6 Pro-Tips for Adopting a Rescue Dog

As I’ve mentioned before, I run a decent sized breed-specific rescue in the Southeast. I haven’t always been the boss – I started off as a young, green foster home while in college, and slowly took on more responsibility with the rescues I volunteered with until I decided to hang my own shingle. Holding multiple different “positions” in the rescue field gave me plenty of insight into all the various challenges that rescuers face. Believe it or not, the dogs are the easy part. People… not so much.

That being said, my goal today is not to bitch and moan about humans. Today, I want to give some advice to prospective adopters, from the point of view of someone who deals with adopters day in and day out.

1. Follow instructions

There’s a reason that I made this #1 – in my opinion, following instructions is the single most important suggestion I can give you. We’ve all heard that saying: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Well, it’s true, and it’s just as important when applying to adopt a rescue dog, as it is when you’re trying to land your dream job.

If a rescue’s first impression of you as an adopter is that you can’t (or won’t) take the time to read and then follow the instructions that we provide, then you’re setting a very negative tone for the rest of the process. Many rescues have fine-tuned their process based on what works best for them, and if they’ve taken the time to write their procedures and instructions, then they want you to follow them. You may not like those procedures, but you’re not the one trying to process dozens of adoption applications fairly and efficiently. Do yourself a favor and take an extra fifteen minutes to carefully read through the information that a rescue provides – it will save both sides from avoidable frustration and wasted time down the road.


2. Honesty is always the best policy

I really wish I didn’t have to say this one, but anecdotal evidence suggests that I do. When you’re applying to adopt a rescue dog, please be honest on your application. If you’re working with any sort of legitimate rescue, they are likely going to require a detailed application, and they’re going to check your vet reference, personal references, and perform a home visit. If you lie about something – like whether you own or rent your home, if you have a fenced yard or not, or if all of your pets are altered and up to date on vaccinations – we are going to find out. Believe me, it looks really bad when we find out halfway into your application process that you lied on your application. Not only are we going to deny your application, but we’re probably also going to tell our other rescue friends.

Not every rescue organization is right for every adopter, just like not every dog is the perfect match. Some rescues have strict rules about things like fences, work schedules, etc. (and they have every right to). If a rescue has a policy that disagrees with your situation, you have two options: you can contact them and explain, and ask for consideration, or you can move on and find a different rescue that will work with you. I repeat – do not lie.

3. Patience is a virtue

Our application approval process takes about two to three weeks, on average. This is something that we warn adopters in our adoption procedures, but inevitably, a majority of applicants are emailing us within a week to ask about the status of their application. It’s totally understandable that you’re excited about adopting a new family member and ready to get that approval, but we consider bringing a new dog home to be a pretty serious matter. Our dogs are in foster care; they live in our homes as part of our families, and they are very important to us. We put a great deal of time and thought into processing applications and then matching dogs with the right adopters, and that is not something that’s going to be decided in a week.

Also, keep in mind that the people who work with rescues are volunteers. They have their own careers, families, and personal lives to juggle along with the responsibilities they undertake for rescue organizations.

As an aside – you can help speed up the process by making sure that our job is as easy as possible. Before you apply, make sure that your pets are up to date on their vaccinations. If those records are not all at your primary vet, say so from the start, and be ready to supply the documents when we ask. Give your personal references a heads-up that we’ll be calling, and check your email regularly. It’s very frustrating when adopters complain about the processing time when they take two days to answer an email.

4. Keep an open mind

I joke, quite regularly, that I made a huge mistake when I chose “my” breed to rescue. Only a masochistic glutton for punishment would decide they wanted to rescue a breed of dog that comes in a rainbow of colors and sizes – I should have picked something much more boring, and much less common. Why do I say this? Because 3/5 adopters that come to my rescue (my unscientific guesstimate) already have in their mind an image of their “perfect” dog, and convincing them to sway from that image is sometimes impossible (but always frustrating).

But we are oh so cute!
But we are oh so cute!

I can’t say this enough: don’t judge a book by its cover, and don’t pick a dog based on its color. Yes, we all would love to have a gorgeous, flashy dog that stops people in their tracks wherever they go. We would also love to have money trees in our backyard, and gold-pooping unicorns in our basement. The fact of the matter is, “pretty is as pretty does” applies to dogs just as it does to humans, and if you’re narrowing your search for a new family member based on aesthetic details, then you’re doing both yourself and the dog a great disservice.

Like I mentioned before, the dogs in our rescue are in foster homes, and we get to know them very well. There is no way that an adopter, who has only seen pictures and read a short biography online, will convince us that they know what our dogs need better than we do. We also have a pretty good deal of experience in what does and doesn’t work when it comes to adding new dogs to households. Our number one priority is not to place the most dogs – it’s to place dogs in the right homes. So, be flexible, listen to our suggestions, and let us help you pick the dog that’s going to be the best fit for your family.

5. Grammar

This one is really a pet peeve of mine, and maybe other rescues don’t care what your application looks like, but I do so I’m including it here. Going back to that first impressions thing – your adoption application is usually the first significant correspondence that we see. If it is full of terrible grammar, misspelled words (it’s “shepherd” for Dog’s sake – not “shepard” or “shepperd” or whatever other awful thing you come up with), and missing capitalization or punctuation, then it really just sets the whole tone wrong from the get-go.

