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Author’s note: I apologize for not posting in awhile. As some may know, my significant other, Joe, proposed! So I have been very busy enjoying being a fiancee 🙂 Oh also, I got a Manners Minder for Christmas, so I have been playing with that and Panzer just started his new classes at Carolyn’s, so we’ve been quite the busy family recently! Sorry for the delay!

I have been contacted more and more frequently recently by people who are looking to rescue their first forever friend. A lot of people want to know, generally, what to expect from a rescue dog that would be different from a pup from a breeder. As I have both a dog from a breeder and a rescue, I guess I seem like a pretty good reference.

While I have only had two rescues (so far), I feel like I’ve learned a lot from each one, and with the help of Panzer’s foster family and the ever so wonderful Google, I’ve decided to compose a series of posts answering some of the questions I’ve been asked. I can’t speak for all adopted dog parents, fosters, rescues, etc. but I can speak from personal experience and from research. If I had to guess, my response will probably change over the years, but as it is right now, this is what I think.

The first thing I’ve learned is that not all rescue organizations are created equal, just like not all breeders are created equal. It’s important to find a legitimate rescue, as well as the one that’s right for you.

There are many different kinds of rescues, but I’m going to take a minute to address some of the more popular ones.

Local Shelters, Humane Societies

Smokey, our first dog, came from a local shelter, the Chester County SPCA. In Pennsylvania, most counties have an SPCA (if not multiple), but they are not all equal. When deciding whether or not a local shelter is for you, there are moral questions to consider. First of all, some local shelters are loosely referred to as “kill shelters” (but not all, the Delaware County SPCA, for example, recently went no-kill). While they don’t like that label, for obvious reasons, a kill shelter is essentially a shelter where there is a potential for dogs that are there for too long to be euthanized simply because no one adopts them. You have to ask yourself if you’re comfortable supporting an organization where some of your money could be going toward vet costs to apply euthanasia to an otherwise adoptable dog. Fortunately, Pennsylvania just passed a law banning gas chamber euthanasia in the state, so all dogs are now to be euthanized individually, by injection.

The other side of the coin with so-called kill shelters is that they are more able to take in dogs. Rescues and shelters that do not have a kill policy have caps. There is only so much room, when they run out of it they will not accept more dogs. So shelters that have kill policies are more able to take in strays. These shelters are not out to kill dogs, they are out to save them, first and foremost. When you rescue a dog from a kill shelter, you are not only saving that dog from potential euthanasia, but you are opening up a spot for another dog, possibly extending the time for a dog on death row. We adopted Smokey from a shelter that does conduct euthanasia. When we adopted him, we opened up a space for a stray so that when that stray came in, there was an available kennel and another dog in the shelter didn’t need to die. In essence, we were saving Smokey and giving another dog a second chance. But every person is different, and views this differently, so that is something you should talk over with your family before choosing your rescue.

Smokey Dokey dog, our first rescue.

Smokey Dokey dog, our first rescue.

The other thing about local shelters is that the available dogs are always changing, so you should keep your eye on their website if they have one and visit often. I’ve found with local shelters that sometimes the intake is quicker than they can get pictures up on their website. When I called the Chester County SPCA to look for a German Shepherd when we decided to get our first dog, they told me they had two, yet I didn’t see pictures of them on their website. So don’t count them out just because you don’t see something you like online. And don’t be surprised if you find a dog that surprises you while you’re there.

Breeds are also always changing in local shelters, although the purebreds seem to be snatched up quicker. Last time I was in the Chester County SPCA, there was a beautiful, purebred Weimaraner, who could only have been about 18 months old that was brought in as a stray. If Panzer and Shelby were further along in their training, Joe and I probably would have walked out of there with another dog.

If you're in PA, go check out the SPCA and see if this dog is still available for adoption!

If you’re in PA, go check out the SPCA this dog may still be available for adoption!

Another added benefit of going with a local shelter or humane society is that you’re supporting your community and your local economy. By adopting a dog from a local shelter, you’re bringing in a dog that could have ended up on the street. A lot of shelters get contributions and donations from local companies, and any money that goes to them is typically spent at local businesses.

Breed Specific Rescues

Breed specific rescues are a great option for those who have done their research and have their heart set on a specific breed. Many breed specific rescues will pull animals from local shelters from all over the country and place them in foster homes within their organization. There are breed specific rescues for any type of dog you can imagine, with countless dogs up for adoption all the time for those who are looking to rescue.

It’s important to keep in mind as well, that many breed specific rescues will take mixes of their breed of choice as well as the purebreds, so if you’re looking for a neat or unique combination, searching these rescues is also a good idea.

All credible rescues are passionate about their dogs, but breed specific rescues are also passionate about the breed. They are a wonderful resource for information about the breed and will have lots of great advice particular to it. Panzer is from a breed specific rescue, All Shepherd Rescue, in Baltimore, MD, and his foster family has been an invaluable resource for us.


Our Panzer Boy!

