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January 28, 2013 3:55 AM   Subscribe

Is adopting a dog sight-unseen foolish?

My partner and I are feel we are ready for another dog after the loss of our dog last year. We have been looking for a long time on PetFinder and have found what was billed as a fairly local dog (RI, we are in Boston). After inquiring we have learned the dog is in Texas and would be transported to us after we commit to take it. Of course the problem is we have fallen for this dog based on her photos and description. We started out sure that we would not get a dog we couldn't meet first but now we are so tempted. The reviews on-line about this organization seem pretty positive, the complaints generally being about the pickiness of their application procedure.
My partner works from home and this pet will be a very full time relationship. Is this nuts to even consider?
posted by InkaLomax to Pets & Animals (30 answers total)
I wouldn't do it. It's such a personal thing, the connection with an animal. It's strange that the organization doesn't want you to meet prior to committing, we've never experienced that. Usually the organization wants you to be sure, wants you to meet, sleep on it, etc. Transporting from TX to MA is a long trip for a dog, the animal should be able to find a home in Texas. There are surely lots of dogs in Boston, too. What are your options if it turns out to not be a good fit?
posted by headnsouth at 4:09 AM on January 28, 2013

I think so, yes. It's a long term commitment and you need to be sure that the dog really is the right match for you. A responsible breeder or shelter should not consider selling or rehoming a dog in this way. I get that you have set your heart on this one dog, but there will be breeders or shelters near you that are better suited to your needs. Not just for you, but also for the dog's sake, you should see before you commit.
posted by MuffinMan at 4:10 AM on January 28, 2013

The red flag went up for me when you said it was "billed as a fairly local dog" but turned out to actually be in Texas...that's a bit odd.

Personally, I would never accept a pup that I couldn't meet for a thousand behavioral and health reasons. You're in a major metropolitan area, there must be a number of organizations with which you could work to find the right pup, one that you can meet and evaluate for yourself.
posted by HuronBob at 4:12 AM on January 28, 2013

Yes, this is very foolish. What if the dog's personality doesn't match the shelter's description? What if "exuberant" means "eats sofas when you leave"? What if "shy" means "bites everyone who walks through the door"?

What kind of post-adoption support would the Texas shelter offer if you needed it? What does their adoption contract say about what you are required to do with the dog if you decide to rehome her? Would you have to pay to ship her back to Texas?

Lastly, why does no one in Texas want this dog? Either the shelter/rescue are really bad at marketing a good family pet candidate, or there's something about the dog.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 4:35 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

On the one hand, it's not outright nuts. People buying one of our puppies pretty commonly don't meet their puppy until the day they're picking it up, or the day before. This has worked out okay because we've met the puppies a whole damn bunch and try to match them to what the people said were their lifestyle and goals for this dog, etc.

But on the other hand, our buyers don't have a lot of choice in the matter if they aren't local and have to work. There aren't a lot of vallhund breeders to start with, and fewer still breeding with as clear a performance orientation as biscotti has. So the alternative to letting biscotti pick your (probably agility) dog for you, take it or leave it, is probably waiting a year and having to travel a thousand miles in the other direction.

Unless you're looking to rescue a very specific combination of breed or breed-mix and other characteristics, I'd pass on this dog. Unless that's the case, there will be another dog that meets your needs soon enough that really is local. I will admit that whatever is going on that it seemed local but wasn't puts me off; what else are they shading the truth about? I'd recommend patience.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:05 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I agree that it's weird that the dog was billed as "local" when it's actually in Texas. That plus never having met the dog would make me want to pass on the dog.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:22 AM on January 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

Keep in mind, when they are writing her description, they have a vested interest in having her adopted. I don't mean to suggest that they would intentionally lie, but they are going to be biased to describing the dog's personality in a positive light.

I don't think I would be comfortable adopting a dog without getting a first-hand experience of its personality.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:23 AM on January 28, 2013

What does the intermediate RI org (or failing that the Texas org) have to say about potential incompatibility issues? People do adopt dogs sight unseen off Petfinder all the time; my sister did it with her Boston Terrier and is totally happy. It doesn't seem like the most insane thing I can ever imagine anyone doing.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:23 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to add my 2 cents regarding the location of the dog: I fostered dogs from a local shelter in North Carolina. This shelter was partnered with a shelter in New Hampshire and they would periodically transport dogs from NC to NH in order to find them homes. This was explained to me as: neutering/spaying of dogs is more common practice up north and so there are fewer strays. Plus, the dogs from NC were generally bigger dogs that are commonplace and unlikely to be homed, whereas these dogs are more desirable up north. They were very particular about the dogs that got transported, usually they had been in the shelter for a long time but "problem" dogs were not transported, because it's expensive and stressful and they want to be sure that the dogs got a home after they made the journey.