The biggest thing that a lack of proper English communicates to us is that you couldn’t be bothered to take the time to fill out our application in a clear, professional manner, and proofread your submission before hitting send. It tells us that you’re lazy, and that you don’t really care enough to make sure what you’re submitting is appropriate. Certainly, it was not your intent to communicate this to us, but, like I said: first impressions are a big deal. You obviously wouldn’t send in a job application that looks like a third-grader filled it out, so why would you send something like that to a professional rescue organization?

6. Don’t be a jerk

Last, but not least, please don’t be a jerk to us. I can’t tell you how many times a week we have to deal with adopters being rude, condescending, or just plain nasty to us. Not only is it inappropriate and unhelpful, but also it really, really pisses me off when I find out that an applicant has been ugly to one of my volunteers.

The bottom line is: it’s our rescue, they’re our dogs, and we can have whatever policies we want to in regards to how we place them. If we tell you “no” because of a certain aspect of your application that we’re not comfortable with, then deal with it. Calling us names or telling us that we’re hurting dogs because we refused to let you leave one of ours alone in a fenced yard all day is not going to solve anything. Quite frankly, we don’t even need a reason to tell you no – if you’re a jerk to us at any point in the process, we can simply say, “Good luck with your search” and send you on your way.

That being said, we don’t want to do that. We want our dogs to be adopted by good, loving families, because adoptions mean that more dogs will be saved. Keep in mind, however, that we are not here to serve humans – we are here to save dogs. Our volunteer status does not make us your humble servants, and we require the same degree of respect from you that you want from us. Help us help you (and more dogs) by taking the adoption process seriously from the start, and remember that dog rescue is a team effort.

13 thoughts on “6 Pro-Tips for Adopting a Rescue Dog

  1. scottbixler April 28, 2016 / 3:34 pm

    I am going to make this mandatory reading when people submit their applications or requests to adopt from our rescue. So much time could be saved and so much turmoil avoided if they would just read it and understand these simple guidelines. Thank you, thank you, thank you! 🙂

  2. Barb Gudgeon April 28, 2016 / 5:50 pm

    Oh Heather, you are so right. I want to send it to all rescuers and potential adopters.

    • Heather April 29, 2016 / 8:18 am

      Please do! I’m happy you enjoyed it.

  3. mulewagon April 29, 2016 / 9:21 am

    I was going along, nodding my head, until I came to the part where you reveal your contempt for people who can’t spell. That’s rude, condescending, and just plain nasty,

  4. Wammajammylammy (@Wammajammylammy) April 29, 2016 / 2:45 pm

    A better description for the article would be; Tips for adopting a rescue dog from the Rescue Nazi. You state that your goal is not to bitch, but that is exactly how it comes across to the reader. You present yourself as the high holey mistress of dog rescue. You lay down the rules for the slovenly scum that dare even consider requesting to adopt your dogs. What about the compassion for the people wanting to adopt? Perhaps in their excitement, people miss a step of the instructions? That means, No dog for you! Heaven forbid, they get the height of the fence wrong, it’s 5 foot and not 6. No dog for you! You misspell a word. No dog for you! Also be sure not to show excitement and anxiousness about your application; otherwise, No dog for you!

    A great saying states; if it seems like everyone else is a jerk, it’s probably just you. If you have so much distain and resentment for people trying to adopt rescue dogs, perhaps it’s time to retire?

    • Ginger Holmes Didino May 6, 2016 / 5:35 am

      Agree Wamma! Retirement may be a better option for you Heather. There are to many dogs dying to deny someone for grammer mistakes. Get over yourself Heather it’s not about you it’s about the dogs.

      • Rachael Tompkins Eley September 2, 2016 / 12:52 pm

        I have to question anyone adopting a dog where they cannot even spell the breed name properly. It’s Dachsund not Datsun (that’s a car by the way). Rottweiler, not Rockwelder. And it’s merle not marle or marbled.

        Improper spelling, especially when referring to a breed you wish to adopt shows a complete lack of attention to the fact you wish to rescue and care for a dog for the next 10-15 years. It also hints at the fact, you’ve likely not done enough research and thoroughly considered your decision

  5. tessarooo August 8, 2016 / 11:04 am

    As a dog rescue volunteer, nearly everything you said was “right on the money” and as much of a grammar Nazi as I am, I think number 5 in your list should be a non-issue. I have seen adopters that couldn’t spell to save their lives, and yet, they are awesomely loving and responsible dog owners! Just because I’d have a stroke reading some of the applications, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t give them the same courtesy as someone who’s application was perfect. Thank you for doing what you do. Dog rescuers are angels on this earth and I hold those that do it for the sake of the dogs (and for no other reason) in the highest regard.

  6. Eric Theis August 17, 2016 / 7:32 am

    Hi Heather – Good article and agreed. We are doing something about it. Betsy Saul (Petfinder’s founder) and I have just created 911fosterpets.com. Our mission is to create a nationwide pet foster revolution by recruiting foster heroes for all groups in need. Check it out. You will love it. Petfinder’s facilitated over 25 million adoptions in 20 years and Betsy and I think we can do the same for fosters.

  7. Royce Lewis February 15, 2019 / 10:01 pm

    Hi Heather,

    I think this list is a nice guideline for prospective adopters to have and read. I am an adopter and could’ve benefited from some of these guidelines. However, the grammar guideline seems pretty harsh. There are some people that just struggle with grammar and some people that have learning disabilities that make spelling and grammar difficult (such as dyslexia). If they meet all of the other criteria for adoption, should grammar really be the reason a dog doesn’t go to a good home.

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