Breed specific rescues may seem tough at first and their applications can be pages and pages long. A lot of them want to know everything from what other people and pets are in the home, to what brand of food you feed your current dog. Joe and I were rejected from one breed specific rescue which I will leave nameless because we aren’t married. At first, I was insulted, but I understand that they aren’t concerned about my feelings; they’re concerned about the welfare of the dog. Something about us not being married made the rescue feel like there was a higher potential for a breakup, and thus, the potential for the dog to end up homeless once again. I have heard many complaints about German Shepherd breed specific rescues rejecting applicants because they don’t have a fenced in backyard, or because the fence isn’t high enough. All I can say is try not to be offended and move on, eventually you will find the right rescue for you.

Good Signs

Once you’ve decided what type of rescue you’d like to look into, be it a local shelter, a humane society, a breed specific rescue, or another rescue organization run through independent fosters for all breeds, there are some things you’re going to want to keep an eye out for to make sure you’re getting a dog from a legitimate source.

The first thing to look for is whether or not the rescue is a recognized 501(c)(3) organization. A 501(c)(3) organization is a charity which is tax-exempt as certified by the IRS. While 501(c)(3) status isn’t necessarily an end all, be all, it’s a good thing to look out for. It’s a good indication that they are in it for the dogs and not the profit, and they have to qualify with the IRS, so there is some sort of oversight there. Also, money donated to a 501(c)(3) qualifies for a tax break at the end of the year, so if you make a donation with your adoption fee, there’s an added bonus.

Any dog that you adopt from a legitimate rescue should come with, at a minimum, a series of vaccinations and the records that go with them. If the dog is over 6-8 months of age, he/she should already be altered. If the dog is younger than that, many rescues will offer a free spay/neutering certificate with particular vets and/or with their organization. Many rescues will require spaying/neutering, so be prepared to do that. In addition, the dog should look healthy and well cared for. You should know if the dog has tested positive for heartworm or lyme disease. Keep in mind that not all dogs are going to look plump, especially if the rescue hasn’t had them very long. Panzer was only 47 pounds when he was rescued according to his medical records. By the time we went to see him, he was up to about 55, which is still very thin, but his foster family had done an incredible job with putting weight on him slowly but surely which is the safe way to do it.

Most legitimate rescues are going to have questions and depending on the rescue, lots of them. A lot of rescues are going to want a written application, references, a phone conference and many times, a home visit. They’re going to want you to introduce all the members of your family to your new addition, including the furry ones, before you adopt. They’re also going to have a contract of some sort for you to sign. Every contract is going to be different, but they will typically expect you to keep the dog indoors, not kenneled for more than 6-8 hours a day, and to provide the dog with basic and annual veterinarian care. Many contracts will expect you to take the dog to at least a 6 week training course and provide documentation when you’ve completed it as well as expect you to be available for home inspections. It’s always a good idea to actually read the contract and make sure you can keep up with the terms of it.

Also look for rescues that have a return policy. While they don’t want to do it, good rescues would prefer you return the dog to them if you encounter problems rather than dropping them off at some unknown shelter somewhere. A lot of rescues require that you return the dog to them, just like most legitimate breeders.

Additionally, many rescues will have conducted a temperament test even before the dog goes up for adoption. They gauge for things like reactivity to people, children, dogs, and cats, as well as behavioral issues like resource guarding food or toys or separation anxiety. The results of these initial evaluations are helpful, but not always exactly what you’re going to get once you bring the dog home. Smokey, for example, passed his initial temperament test and was gauged to have no reactivity to dogs or cats. When we got him home, after a few months, he got comfortable and blossomed, and we found out he had both.

My personal opinion? I love the Chester County SPCA, and Smokey was the most wonderful dog we could have ever hoped for. I would certainly adopt from them again, but when we were ready to look at adopting, they didn’t have any GSDs. So we branched out and we found ASR. I absolutely adore the idea of a foster family. I think the foster family model is great, because the dog gets to live in a real life family situation, and the foster family is able to evaluate the dog while it becomes more comfortable and behavioral quirks emerge. The SPCA had no idea that Smokey was dog aggressive when we rescued him, because he wasn’t able to feel comfortable and be himself in a shelter situation, so when it cropped up, we were shocked. With Panzer, we knew right from the beginning what we were getting into, because his foster family had already encountered it and was very open and honest with us, which gave us a better idea of what to expect and helped us prepare and have trainers lined up in the wings before we even brought him home. I think rescue, in any respect, is a wonderful thing, but if I had to choose again, I think I like the foster program best. Don’t count out your local shelter either though if you decide you want to go with a foster. Many local shelters have foster programs in addition to their regular shelter!

Happy hunting!


For a list of shelters in your area of Pennsylvania, visit: The PA Dept. of Agriculture’s List

For a list of breed specific rescues, try: The AKC list 

For anything and everything, visit: Petfinder

To see if your rescue or shelter of choice is qualified as a 501(c)(3) try using the IRS’ search tool here: IRS Exempt Organizations

For a good book on the work being done in rescues, read: Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin

For a book on lives saved by the Chester County SPCA, read: Saving Gracie by Carol Bradley