How to adopt a dog?
January 13, 2020 11:30 AM   Subscribe

Is there a trick to adopting dogs from rescue groups? I’ve tried a few times already, unsuccessfully. Recs for DC/MD rescues also appreciated.

My family is ready for a dog. I don’t think we have red flags: we own a home, have had multiple dogs and a good relationship with a few vets (as references). We do have a young child but she did well at an in-home visit.

I feel we’ve done a lot with completing applications, going to adoption events, reading current dog bios, etc. Twice we’ve found a good fit but we get the response that the dog already has an adoption pending. One time it was an available dog we saw at an event and we applied a few minutes later! What gives?
posted by inevitability to Pets & Animals (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you tried going in person to the DC animal shelter (or one in a neighboring county)? I know friends have had much better luck by showing up without a specific animal in mind. Basically, walk in during opening hours, explain you situation, and see what they suggest. There can be lots of competition for specific animals, but if you’re like, “I want dog in general,” the staff members are usually happy to chat and problem solve. (This would definitely apply, at least to my knowledge, at the Arlington County and Fairfax County shelters.)

If you’ve tried this and it’s still not working, maybe try further and further out in the suburbs?
posted by whitewall at 11:46 AM on January 13 [5 favorites]

I don't know for certain, but I suspect you're bumping into the fact that in the DC-MD-NoVA area, there are a lot of people looking for good rescues and there's just a lot of competition. I know non-pitbull breeds tend to get snapped up quickly there, especially. If possible, you might try looking further afield into more rural areas where overcrowded shelters are really struggling to find homes. Or you could see about working with a rescue that brings dogs in from states where overpopulation is a big problem.

Another possibility is things like whether or not you have a fence (some rescues are crazy strict).

If you happen to be in Nebraska any time soon, I can take you to several rescues and throw dogs at you until you find the perfect one.
posted by PussKillian at 11:49 AM on January 13 [9 favorites]

Some of those who run these groups are super weird about letting dogs go. It's like those people that decide to run a homeowners association then they get crazy with power and start making people nuts. I have a friend who is a professional dog trainer. Has several great, well trained and happy dogs with multiple titles. If I turned into a dog I'd love to be part of her pack. She wanted to get another dog, and decided to do the right thing and adopt a rescue. She was literally a dog-training professional. She was denied without any reason given. So don't take it personally.
posted by Patapsco Mike at 11:58 AM on January 13 [22 favorites]

My sister recently got involved with fostering for a rescue in the DC/VA/MD area.

Having peaked behind the scenes: the rescues usually do not want to do same day adoptions unless they are absolutely desperate.
1) Same day adoptions have higher frequency of dogs being returned.
2) Does not give the rescue time to follow their standard questionnaire to ensure good fit

Agree with the feedback to consider putting forward what type of dog you are looking for vs applying for a specific animal.

Some of the rescues in this area are passion projects: a single person running the organization who has a narrow definition of what a successful adoption looks like. If you run into one of these organizations you need to know they are looking for the following answers:

a) you will attempt to crate train the dog (because you are a disciplined owner who will succeed at house breaking the dog)
b) you will not take the dog to a dog park and will instead do leashed walks (because you understand only some breeds are socialized to like stranger dogs and you will keep your dog safe from having an interaction that will cause the dog to become scared and aggressive)
c) if you have a yard, it is fenced
d) the dog will not be left alone more than 4 hours at a time

I don't agree with the logic behind all of those answers. I got some judgmental non-sense back from a rescue owner when I was looking to adopt and I firmly believe some of the adoption obstacles are insane.

BUT it can be done!! Shop around to see which rescue organizations are a good fit (e.g, ones that ARE willing to do same day take homes) and then only look for dogs with them.

Send me mefi mail if you want a rec for the rescue my sister works with. Good luck!! :)
posted by skrozidile at 12:13 PM on January 13 [9 favorites]

I am in the DMV and recently adopted a dog through the rescue Homeward Trails. It happened VERY fast! This was my first dog, and I live in a high rise, so I'm not the "ideal" owner. I also have friends who are married with no kids, living in a house, and who are more familiar with dogs -- and yet they got turned down by this exact same rescue. So you're not alone.

Originally, I was going to go through the animal shelter, but dogs there get adopted too fast (very few dogs are even up for adoption at any given time) and the shelter wasn't really that interested in working with me anyhow. So once I figured that the animal shelter was a longshot, I put in an application with this rescue. The dog that I was interested in when I put in the application (who I found on PetFinder) was already in the middle of the adoption process, but the rescue manager recommended a couple other dogs to me based on their disposition and my needs. These other dogs were both adults and both heart-worm positive, so they were probably less "desirable." (They were also both hounds -- apparently, hounds are still very popular as hunting dogs in Southern/rural Virginia, so animals taken from the nearest high-kill shelters and brought to the DC area are often hounds). I ended up looking at the dog who was in a foster home close by me, and of course once I met her, my soft heart wasn't going to let me just leave her there. The rescue was very anxious to get me to take her home, so that they could get another dog in her place. *Very* anxious. I ended up getting them to keep her until they'd had her spayed, and brought her home about a week after meeting her.