So with regards to the "dog is in Texas" part. I don't think this is unusual. But to the "we will transport it after you say you want it" part, this seems more unusual to me, most shelters want to make sure not only that you get along with the dog, but that the dog gets along with you prior to rehoming. My best guess is that this dog has not been selected for transport, but if you say you want it, then it will be.

You could enquire if the shelter in Texas operates a fostering program, it might be possible for you to speak with the dogs foster parent if she has/had one. They're probably best suited to give you an honest depiction of the dog.

Good luck!
posted by rubyrudy at 5:49 AM on January 28, 2013 [6 favorites]

Rescue orgs get animals from all over. "Rescue" often means just to get the animal out of the kill shelter asap and into some kind of safe place. It doesn't have to mean the animal is physically located within the rescue org's four walls. (Most rescues don't have their own buildings anyway.)

I'm guessing the rescue group is located in RI, and the wording on their web site is just unclear*. Whether or not the animal could be adopted out in Texas, or whether there are dogs available for adoption in Boston is beside the point. Rescues just want their dogs to find homes, and if they're offering to transport, that's just one more sign of their commitment to casting as wide a net as possible to find people willing to adopt.

InkaLomax, I participate in rescue transports all the time. The best ones are when we know the animal has a permanent home waiting at the end. So, it's done, way more often than you think. Whether it's the right thing for you is impossible to say. If the dog seems to be the agreeable sort, a long-distance relocation probably won't affect her much. If she has a sensitive personality anyway, then the stress of a transport might be a lot for her to handle, and just delay the moment when she finally feels at home with you.

Another thing to remember with transporting long distances is it's not like someone just gets in a car and drives from Texas to Boston. It's a long chain of folks driving many legs (and overnights in this case, most likely). So it takes a lot of planning and scrabbling for volunteer drivers. If you do decide to adopt this dog, be patient and flexible. It may take some time for the rescue to organize a transport this long, unless they already have a regular run that way.

Can you check out a video of her? Or ask to Skype with her current foster home? Seeing her in action would help with your decision.

*Of course, I could be wrong. This dog could be the second coming of Cujo, and everyone involved is trying to cover that fact up, and get her into the home of some unsuspecting New Englander, all at the risk of ruining their reputations in the rescue world!
posted by SuperSquirrel at 5:55 AM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

I live in the Boston area, and I know a few people who have done this -- it seems relatively common. (As rubyrudy says, there are more strays down south.) The people I know are all really delighted with their dogs, so I definitely don't think it's crazy.
posted by cider at 5:55 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I could understand if it was a service dog or a work dog or maybe even a show dog, but adopting a regular pet dog sight unseen seems very unusual to me. Personally I would wait and try to focus on finding a pet that's within 100 miles of where I live.
posted by 99percentfake at 5:59 AM on January 28, 2013

Yes, it is very common for rescue groups in the south to transport dogs across the country after they've been adopted sight unseen. There's a regularly scheduled dog transport system that moves dogs from south to north, I'm told due to demand. If the dog is in a rescue group, it's probably being fostered in someone's home, and the foster family can answer any questions you have in a phone call.

While I'm surprised that this isn't common knowledge, I just realized that I probably wouldn't know it either if our good friends didn't foster golden retrievers. They've done it for years and have a huge number of their foster dogs transported to northern states after being placed without ever being seen by the new families.
posted by raisingsand at 6:06 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am kind of an enthusiast for a particular dog breed and I follow all the rescues for this breed across the country and I also would like to chime in and say that it's not unusual to transport a dog across states to a new home. Could you ask to take the dog on a foster home basis and then if it doesn't work out, return it to a more local shelter/rescue or foster family?
posted by young sister beacon at 6:21 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I adopted a dog sight-unseen (well, except for the picture and description on Petfinder!) from a rescue that works with a high-kill shelter in Texas. That doesn't seem at all uncommon to me; even the local Humane Society in my area is half-filled with dogs transported up from Texas, since there are fewer adoptable dogs in Colorado then there are people wanting to adopt them. (The reverse is very much true in Texas.)

I know that the rescue I went with worked very closely with a specific shelter, and they tried to save the most "adoptable" dogs. In fact, the dog that I ended up with was a bit of an anomaly in that she's a short-haired pooch and they focus on long-haired dogs because the latter is more popular in my area. But, all in all, the rescue wanted to save as many dogs as possible and had really no incentive to pick Cujo the Biter over Fluffy the Lovebug when they were selecting dogs to transport. (They also had a rigorous application process that was significantly less rigorous once we got started--I think it was to weed out students and flaky people.)

