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Give Me Shelter

Adopting a rescue pet



Douglas Foulke

Adding a dog to your family is a major undertaking, and knowing everything you can about the potential pup before adopting is crucial. To aid in the matching process, many pet adoption organizations, like Westchester-based New York Pet Rescue, have fostering programs that allow temporary custodians to assess an available dog for certain traits, such as “small-child friendly,” “doesn’t like cats, or “needs frequent exercise.” These assessments increase the chances of a successful match in which a pet finds a forever home.

Due to the tireless actions of activists, like Sharon and Sophia Silverman of Bedford’s A New Chance Animal Rescue, rescue dog adoption (adopting a dog from a shelter rather than a breeder) is increasing and, as a consequence, euthanasia of sheltered dogs is down. As adoptive families bring more dogs into their homes, it is important to ensure safe and responsible adoptions.

Bedford’s Sarah Hodgson, also known as the “East Coast Dog Whisperer,” has no shortage of experience in re-homing dogs and is quick to point out that adoption is not for everyone. As a behavior therapist and certified dog behavior consultant, Hodgson regularly leads families to a suitable dog.  Hodgson vows, “If I am not convinced that a prospective owner is capable of dealing with the challenges that come with re-homing, I do not hesitate to discourage adoption.” The impulse to save a dog from life in a shelter or being euthanized is noble, but it can create more problems than it solves.

According to Hodgson, the single most important characteristic in one looking to adopt is an ability to understand what motivates dogs. Hodgson cites five emotion systems identified by Dr. Jack Panksepp that help to explain a dog’s behavior. Explains Hodgson, “Dog behavior can be traced to impulses of curiosity, play, fear, frustration, and panic.” Because such a large percentage of rescued pooches have experienced some form of emotional or physical turmoil, the potential for fear, frustration, and panic are heightened. Aggression begets aggression; dogs with a violent past are more prone to a violent future. Owners who are ignorant of these emotions in their pets, as well as what triggers them, can be catalysts for accidents. 

Hodgson suggests these steps to minimize risk:

  • Get to know the dog. Visit multiple times and be wary of first impressions. Dogs, like people, are complex and can be difficult to read.      
  • Avoid personality extremes. People swoon over the sad-eyed, timid puppy or flock to the live wire of the litter, chasing his tail tirelessly, impervious to the bemused stares of onlookers. But either end of the spectrum can foreshadow behavioral issues.
  • Find a shelter that takes care of its animals. Crowded, dirty, understaffed facilities put stress on animals. 

While mismatches do take place, statistics show that on a large scale adoption is working. Lives are being saved and re-homing is happening successfully. 

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