I think the factors that made it so that I got a dog very quickly were that the rescue manager took a liking to me for her own reasons, and because I was very open to recommendations and being "matched" with a dog (rather than picking one out myself beforehand). I also didn't have a lot of preconceptions about what kind of dog I wanted, and was happy to choose from whichever dogs were available -- just not very hard to please.

That said, in retrospect, I don't think that I would have adopted the dog that I did if I had it to do all over again, because her energy and socialization needs are extremely high and difficult for me to meet. It probably would have made more sense for me to get a smaller dog (mine is now around 50 pounds and that's all muscle) and one that was a bit older and maybe a more sedentary breed. Of course, my pup has a wonderful disposition, has never met a stranger (either human or canine), and she is quickly getting me into shape. So even though I should have been less "ambitious" in terms of the dog that I was adopting, I do love my dog and she is in her forever home with me. So in all, I suppose it was a successful adoption.

I guess what I'm saying is, maybe be more open to being "matched" with a dog and let the rescue managers guide you...but also be really realistic about what your needs are before you meet any dogs, because once an adoption is moving, it's MOVING. And whether a particular rescue manager takes a liking to you and wants to adopt to you is kind of a crapshoot, probably, so maybe don't be afraid to get in touch with plenty of rescues.
posted by rue72 at 12:42 PM on January 13 [9 favorites]

I don't think rescues will generally lie to you about pending adoptions (though the field has its weirdos, for sure, and there can be communications problems). If there's some concern about you as a match generally or for that dog in particular, they'll usually let you know, so you can correct the problem, or be matched to a better fit. You've just had some bad luck.
posted by praemunire at 12:54 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Here in Seattle a couple weeks ago, I heard tell of forty people waiting outside a shelter an hour before opening time, for seven dogs. The first person got there at 4AM.
posted by wotsac at 12:55 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

In some areas, there are numerous responsible owner, few strays, and reduced options at shelters. I was looking for a dog 10 years ago, and the local shelter is 95% pit bull breeds, not a good match for me. I had a family event in Columbus, Georgia, brought home a great dog from a crowded shelter. Some breed-specific rescue organizations can be very fussy. Look further away, the South is full of kill shelters.
posted by theora55 at 1:01 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

Twice we’ve found a good fit but we get the response that the dog already has an adoption pending.

Take this at face value—there are lots of people wanting to adopt in the DC area and I haven’t heard any stories about rescues being dishonest. Sometimes they give you the option of filling more than one dog’s name in on your adoption form. Friends of mine have adopted from Lucky Dog, City Dogs, and the Humane Rescue Alliance, as well as a group in Northern Virginia specific to Labradors (can’t remember the name), all had good experiences.
posted by sallybrown at 1:04 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

We had to fight hard for our recent adoptee, too -- to the point that at one point I turned to my housemate and said, "Maybe we should just get a child instead; it would probably be easier!"

Our set up is more than ideal - we're experienced dog/pet owners with great vet references, we have a very large house and a large fenced back yard, and we are three ambulatory adult family members, ready to cater to all a dog's exercise and entertainment needs. Two of us work from home full time, so the house is never unsupervised for long. Despite all that, in the end, we managed to adopt mainly because we Knew Someone in the rescue organization, and they were familiar enough with us and our home to allow us to skip some of the earlier, fiddlier steps.

It's not just you, it really is harder than you'd expect to adopt a dog. On the one hand that's great, because dogs should have people very carefully looking out for their interests. On the other hand... it does make for a frustrating process at times. Best of luck!
posted by invincible summer at 1:14 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

There are groups who put on huge-ass events (like 400+ dogs at one time!), and we found our rescue by visiting him the night before one of these.

This particular rescue group had driven up from Texas with a ton of dogs, and would be joining other rescue groups at a car dealership (who moved their vehicles out so the whole dealership could be used to show off dogs). We drove out to a local farm who was letting them stage the dogs & trailer there, and met our potential dog, who we knew would be there because his picture was online in the weeks before the event. My SiL volunteers at these mega-events, and she'd been combing the listings for us for months.

Doing the paperwork ahead of time helps a lot. Meeting a bunch of dogs helps you decide, and become ready to choose when the moment is there. Picking a breed and using a breed-specific rescue is one way to get the staff to know you (who can then tip you off when a good dog comes in). We had seen a lot of dogs before but they were always gone! We drove three hours in the rain one night to new Hampshire, only to have the staff sheepishly admit that the dog we were playing with hated other dogs and had to be sequestered.

