The problem is, I want to hug all the world's dogs.
February 19, 2015 9:23 AM   Subscribe

How can I figure out what dog I want to adopt, when it's so hard for me to meet with them?

After more than seven years of desperately wanting a dog, my husband and I have decided we're finally ready to get one! Yay! I'm so excited! But this means that now we have to actually select a dog, and that seems almost impossible to do.

When it comes to thinking about the kind of dog to get, we're settled. We need a smaller dog but don't want a tiny dog. We want a young dog but not a puppy. We need a dog that gets along with cats. We want a dog that's seen the vet and been taken care of, but we don't want a purebred. We want a healthy, happy, mellow mutt.

From reading past Ask.Mes, I get that the best method is this: let the dog select you. I would happily do that... Except, there really aren't that many dogs available for adoption around me. The local shelter has only 8 dogs, and none of them are right for us. (How are there only 8 dogs, in my entire city? I was so surprised -- I thought pet overpopulation was such an issue, any reasonably sized town was bound to be splitting at the seams with adoptable dogs!) On Craigslist, almost all the listings look like they're from breeders--they've got purebreds and want ridiculous rehoming fees. On Petfinder, I can find some dogs that look like good fits for us... But most of them are a two and a half hour drive away, at least. That's the sort of drive I'm happy to make, to pick up a new family member. But it's a pretty long drive to take, just to meet a pup you're not sure about yet. (The very idea of going that far, with excitement and hope, only to realize that you've made a mistake and have to go home without the dog... That sounds heartbreaking.)

So, it appears that, to find a good doggy for us, we're going to have to spend a lot of time looking at online advertisements for dogs within something like a 250-mile radius. That's something I could do. Except.... it means trying to pick and choose, just based on pictures and (if available) short personality descriptions. It means that, if I want to go and meet the dog, there's a pretty big commitment involved (gas + time driving, etc). It feels like trying to select a mail-order bride: what should be a personal and intimate process is instead distant and based on appearances.

Can anyone provide suggestions? How, given these circumstances, do I let the dog choose me?
posted by meese to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
In my area, there really aren't that many dogs in shelters. There are a few programs set up that re-home dogs from the South (of the US) and from Puerto Rico. Using one of those programs wouldn't help your issue of actually wanting to meet the pup first, but you could look into taking a vacation to a part of the US that has a lot of dogs in shelters and no onerous residency restrictions for adoption.
posted by fermezporte at 9:28 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

You don't say what general area you're in, which might be helpful for leads on resources that are closer.

At some point, especially if you are able to have a conversation with the foster family or observant shelter staff, you just pull the trigger on a dog that sounds like a good fit. You know what size and activity level you want, there's nothing you're going to find out in a meeting that's going to be terribly helpful (you're not going to see separation anxiety or food aggression or (probably) floor-shitting in the excitement of new! people!).

While it is possible that your Best Dog Ever is out there somewhere (I drove from Texas to Kansas, on the basis of one 1996-sized photo and a couple of emails with the shelter director for mine - we came to have the bond we had, it wasn't predetermined), the truth is that most dogs will be good pets who you love and who love you, and also occasionally destroy things or have health problems, and then die and break your heart. I don't actually think it's *that* personal and intimate. You need a dog, dogs (though an unusually few number of them in your area) need homes. It's as much an arranged marriage as a love match.

I have two found strays and a re-home who was so terrified of humans we didn't know she had a personality for months. I love them and they are awful, but we could not have predicted the ways in which they would be awful in even the first year (hell, my best dog now was a nightmare puppy, I kind of hated him). It's a crapshoot no matter what.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:43 AM on February 19, 2015 [3 favorites]

I question the idea that adopters *should* let a dog pick them. We adopted our first dog because we liked his name, he was available immediately, and his foster parents thought he would be a good fit for our household. We adopted our second dog because she was a littermate of our first dog and had some minor special needs that we could fill. My experience has been that most dogs are pretty adaptable after an initial adjustment period. On preview, Lyn Never said it all very, very well.

Many adoption groups that do long-distance adoptions will act as, like, matchmakers based on exactly what you've said here. They can preselect 3 or 4 dogs they think you'll like, you can drive out and meet all of them. You might also want to focus on agencies that foster their dogs in private homes, so they have a really good sense of their dogs personalities.
posted by muddgirl at 9:46 AM on February 19, 2015

When I adopted my dog, I got in touch with several rescues (I found the rescues via Petfinder) and sent them a general description of the kind of dog I wanted. It was a lot like yours, only I was more specific: weight 15-40 pounds, age 1-3 years old, sex female, breed anything but a hound or hound mix, already house trained, liked to walk and be outside, mellow in the house, etc.