One option that my rescue gave us was to foster the dog before formally adopting. Maybe you could broach that with the rescue as an option? Then, if they transport the dog it will definitely have somewhere to stay, but if it turns out to not be a good fit for whatever reason, they can find another home for the pup.
posted by iminurmefi at 6:46 AM on January 28, 2013

Many shelters/rescues seem to be sending dogs up north. I'm in Alabama, and this is done quite a bit here. We fostered a dog (who we ended up keeping) who was going to be sent to New York state as a ratter on a farm (she's some sort of terrier mix), and we decided against it right off, since if the dog hadn't worked out, she'd have been put in a shelter there and possibly put to sleep.

I'd say its better to be really local for all the reasons you've described.
posted by wolfgirl at 6:52 AM on January 28, 2013

I adopted a dog without seeing her -- in fact, I didn't even see pictures of her. The rescue described her temperament and looks to me, which sounded appropriate for us and cute, then uttered the million dollar phrase -- she's housebroken. We agreed to foster her, which basically meant we could give her back. She endured an 18 hour ride in a van to get to us, and we fell in love with her the moment we saw her.

I'm not saying this was smart on my part, just that it worked out well for me. Especially since finding a dog that was already housebroken was a major dog-selection criteria for me.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:57 AM on January 28, 2013

I should add, as others have mentioned, it is an increasingly common thing to do. I'm still not sure it is a good idea.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:00 AM on January 28, 2013

I would do it if and only if I had no other pets or children and could dedicate whatever time was necessary to deal with any behavioral issues that crept up. Almost all issues dogs have are solvable with time and work. Does that sound like a fun challenge or does dealing with a 'problem dog' sound overwhelming to you? If the latter, don't adopt sight unseen.

That said, you can do a lot more to get information than just reading the petfinder description. Call up whomever has the dog and ask a lot of pointed questions about its personality and behavior and what kind of home they think would be an ideal home. Ask for video of the dog working with a handler.

They should be happy to provide this for you - if they aren't I'd take it as a red flag and move on.
posted by zug at 7:31 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ha! We call our dog our "mail order bride," because we did adopt her site unseen, since for various reasons we couldn't go visit her first (mostly on the foster family end), but the distance wasn't so great (more or less local) that if for some reason it became obvious that it just wouldn't work she couldn't go back to the foster family.

In our situation, though, there aren't many things that would have meant incompatibility beyond needing a lot more activity or space than we would have been able to provide, or violent aggression (which of course, the rescue organization would have let us know about), or a noisy barker (because we have close neighbors). Aside from those concerns, I didn't have specific expectations that I wanted the dog's personality to meet, and the foster folks did quite a good job of describing her... but it was still a "box of chocolates" because she didn't grow into her true personality until after she had been with us a few months, and meeting her first would not have changed that. She wasn't "herself" with the foster family either, because there were very many other dogs there, and she wasn't herself with her first adoptive family, who kept her alone outside most of the days, and she wasn't herself with us at first, being sad, slow (painful hair mats), morose, and overly submissive and afraid of things like traffic noise and dumpsters. Our dog is totally different now, but she's not the sort to be super affectionate with strangers (unless they happen to be wielding treats), so meeting her first would not have been a first-date love match, I think. I feel glad we did it the way we did.

The thing that would worry me is if you wanted a dog with very, very specific behaviors or personality, which is going to be a lot harder to determine without spending time with them.
posted by taz at 7:35 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is unfortunate that the dog seemed local when it was coming from Texas, but as mentioned above this is a common setup these days. We went through an organization in New Hampshire, but they were getting dogs from Tennessee because they were out of local dogs to rescue and the South has plenty.

We actually looked locally first - at several shelters in Maine and even one in Mass. We were pretty flexible on criteria (didn't have to be a puppy, a pretty good size/breed range, etc.) yet we ended up not being able to find a match because we had a kid under 12. This ruled out a lot of seemingly-fine dogs, I am assuming due to insurance reasons, even though our kid was very mild-mannered and experienced with having a dog as a pet.

So we turned to PetFinder and found our current dog and she came up in a truck with a bunch of other dogs and we picked her up in a parking lot one cold morning. But previous to that, they gave us a lot of pictures and we had to fill out a giant form applying to adopt the dog. They had to option to send someone over to look at our house but I don't think they did. And one part of the agreement was basically saying that we couldn't just give the dog away or bring it to another shelter - we would have to give it back to the agency in NH.