Stick with it -- it's a lot like buying a house, now that I think about it...

(He's a good boy, and we truly love him like family, though he's not exactly the dog we thought he was when we met him. But that's a rescue, right?)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:19 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I ran into this constantly when trying to adopt dogs from rescues. Most of the time we never heard back too, and when we did we were told they had found a better fit then out two adults with a fenced yard, one of whom worked from home part of the week, and one who had extensive volunteer work with animals. We gave up on adopting the first time around and bought a puppy. The second time we ended up setting alerts for the breed we wanted on petfinder and adopt a pet for all shelters within a 100 mile radius and when one popped up my partner took a day off work to race out there when the shelter opened opened to meet the dog. It took months that way, but we did get a great dog.
posted by lepus at 1:23 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

theora55: Look further away, the South is full of kill shelters.

Right, our rescue organization drives from Texas up here to New England and like Portland, Oregon, I think, among other places. They use a huge, air-conditioned travel trailer to move 50 or 70 dogs at a time from kill shelters to areas with few adoptable dogs. They do this every few months, too, which blows my mind.

Our dog's folder had just one page in it, with the report of when animal control picked him up. He was, indeed, a one-eyed drifter in a Texas town -- like a country song or something. But they chipped him, fixed him, gave him worm medicine, and took him in...along with dozen and dozens of others.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:33 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

Here's the kind of online catalog that we browsed endlessly for available dogs:

(That specifically links to our group's listing, but change the criteria as you wish.)
posted by wenestvedt at 1:35 PM on January 13

Also, dog bios and photos are not as reliable as in person- when we adopted our family dog he was out the back (I suspect a bit closer to the end point, as it were) and he was brought out to us based on our suggestions for the kind of dog we were looking for.
When we got home later we realised we had passed over him on the website, but personality-wise he was a perfect fit. (There was no way Dad was going to give him back after he put out his hand and pooch hi-fived him.) The photo didn't truly show his looks either.
posted by freethefeet at 1:40 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Since you are looking for places to visit: We rescued our cat from the Maryland SPCA in Baltimore. At the time, they had only a few cats but a lot of dogs although I am sure it can be hit or miss. It is a nice facility and the staff was good. I also know that the Humane Society of Harford County has a good reputation. It is north of Baltimore in Fallston, MD. Since one person recommended going to the suburbs, maybe it will be easier here in this more rural area.
posted by maxg94 at 1:44 PM on January 13

Thanks everyone for your advice and feedback! Didn’t mean to complain about the rescues, was just truly baffled and I think it’s been tough emotionally for us and the kiddo who met some of the dogs.
posted by inevitability at 1:45 PM on January 13

Another vote for "it's competitive" - my family fosters in the greater region, and we've had dogs get dozens of applications within the first hour of them being posted or shown in person.

If there's something attracting you to one particular dog, it's likely attracting everyone else too. Keep trying and I'm sure you'll make a great furever home.
posted by matrixclown at 2:16 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Most rescues are very competitive and they're strict about going in order of applications, you can't just jump the queue because you have a great set-up. It helps to work with several rescues at once. Have your applications completed and submitted ASAP even if you don't have an animal picked out. Also, follow the rescues on social media where you can see the posts about new animals right away.

However, one of the best ways to adopt a pet through rescue is to foster. You can spend time with the dog and then also elect to be a "foster failure" where you adopt the dog you're fostering. One rescue I follow even has a "foster to adopt" set-up for some dogs that need fosters where they give you 3 days to spend with the dog before they allow potential adopters to meet the dog. You have to be willing to foster, but it's a great way to help animals and end up with your own new family member.
posted by quince at 2:34 PM on January 13 [5 favorites]

I had a similar experience to rue72 with Homeward Trails.

I was matched - quickly - with a dog (and I was a non-ideal adopter - a 23-year-old in an apartment). However, ultimately it was a difficult match - I suspect that they didn't know him very well before they adopted him out - and my dog ended up being pretty much none of the things that I described myself looking for. Nonetheless, almost four years out, I still love him to pieces.

I would recommend them cautiously if you're looking for a rescue - they're not as absurd as some of them, but you may want to take extra care to do your own evaluations of the potential pup (or maybe become a foster parent first).
posted by mosst at 2:40 PM on January 13

I agree with taking the news at face value, and keep trying. We have two rescues but missed several we tried for before those, because other applications beat ours. In fact, I believe we got our Shi Tzu because we got lucky! We just happened to see him online first and were told if we didn't take him, that five other applications were already in after ours.