Then I evaluated the responses I got from the rescues. Some rescues sent me pictures of wildly inappropriate dogs. Some sent me desperate sob stories for dogs that really needed homes, without reference to my description. There was one that sent me information about two dogs, with careful comments about how they matched my description. I could tell right away that that rescue was being very careful, considerate and honest, so I worked with them further and selected a dog -- sight unseen. I didn't even have a PICTURE of the dog I chose. They sent me a picture a week later, then transported the dog to a Petsmart near me -- it was an 18 hour drive -- where I picked him up and filled out the paperwork. He is the perfect dog for me, and has been since day 1.

TLDR; pick a rescue that seems careful and honest, and work with them so they can pick a dog (or a couple of choices) for you.
posted by OrangeDisk at 10:07 AM on February 19, 2015 [6 favorites]

Have you contacted the shelter? At my local shelter, you can fill out a form indicating age/size/sex/breed preferences, and if a dog comes in matching your description, you get a call before it goes into the general adoption pool. As a result, if you look at their website, you don't see that many available dogs. Even if your shelter doesn't have a similar program, the shelter might have more of an informal system where they are willing to call people if they have a dog they think might work for them. Shelters want to get adoptable dogs out the door asap before they develop shelter-related behavior problems, so there is a strong incentive to have on-deck adopters.
posted by juliapangolin at 10:24 AM on February 19, 2015

Talk to the people at the shelter and to local rescues and ask them to contact you if such a dog becomes available. They will transport dogs quite a ways for a good home. Just make sure the rescue isn't Crazy Town. Excellent advice above on that

And most breed rescues also place mixed breed dogs that are part or resemble their breed of choice. So a beagle rescue might also have lots of of or one quarter beagles, for example. Worth checking out.
posted by fshgrl at 10:31 AM on February 19, 2015

I am SO WITH you on the need for a personal and intimate process of meeting and choosing a puppy. I just want to volunteer that sometimes the universe has other ideas.

I obsessed over picking out a puppy on Petfinder for weeks. Months. Finally I decided that I would just take the leap and actually go SEE some of these puppies, and drove 3.5 hours to visit a litter of German Shepherd mixes who were still too young to take home. I was dead set on finding The One, the Perfect Puppy, my Canine Soulmate. Upon meeting the puppies I interacted with each of them individually to see if I could find the right one. I fell in love with one of them: a shaggy little brown pup with a big white patch on her lower lip. "I'm your maaaaama!" I sang as I cuddled the hell out of her. I put down a deposit. I had the foster mom take tons of Family Pictures of us. I left in tears because I wanted to take her home rightthefucknow.

Fast forward two weeks and I have told everyone about Perfect Puppy. I've changed the background on my home and work computers to one of our family pictures. Finally the big day comes, and I drive 3.5 to get her. I bring along my friend's 11-year-old son because I wanted someone to sit with the puppy in the back of the car for the ride back. We get to the shelter and...

...they had accidentally sold her to someone else three days earlier.

I was enraged. They said that they were very sorry but there was nothing they could do. "There's still one puppy left from that litter," the shelter worker said. "You can have her for free if you want."

I was all "no fucking way my heart is broken dogs are not interchangeable go to hell you horrible person" but my 11-year-old friend asked if we could at least MEET the puppy. So we did, and I decided that maybe I would learn to love her. So we took the Leftover Dog home and she is the one, the Perfect Puppy, my Canine Soulmate. I've never regretted it one minute.

I guess the moral of the story is, go with your gut but don't be devastated if the universe throws you a curveball. You are capable of loving any number of dogs and any number of dogs are capable of loving you back.
posted by Elly Vortex at 10:59 AM on February 19, 2015 [14 favorites]

I don't necessarily think it's about letting the dog pick you, per-say, but it's kind of a mutual thing, right? You both want to size the other up and see if there's a spark. It's one of the reasons it's a horrible idea to give a pet as a gift - someone else can't determine what's a good fit and a good fit is crucial so that the dog can stay in its forever home.

Someone up thread had a great idea to tell your local shelter what you're looking for and to contact you when matches come up. Same with the fosters and such on Petfinder.

While you say you're looking for a mutt, do you have a breed or two or three in mind that makes up this dream mutt? Because many people have breed-specific rescues and there could be some in your area. Example, if the kind of dog you tend to gravitate to is a shepherd/corgi mix, reach out to shepherd and corgi breed rescues. They don't only rescue purebreeds, and will have mutts of that breed available.

Good luck!
posted by vivzan at 11:26 AM on February 19, 2015

Ok, so I visited a shelter every week twice a week for probably two months before I met Nanuk. The shelter I went to had lots of dogs, mostly deceased people's older dogs, and pit-bulls that were no longer puppies. Occasionally there were labs, which is what I thought I would get, but there was something just... off about them.

Then one day, there he was: alert, standing in his water bowl, having just torn up his blanket.

