling dogs on Kijiji are not reputable and neither are pet stores or their suppliers! Here is a really good article on finding a reputable breeder.

I would like to note that it should be harder to get a dog from a good breeder than it is to get one from a good rescue!

Myth 4: It's so hard to adopt a rescue dog.
OK, so this isn't a myth, but more of a complaint. It should be hard to adopt a dog or any animal for that matter. Pets are a lifetime commitment. I'm talking 10-15 years here, not the lifespan of a purse. Rescues and shelters should have the animal as their number one priority. These animals have been let down and abandoned once already, it doesn't need to happen a second or third time. But this brings us back up to Myth 3; it should be just as hard to get a dog from a reputable breeder. If you can walk into a breeder's home or pet store and go home in 20 minutes with a pet, you shouldn't be getting one from that source. Period.

It doesn't get any cuter than this!
Rescue pup photo by: Theresa Swain
Myth 5: Rescues/shelters never have puppies.
What? LOL! Rescues and shelters always have puppies! I know ARF does. Shelters usually do too, sometimes you just have to go down to the facility and look for yourself. Frequently these places don't have enough staff or volunteers to keep their websites current.

I really hope this post has helped shed some light on common rescue myths. It is estimated that 4-5 million dogs and cats are euthanized in U.S. shelters every year. There are no statistic for Canadian shelters (that I could find anyway), so I'm going to assume our number is not far behind. Many of these animals are fully adoptable, friendly, wonderful, loving animals that simply ran out of time. It's heartbreaking to know that this is an issue we (as human beings) can have a huge impact on, yet do little about it. If you are interested in adopting your next four legged family member, check out this page, it's a huge listing of rescue organizations and shelters in Canada.

No matter where you get a pet from, make sure you do your research; a good breeder or a good rescue should have tons of questions for you and you should feel comfortable talking to them about their animals. Analyze your lifestyle and your activity level, your dog knowledge and training skills. You should have a good idea what kind of dog you would be compatible with before entering into the adoption process. A good rescue with knowledgeable foster homes won't pair you up with a dog that is outside of your skill/comfort level.

And, if you've made it this far... thank-you for reading my incredibly long-winded post. Feel free to share it with anyone. Adopt, don't shop!


  1. I rescued an adult, pure bred that had not been abused or neglected, he was very well trained to boot! Please rescue always!

  2. Thank-you for that comment. It helps prove my point!

  3. Excellent post, well said and it says everything I've been saying for YEARS!

  4. I also rescued my dog from ARF as a puppy and she is the most well mannered, happy, gentle dog. Im so happy to have rescued her and always encourage everyone to rescue animals as it is a truly gratifying feeling to know you have helped an animal to have a better life!!!

  5. Great article and over my lifetime we've always had rescue dogs (not always from rescue society or humane society sometimes "gifts" from friends of friends who couldn't keep their dogs for various reasons). Ultimately even if people think they want a purebred because they think they'll have a better chance of getting a dog with a "personality" and size they think they'll be guaranteed to get it I can attest to having 2 dogs from the same litter (registered sheltie and registered border collie mom and dad from a "breeder") that were total opposites. One weighed 20 pounds the other 45. One was laid back and relaxed and the other is "high maintenance" for lack of better word. We of course love them both but this is a perfect example that no dogs are guaranteed of anything. Of course with purebreds you can assume sizes within a range but personalities vary with every litter right from the start. Even as a foster home when I get litters the pups personalities are pretty evident quite quickly.
    I will also add that out of the dogs we've had (which are numerous) it seems that the healthiest and most easygoing are typically the rescue dogs. I will assume that is probably alot to do with "Darwin's Law" of survival of the fittest so typically rescues don't have many of the genetic conditions that are common in the purebreds.
    Also many rescue organizations want the best for their dogs so if something unfortunate happens and the dog can't stay with its adoptive family many rescues will try to do what they can to help them out with that situation. It's not ideal but it happens. Whereas most breeders I've heard of will not offer this service. Ultimately the pets are first priority with rescue organizations.
    So once again hopefully your blog reaches as many people as possible and changes lots of people ideas about adopting a rescue pet.

  6. "I will assume that is probably alot to do with "Darwin's Law" of survival of the fittest so typically rescues don't have many of the genetic conditions that are common in the purebreds."

    This is probably true... there is a more diverse gene pool when it comes to strays breeding and typically, the healthiest, smartest etc. survive long enough to reproduce.

    I know that when you get into genetics, it seems to be a little bit like russian roulette. Even though very experienced breeders put some serious thought behind mating a certain pair, many dogs within that litter will vary greatly.

    I personally have two border collie mixes. One is from a backyard breeder (before I knew any better) and she's fearful of everything. I've worked very, very hard over the past 5 years (she's almost 7) to counter condition and work through her issues to bring her to a comfortable management level. Had I known then what I know now I likely would have run far, far away from that specific litter of puppies. But, I didn't know these things... Years later, I've gotten my second dog from ARF, as an adult. I knew EXACTLY what I was getting and totally prepared for everything about him. The benefits of honesty I guess.

  7. Hello,
    I adopted a beautiful tan/white Border Collie X (AARCS). He is still only 4 months old. I volunteer to drive for them and took him to Edmonton to stay with his foster family.
    He stole my heart on the trip up and 2 weeks later I adopted him and brought him to his forever home. While he was a small puppy, he will be a big dog. Best thing I ever did.

  8. Thanks for that comment! The more people who talk about their good experiences with rescue/shelter dogs, the more outweighed these myths will get!

  9. My family and I have rescued some of our dogs- they are terrific additions to our family! They make us laugh and have fun every day. We love them and they love us. I really like playing with them, and walking with them. They are a joy to have in my family.

    We have also adopted puppies from a reputable breeder who we found on the newspaper. Before we adopted the dogs from the breeder we went to meet the puppies in their breeders home. We met the parents of the puppies too. We did multiple trips to the breeders before we made the decision to adopt. We wanted to make sure we were adopting from a breeder that took care of all the dogs real well not from a breeder that was just out to only make $. The 2 puppies we got from the breeder were also excellent additions to our family. The 2 puppies we adopted from the breeder are mutts as well.

    Most of our dogs are mutts. 2 of them are purebred (they were brought to us by our friends who couldn't take care of the dogs anymore due to their own health issues). No matter what they are- we are very lucky to have them. They give so much unconditional love- it's great! We love them a lot as well!

    My advice to people who want to adopt dog(s) is to tell them they need to do their research and make sure the dog they are getting is healthy, and going to fit in with their lifestyle. Then ask themselves- can we handle taking good care of the dog (going to the vet for regular check ups/ vacines), giving the dogs good quality dog food, training the dogs, and walking the dog- if they think they can do these things and they want a dog then I think they should have the dog(s) they want. Thanks for writing a good article!

  10. Good points added in regards to cost. The main reason that reputable breeders and rescues screen potential purchasers/adopters so diligently is to ensure the family or person is well prepared for an animal to join their life. A pet is a lifetime commitment and should not be treated as an impulse purchase!

  11. Thank you! I volunteer/foster for another organization and we have had some fantastic dogs come up from high kill shelters in the US that are great with kids, cats, other dogs, with basic training etc. These dogs are a much better fit for a lot of families than 8 week old puppies (even from great breeders).
    We also have a dog or two that are little brats but that is only because they are puppies and people blame the behaviour on the fact that they are a rescue, as opposed to the fact that they are puppies with very little training.