Certain breeds/sizes and the extra cute ones really do get lots of applications and while it's possible some rescues may have extra reservations about small children (one possibility), many rescues really do get multiple applications and go in order of who applied (and qualifies) first.
posted by Glinn at 3:03 PM on January 13 [1 favorite]

I adopted in DC with Rural Dog Rescue as a somewhat non-ideal adopter as a single condo dweller who does not work from home much. I started off as a foster for my coonhound and then became a "foster fail" who wasn't going to give him up once he was living at my house. I thought their process was overall pretty transparent and I didn't feel like they were judging me too harshly for not having the absolute 100% perfect setup for a dog. Like a few others here, my big doofus has turned out to be somewhat of a (lovable, wonderful, never met a person or dog he doesn't love immediately) head case, but I don't hold the rescue responsible for that, he was mostly just a terrified mess of a pup when he first arrived in DC.
posted by fancypants at 3:38 PM on January 13

For those suggesting fostering -> adopt, is this possible with a young child in the house?
posted by inevitability at 4:06 PM on January 13

Many of the fosters that work with the rescues I know have kids of various ages, other dogs, and/or cats. A good rescue will screen for temperament and history and will match you with animals that fit your situation.
posted by quince at 4:38 PM on January 13

I think every dog my mom has owned has been because she signed up to "foster" for a breed-specific rescue. I only recall her sending one neurotic one off to be adopted. So I agree, just go volunteer for one of these rescues or sign up to foster. If you like the dog, they'll most likely just let you keep them.

I also agree look further south. I adopted my last dog when I lived in Georgia when I was like 19 and probably shouldn't have gotten a dog and I remember zero vetting taking place, it was basically "The fee for deworming is $50, here's your new dog". Funny I am not in the only one in this thread who ended up with a "lost hunting coonhound" as a rescue.
posted by bradbane at 4:41 PM on January 13 [3 favorites]

Nthing that a day trip to rural parts of MD, PA, WV, or VA will get you to a government-run kill shelter with too many dogs for the number of people looking for them that will be delighted to help find you a good match.
posted by Candleman at 5:38 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

(By the way, we're all looking for a rescue that doesn't shed.)
posted by wenestvedt at 5:44 PM on January 13

I had good luck with DogsXL, which is a rescue based in Silver Spring. We got a 55lb dog, which as you might guess from the name, is on the small end for them. You might also try BARCS in Baltimore, they handle a huge number of dogs and other animals.
posted by postel's law at 5:59 PM on January 13

I had a rough time with several rescues in DC, getting rejected with no reason given, scooped, or outright ignored. Here are the places where I had a good experience:

- Washington Humane Society, which now that I'm looking it up I see eventually merged with

- Washington Animal Rescue League to create the Humane Rescue Alliance. Though I didn't end up with the perfect pup from either of these places, I had a good experience and I think the Voltron of the two will probably be something special. (It's also huge so probably on your radar already, apologies if so!)

- K-9 Lifesavers, where I eventually got my dog. Like many rescues they have pups homed in various foster and temporary situations, so this probably depends heavily on the foster; mine was at a boarding kennel so there wasn't an extra personality to take into account. (The woman at the boarding kennel was a massive help and really great.)

Rescue people can be... better with pets than people. (At the above places I did not have that experience; especially at WARL they were very good with dogs AND humans, and I took my dog rescued elsewhere there for training.) Try not to take it personally, or to get too fixated on any one pup until gears are in motion. There are many perfect dogs who will also be perfect for you!
posted by babelfish at 6:04 PM on January 13 [2 favorites]

Go south, young family. You do not have to get that far outside of DC to get to areas with huge pet overpopulation problems. Some years ago (but I doubt the situation has improved much), we adopted two dogs from the tri-county animal shelter in Charles Co. and they were practically giving them away. Like, "are you sure you don't want one more?!" levels of enthusiasm.
posted by soren_lorensen at 7:05 PM on January 13 [4 favorites]

The rescues I've been involved with tend to be overrun with large dogs, older dogs, and pitbull or adjacent breeds, so if you're looking for any combination of small, young, and not a pitty, you probably do genuinely have a lot of competition! Nthing the suggestion to check out shelters outside the city.
posted by Basil Stag Hare at 12:52 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Sometimes (in the South) a dog advertised for adoption will be unexpectedly unavailable because s/he is scheduled to be transported north, to avoid kill. If vetting would conflict with transport schedule, they don’t want to take that risk. Also, agree that hounds from hunting country are an especially heart-breaking category. They have often been abused or desocialized from the start, and primed to run far and fast; etc. If only there were a way to raise standards in hunting country...some hunters are very responsible, but for too many, a dog us less valuable than a gun.
posted by mmiddle at 3:23 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Going to a rural shelter is a good option, but there are advantages of going through a rescue group, certainly. One thing that can help is to get to know some of the people involved in the rescue group, so you're more than just a name on a piece of paper to them. It's my experience that many fosters use social media, sometimes starting to share info about an adoptable dog before it goes up for adoption officially, so being friends with them on social media (I know serial fosterers who have social media accounts just for their foster activities!) can give you an inside track.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:38 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

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