Its hard to describe, but since you are married, you might get this. You just know. The other ones weren't right... this one just ... fit.
posted by Nanukthedog at 11:42 AM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

OrangeDisk's process is right-on. If I had followed it for our beloved Smokey Rose, we might have saved many thousands of dollars in training, management and veterinary behaviorists fees; instead we would have gone to a different rescue organization who didn't lie and would have never even met her. Overall, we do not regret adopting her, but it's been quite a journey.

Fosters for reputable rescues can give you intimate details of a dog you may be interested in. So, if you cannot spend a lot of time meeting a variety of dogs in-person, instead identify reputable rescues and then have conversations with the fosters of currently available dogs. (Please make sure they have fostered the dog for a minimum of 7 days; 2-3 weeks is better). Because you need to have a cat-friendly dog (or at least one who chooses peace over war), I recommend you interview fosters about available dogs who are currently living with cats, so you hear the first-hand experience.

Best of luck! Whatever dog you bring home sounds like it will be one lucky mutt.
posted by apennington at 11:46 AM on February 19, 2015

I found both of my dogs from fosters who gave honest assessments of them. I found them myself through Petfinder using my qualifiers (50 lbs max, young-ish to middle age, chill).

I will warn you though, if you are hesitant to make a 2 hour drive to meet a dog, you may not really understand teh inconvenience they can cause. For example today I had to take a half day from work to take one of my dogs to teh vet for a urinary tract infection (after collecting a urine sample..), get 2 weeks worth of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, schedule a follow up appointment which will require me to take another half day in 2 weeks, and she puked twice in my car (because she gets carsick). I love my dogs more than anything, but a few 2 hour drives for a soul mate is not the most inconvenient or costly thing being a dogparent will put your through.
posted by WeekendJen at 12:10 PM on February 19, 2015 [2 favorites]

Your best bet is to look for a big adoption drive in your general area. Best Friends Super Adoption is one of these (no idea if any of the events are near-ish to you). There will be hundreds of dogs there from all over, with one likely to fit your needs.
posted by melissasaurus at 2:13 PM on February 19, 2015

Lets see... I adopted one of my dogs from a man I met at a dog park. When I knew we were going to get a dog, I started going and hanging out at the local dog park with a friend and her dog. There were ads for available adoptable dogs on the notice board outside of the park and we talked to other owners and let them know I was looking. Then one day someone said, "Oh hey, Charles found a dog on the side of the road and he's looking for a good home for it." So we talked to Charles and he brought the dog to the dog park so we could meet.

Also there is this fantastic organization called Best Friends, if you are not familiar with them I suggest checking them out. I am on their email list and they send notices when there are dogs in my area that need adopting.

Mostly though, I want to say that I have always found that old to be true, "You start out looking for the dog you want, and then you wind up with the dog you need."

Good luck in your search. I'm happy to hear there's another dog out there who is going to get a good home.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 2:58 PM on February 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Talk to local foster organizations about what you want. In my area, foster groups regularly bring dogs in from other states in the hopes that they will be more adoptable locally, and they would be more likely to transport a dog that meets your criteria if they were aware of your interest.

FYI, the first time you meet a dog, especially if it's at a high stress event like an adoption clinic, often won't give you a good sense of the dog's real personality. So even if you could pet all the dogs, that might not tell you what you need to know! Some foster organizations offer trial periods when the dog lives with you for a couple weeks before you make a final decision. Do that if possible.
posted by metasarah at 4:32 PM on February 19, 2015

I'd be very careful with getting a dog through Craigslist, a lot of the dogs on there are dogs people have stolen or gotten cheap/free to good home & are selling for a profit. It's a real problem in the area I currently live so something to be aware of. They are very good at spinning a story that they are a "rescue" too so just a heads up to ask around before buying or taking a dog from anyone on there.

If there are only 8 dogs in a shelter in your city chances are it's either a high kill shelter or out of area rescues come & pick up the dogs, there are so many rescue groups in my area that they will actually go to other states & pull dogs from shelters there to bring back. Have you asked the shelter why there are only 8 dogs in the shelter? Do they have a team of fosters a friends group that organizes for dogs to be shipped by rescue groups or something? If so they might let you know about the dogs as they come in if they know what you are looking for.

OrangeDisks suggestion is a great idea. Though my own dog adopting is a lot more random, first dog we adopted I walked into the shelter & he was literally the first dog I saw, the second dog I fostered for a few weeks to help out a rescue group, and he never left.
posted by wwax at 9:14 PM on February 21, 2015

Thanks, everyone! You helped me see that, to a large extent, I was seriously overthinking this.

So, this weekend, I went out and just adopted a dog. This weekend has been exhausting but also wonderful.
posted by meese at 6:59 AM on February 23, 2015 [4 favorites]

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