So… you want to get a rescue dog?

5 things I think you should know before you do

Full disclosure here: I’ve done it. More than once. I’ve also been a professional dog walker in a different life iteration and I’ve been a pet sitter. Still am.

I kind of feel sufficiently experienced to pass some of the hard-won knowledge I’ve gathered on to you.

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#1 Do your breed research

If you want to rescue a specific breed, research, research, research. All breeds have what are called ‘characteristics’. In some cases that is a fair description of what you’ll be dealing with — take German Shepherd Dogs — devoted to one owner and forms a very strong bond. Great. Except if you’ve failed to think about the shadow side of such characteristics, it can become shorthand for the challenges you might face. For years. You can’t do too much research.

If you are happy to have a Heinz 57, otherwise known as a mongrel, look for a clue in the appearance to the breeding it might have. Some rescues give a bit of clue, so they might say a sighthound x something else or whatever. Research whatever you think might be in the mix. Please. It’s so important.

For example, a breed described as a working dog, like a collie, needs if not working, walking and lots of it, plus mental stimulation. Think of the number of hours you have available for walking a working dog and double it, especially if the dog is a young one. If you skimp on this, you could well end up with a frustrated dog, acting out which is guaranteed to make you an unhappy owner.

If you have no clue what DNA is in your dog then check in your heart, soul, brain and soft furnishings that you are ready for whatever may turn up. This leads to point 2.

#2 What sort of person are you really? I mean REALLY?

Obviously, you are a good sort otherwise you wouldn’t be reading an article on Medium about rescuing a dog. But what makes you unhappy in life? What makes you joyful?

Do you embrace a little chaos and uncertainty? Are you adaptable and flexible? How do you feel about dog hair? How do you feel about taking your dog to the groomers regularly if they are non-shedding type? You do know the good groomers fire clients if they don’t show up for a pooch haircut regularly? Yes a good groomer is hard to find and they don’t need a bad advert for their services whose ‘do’ is all grown wandering around the park with their doggy mates.

How do feel about fleas and worms and paying to prevent those — only to find sometimes the expensive prevention hasn’t worked? And don’t think you can run down to the nearest penny drugstore for some Bob Martin because done wrongly that can land a pet in the vet with a massive bill. This actually happened to my sister’s pet many years ago, so only get your pet pharma on prescription from the vet.

Your breed research in #1 is only useful if you match those ‘characteristics’ to your own. A mismatched dog and owner is a recipe for misery all round. I got it into my head when I was young and stupid that beagles looked like super fun, jolly dogs — I’ve got the tune to ‘Happy Dog’ from TikTol when I picture a beagle. But boy, are they bad. They do not listen to their owners and need a ton of training. Now I am bad and don’t listen to my owners either. Can you imagine the combo? Far from a marriage made in heaven, it would be a street gang. I didn’t get a beagle. I just admire them from afar and look hard at the owners for signs of suffering. I’m not lying. Sometimes I see it. One woman nearly begged me to take her beagle home with me. True facts.

So yes, match yourself to your dog if you can. It still won’t be perfect but it gives you a better probability of success all round.

#3 Expect the unexpected and insure for it

I am not a fan of pet insurance because it has inflated the cost of treatments and medication beyond the reach of most reasonable people. Nonetheless not insuring your pet is a big risk. At the very least take out some insurance, to begin with, to assess its overall wellbeing and behaviour. Then if you decide to cancel the insurance put the money into a savings account if you need it, hopefully, you won’t.

I always say to the vet, I am not insured. You’d be surprised how the conversation changes. It goes from every test under the sun, to what I consider to be a more straightforward treatment plan. But you must decide for yourself.

Aside from insurance, be aware that dogs do things you don’t expect. I’ve had one that cleared a 6-foot fence and ended up in a garden in the next street after a fox. I’ve had another that jumped out of the car window when I was driving (fortunately slowly) through a forest. It was quite comical watching him pursuing the car in my wing mirror. Not funny on a motorway.

I’ve had rescue dogs that live together peaceably for months and years on end and then suddenly have a massive bust-up over… well… nothing I could ever work out.

I’ve known dogs who wag their tails so hard they split it and spray blood up the walls. I’ve known the same with a dog and its ear. I’ve known an Irish Wolfhound who kept splitting its tail to the point where every time it went to vets a little more had to be amputated. I could go on. I won’t. Expect the unexpected, keep a dog first aid kit and a bottle of brandy in the house.

#4 Check out the rescue and do everything they say

There are so many dog rescues out there these days it can be hard to navigate. Some even rescue dogs from overseas. I’ve had rescue dogs from local places, Ireland and even Spain. Today I saw a heartbreaker Saluki in Dubai and I want that lad so hard it hurts me but…

It’s a fact that there are far more dogs in the world than there were a generation ago. There are far more humans too, but not every human wants a dog. Every dog needs a human. I don’t want to fall down a rabbit hole of railing against over-breeding but I am aware that the reason there are so many dogs in need is linked to this increased population.

Dog rescuing is hard work for the organisations that do it. Some are more thorough than others. Don’t be put off by the ones that are thorough. They might have a lot of paperwork, they will want home checks. They will want to know about the height of your garden fencing, how long you are away if you work, what children you have in the house or as visitors, any other pets.

I get it. It can feel intrusive. Why not just pop down to a local breeder and snap up a pedigree puppy for a few thousand quid and no nosy questions? Well, the truth is these questions are necessary (and actually the ethical dog breeders… if there is such a thing and I do sometimes wonder, will ask you lifestyle questions too). Dog rescues don’t want to have to re-rescue a dog when a rehoming didn’t work out. Sometimes they can be a bit brusque with humans because their main concern is the dogs. I can live with that.

They are the experts on the dogs. Listen to their advice. At least that way the dog you rescue has a better chance of being a good fit and addition to the family which is what everyone wants. Local rescues will often let people visit and get to know the dog. I think that’s a great idea. If you can do it, please do.

I know I am too soft to do this. I would take home the first dog I met. ‘Choosing’ a dog feels awful, but the reality is if you consider all the points I’ve made so far, it’s got to be done. This brings me to rescuing dogs from abroad when you don’t meet the dog before they arrive. In my humble opinion (having done it) I am not against it but I do think it suits an experienced dog owner.

Such poor dogs have often had very difficult lives and only known ill-treatment and cruelty. They may have been street dogs or chained up. They could have been stuck in kennels. These dogs then endure a long journey to the rehomer. When they arrive in their new homes they are often very shut down, nervous and stressed. This can be very disconcerting for a new owner ready to lavish love on their new pet. Such dogs can take months, years in some cases to show their full personalities and characteristics. A lot have faced trauma which will show up occasionally even in the most loving home. My own rescue dog (pictured) has no tail. It was cut off in Spain which is common practice for hunting dogs (as is an annual cull of hunting dogs). After three years in our home where she is loved and adored, she still has certain distressing behaviours that stem from the trauma of a viciously docked tail. I think all that’s hard to deal with as a novice owner.

#5 Owning a dog is a bigger commitment than marriage. Can you show up for the next decade for this dog?

Early morning wee stops? Runny poo and vomit accidents on your floors and always on your cream carpets. Muddy footprints on your white linen. Barking at foxes in the wee small hours?

Love. Loyalty. Laughs. Seeing the world through the eyes of another species. Time outside in nature walking with your best companion who is always there for you?

Take my advice if you can’t show up for all that, 365 days a year plus leap years… step away from the cute dog faces on the internet and send the rescue some moolah instead.

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