I was also wary of this new, sight-unseen but seemingly now standard process. But it seemed like in the case of total incompatibility we would regrettably return it to the NH agency and they would try to re-home it, placing it with a local foster in the meantime.

As it turns out, everything went fine and she has been with us for years. But there were some issues we had to deal with:
  • She was the runt of the litter and they were all being kept in a foster home. As a result she was a bit food aggressive so we had to address that in training
  • She had strong separation anxiety, so crate training, while ultimately very successful, was not fun for anyone
  • She had some kind of PTSD because she was extremely afraid of loud kids, especially groups, power tools, basically anything loud or unusual. To the point where If we were on a walk and she got scared of something ahead there was no moving her forward without a physical and mental freakout. We had to turn around all the time. It took over a year to gradually get over this.
  • Her breed was not properly identified. They said she was a "lab/corgi mix". Our previous dog had been a corgi mix and we liked the personality and size. She was so fluffy in her pictures it was not easy to say what she was a mix of. As she grew it became pretty obvious - Australian Shepherd / Lab mix (plus there must be some kind of hound in there too - she can track the hell out of things). So she's a bit bigger than what we had planned for and a lot more high energy. If she does not get enough exercise she is bouncing off the walls.
Good luck!
posted by mikepop at 7:53 AM on January 28, 2013

Let me add my voice to those saying that this is actually a pretty common practice nowadays--transporting dogs from high-kill shelters in the rural south to adopters in the urban/suburban northeast. I've not personally been involved with such organizations, but the impression that I get is that they often cherry-pick "highly adoptable" dogs--small dogs, purebred dogs, puppies, and dogs with outstanding temperaments. They show up in petfinder, at least, as "an adoptable dog in XXX" where XXX is the home base of the rescue; not necessarily where the dog is located. If you go to the website for these types of rescues, they usually mention their mission of finding homes for dogs from high-kill areas.

I think the typical in-person meet-and-greet at a city shelter is a less reliable indication of a dog's ultimate personality in a home versus the info you would get from a fosterer, even if it was long distance. I would have no qualms about adopting a dog through this process, provided that the rescue organization was committed to taking back the dog in the sad event that it had major "hidden defects" that could not be worked out with the home situation.
posted by drlith at 8:01 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

My mom got her dog from Tennessee, sight unseen (she's in Massachusetts). She actually could not love this dog more. But really, it's about your comfort level.

A note, if you do decide to get a dog from anywhere other than the local Humane Society, READ THE CONTRACT CAREFULLY. Many rescue orgs (particuarly breed-specific ones) retain legal ownership over the dog for life, and place all sorts of requirements on your behavior re the dog for the life of the dog.
posted by supercoollady at 8:42 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I help out a few rescues (in a sort of peripheral way) and people adopt dogs like this from time and have no problems, usually because they want a particular breed or are skilled at working with dogs with a special need or even just because the dog was cute. If possible ask if you can speak to the foster family, if it's in a foster situation as they will have a good idea of the dogs nature and any evasiveness about behaviour problems can be taken as a sign to proceed with caution. Most rescue dogs (heck dogs in general) have a quirk or 2 if the foster makes out the dog is perfect I'd be more worried than one that was telling you the dog had a few problems.

If you have doubts and don't think you'd be able or willing to work through any problems the dog might have, and that's fair enough it's not everyone's cup of tea to do, then I'd keep looking locally as I am sure there are lot of rescue dogs in your area that would love a good home too.
posted by wwax at 8:43 AM on January 28, 2013

I just wanted to add my voice for success stories: I know two people who adopted dogs from the south to the north, one came from Texas and I think the other from Tennessee. One of them was part of a breed-specific rescue program and the other one was just a cute little dog that somehow my friends found online and got transported because they liked the look of her.

Both owners are over the moon in love with their dogs and the dogs themselves seem sweet as pie. I sort of think that getting a dog is always a potential risk anyway (I personally picked out a puppy from a litter I had had a chance to spend time with since they were born, and that definitely did not guarantee me a problem-free or perfect dog). I think if your pup sounds good you should go for it, although a video would be great if you could get it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:58 AM on January 28, 2013

Lastly, why does no one in Texas want this dog? Either the shelter/rescue are really bad at marketing a good family pet candidate, or there's something about the dog.

I just wanted to say that it is very very very common for rescues located in wealthy counties or states to funnel dogs up from poorer or more rural counties or states, some very far away. One rescue I donate to regularly is located in the Northeast and gets most of its dogs from Georgia, a two-day drive away. Also, some breeds are oversaturated in certain areas, but more uncommon and hard to find (so much more desirable) in others (e.g. Chihuahuas in southern CA). I am familiar with another rescue which focuses on transporting Chihuahuas from SoCal to Vancouver.

