How to Adopt a Dog From an Animal Shelter or Rescue Group

Get tips on how to find a good shelter or rescue group to help you adopt a great dog.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
6-minute read
Episode #71

Adopting a rescue animal is a good deed. Do it with your eyes wide open--adopt from a careful, responsible organization that works to make good matches between people and pets. This week, I’ll explain how to find a shelter or rescue group that will help you bring home a dog who’s right for you.

Kill Shelters Versus No-Kill Shelters

First, a word about “kill shelters” and “no-kill shelters.” Several million animals are euthanized in U.S. shelters every year. (1) That isn’t because the staff of so-called kill shelters are bloodthirsty maniacs. Some animals are desperately sick or badly injured. Some present behavior problems--more about that in a minute. And some die because the shelter is full and there aren’t enough adopters. The municipal shelters and animal control authorities that must take every animal brought to them--call them full-service shelters--don’t have the resources to keep animals indefinitely.

Life in a Shelter Is Lonely and Stressful for Dogs

Besides, life in a shelter, even a modern, well-funded shelter, is stressful and lonely. An animal may start out friendly and calm but grow behaviorally disturbed as time goes by, even to the point where keeping him or her alive stops being kind. Euthanasia rates have declined in recent decades, but they remain the downstream result of animal-related problems too big for a single shelter to resolve.

What Does “No-Kill” Mean?

“No-kill” isn’t a very good descriptor, either. Resources are always finite, so a shelter or rescue can’t be no-kill and accept every animal brought to it and provide adequate space and attention for all of them. A no-kill shelter has to limit the number of animals it takes in. Or  it has to put an asterisk after “no-kill” with a footnote saying “except for sick animals and those with behavior problems.” Or it has to warehouse animals regardless of their mental health and whether it’s possible to give good care. Some animal hoarders may get started this way. A rescue group may reasonably decide it can help only x number of animals. But somebody, somewhere, has to deal with the rest.

How to Find Good Shelters and Rescue Groups

A good shelter or rescue group works to match dogs and people who suit each other well.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).