Anyway, I adopted two dogs sight-unseen. (And posted a bit about it here before.) One of them had nothing more than a photo, age, and name on Petfinder. The other had nothing more than a photo and a number. I had a very long drive to get them and I do think it was a kind of crazy and unwise thing to do - grief about my older dog was driving it. It could have really turned out horribly. I was so lucky that it turned out unbelievably well. Both of them turned out to be absolutely wonderful, very special dogs. One of them (who was in the worst kill shelter in the state and had days before being put down) turned out to be some kind of dog-genius - I've been around some smart dogs and this one shocks people with his intelligence. The other dog is my ideal dog on every possible measure.

They both had some behavior and health problems and problems getting along with each other. Fortunately for me, it was nothing so bad that I felt like it was unlivable or making my life a drag. It might be different for me because I have no kids and I have the time and energy to deal with things like that, and I was also fine in the beginning with the idea of finding a different home for either of them if it really didn't work out. So if dealing with some issues could make your life a real drag (which is legitimate) you might want to be more conservative about this than I was.

The other thing though is that I don't think a quick meeting with the dog before adoption would tell you all that much about the dog anyway. Lots of dogs are shy, or scared, and will behave very differently once they feel more secure. Some dogs will just behave differently in a shelter environment than they will in a home. Some dogs will behave completely differently with strangers than with people they know. So maybe you would find out about some major and blatant issues if you met the dog before adoption, but I think even then it's still kind of a crap shoot.
posted by cairdeas at 10:20 AM on January 28, 2013 [5 favorites]

Lastly, why does no one in Texas want this dog? Either the shelter/rescue are really bad at marketing a good family pet candidate, or there's something about the dog.

Many rescue organizations work with shelters in other areas (even other states) because of an imbalance of kill/no kill resources, rural areas which tend to have disproportionate amounts of strays to housing, or because certain types of dogs end up in shelters in one place that are rare and desirable in another (Southern California has an overabundance of chihuahuas in its shelters). I doubt the Texas foster parent of this animal has any problem with it being adopted by someone in Texas; but they have also partnered with a Rhode Island organization for greater exposure. That points to better marketing practices, if anything.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:35 AM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Both of our dogs came to the mid-atlantic from points south (specifically, Georgia and West Virginia), but the rescue we worked with brings up dogs they can foster, so the dogs were local. This, of course, was predicated on the rescue having the resources (mainly, patient people) to foster the dogs until they are adopted.

I don't think you're entirely crazy to consider this, but it IS risky; is there any possibility of giving it back responsibly if the dog is a bad fit for your home? Depending on the dog's age, I would consider it for a first dog. (For a second dog, getting along with existing dogs can be a real challenge.)
posted by JMOZ at 12:21 PM on January 28, 2013

I did this. I would do it again - probably from the same truck that mikepop speaks of (Hudson, NH walmart?).

However, in my case, despite many phone and email conversations with the foster mom in TN that said how great the dog was and how she'd been very good around kids, the dog bit my young son. It was an aberrant one-off event, that my son really was the aggressor in (he startled her by hitting her on the butt). We re-homed her with my in-laws where she was already familiar, and she has never repeated the behavior, even though my younger son is now that age that can be rough with dogs. She's a great dog who has had no other issues since - she probably just was in a still-new place. I think if we'd been able to check her out in a shelter, her tiny bit of unease with young kids would've been noticeable. But if you don't have kids, or have kids over 5 or so, honestly, it's a pretty awesome deal.

A lot of local shelters in this area (my local faves - Cape Ann Animal Aid and Buddy Dog) get a ton of dogs from down south. We now have a dog we adopted as a puppy from Alabama who just turned 1 today. Prior to having kids, we adopted the most amazing hound who in his elderly years was nothing but amazing to the same small kid who whalloped the other dog on the butt. Overall, I'd say go for it. Even my negative experience really wasn't much in the scope of bad dog behavior. We'll do it again with awesome adult dogs once our kids are older.
posted by kpht at 7:26 PM on January 28, 2013

I did this exact thing. I found my dog on Petfinder through a dog rescue named Southpaws, in Rhode Island. My dog was from Louisiana.

I asked a few personality questions: barking, separation anxiety, aggression. He had photos where he was super smiley and I made an educated guess. Everything they told me turned out to be true - he doesn't bark and is super friendly. Everyone thought I was nuts, but it's the best thing I ever did.

If the rescue people weren't as honest, it could've been bad, but most reputable dog rescues will take a dog back if you decide its not a fit within the first few weeks.
posted by emmatrotsky at 8:19 PM on January 28, 2013

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