This document will describe my experiences during the dog adoption process.

Over the last 15 years I've adopted about half a dozen dogs. Mostly these have been just companion animals, but lately I've gotten into animal sports (mushing) and have become a far more demanding adopter. I started mushing because my (then) new collie, who was tremendously athletic, insisted on it. She had apparently not read the chapter that says collies herd, not mush.

If you are reading this you presumably already know never to get a dog from a pet shop because of problems with dicey genetics and poor living conditions during early puppyhood. So I'll skip that part ... of course, you can contact me for details if that isn't clear.

There are (as near as I can make out) five good possible sources of  dogs:
  1. Breeders: Some are good, some are not. I've only used a breeder once. She was a good friend, she most certainly did her homework regarding careful breeding. The litter from which my dog came from, however, has had some problems. A good breeder will stack the deck in favor of good puppies; but nothing is certain.
  2. Breed rescues: These organizations rehome dogs as best they can. They will usually be honest describing dogs because these folks want adoptions to work. You are more likely to be determined to be unworthy than to be given a bad dog. Most of my dogs have come from breed rescues. Most of these rescues are money losing operations run on a shoestring.
  3. Private all-breed rescues: A few of these are well funded, most are not. They too are money losing operations.
  4. Muni rescues: Most cities and/or counties have some sort of humane society.
  5. Friends
The sources are listed in approximate cost order, with the most expensive being listed first. Breeders can be quite expensive. A good breeder spends a lot of money on a puppy. Both parents should be screened for genetic defects, including expensive specialized X-rays. Puppies should be vaccinated and inspected by a vet. Puppies need intense exposure to humans in their first 8 weeks of life to assure adequate socialization. This is all expensive and time intensive.

Most good breeders also offer an unconditional life-long return policy on all dogs. No, you don't get  a refund if you return a dog, but the dog does have a guarantee of a home. Breeders will try and rehome a returned dog. Most breeders have a strict no-kill policy; unless a dog is dying or dangerous, it will not be euthanized.

There are (of course) some crappy breeders, and there does not appear to be any correlation between price & good breeding practices. If you are fond of a particular breed, get involved with that breed rescue. Not only will you get to know the breed better but the folks in the rescues are likely familiar with the local breeders: if you really, really want a puppy they can tell you where to go.

If you are not getting a puppy (and in my opinion the joys of owning a puppy are over sold) you should consider the other four sources. Most of the breed rescues will evaluate a dog and be willing to share their observations with you. This is a very valuable service. I like to mush with my dogs: I want a fairly high energy dog, amiable with people and other dogs. Some rescues have very specific philosophies regarding training or feeding, and insert requirements regarding these into the adoption contract. Read the contract, and don't sign anything onerous. You don't want to end up in court because some awful rescue is complaining that the brand of kibble you are feeding your dog violates the contract.
If you are adopting from a friend there should be a token exchange of money (preferably by cheque), and a signed bill of sale, one copy for you, one for the the seller. This will get rid of any possible misunderstandings later.

Return policies vary widely between rescues. It is good to find out what the return policy is. Most Muni rescues will not allow returns. The Munis tend to be very cheap, but you get very little beyond the physical dog; there is no temperament testing, and no support after the adoption. They tend to be high throughput operations, and are kill shelters.

Kill shelters are not kill shelters because they like killing dogs. They kill dogs because they have only a finite number of dogs they can take in at any given time. They cannot refuse to take in strays. 50 slots for dogs, 49 dogs already in, 6 more are coming. What are their choices?
Since I am into doggie sports, I have some pretty unusual requirements. I want a high-energy dog (most people want a low energy dog). I want a dog that can tolerate cold weather (most people don't really care). I want a dog with very, very good movement conformation - no hip problems whatsoever, no knee issues. Very minor deformities that would not matter for most adopters are a serious concern for me because my dogs are athletes, stressing their frames and muscles. As a consequence I have a non-negotiable requirement that any dog I adopt undergo a fairly extensive physical (at my expense) prior to finalizing the adoption. This includes a hip X-ray, somewhere around $350-$400 in 2013.
The reaction of various rescues to this requirement was very interesting.
I should point out that while I am a bit distressed at the rescues that refused my request, it needs to be remembered that they are still doing good work. The muni rescues just don't have the time to deal with anything unusual, their fees are half what the other rescues charge. A lot of folks just aren't aware that their dogs can do things not normally associated with the breed. Aussies, for example, can mush - but they aren't going to beat out Eurohounds, specifically bred for that job. As for the others that refused to allow X-rays ... not much I can say. They are simply inflexible. I am admittedly a difficult adopter, but there aren't many folks who would spend hundreds of dollars on a strange dog prior to adoption. Some of the rescues considered my requirement for X-rays evidence I was a good adopter, others considered it a huge impediment.

I am not suggesting you not consider the rescues who didn't want to work with me, especially if you are looking for strictly a companion animal. That is the demographic they are designed to serve. I was really, really astonished and upset that many rescues didn't welcome me as their perfect adopter. Not only do I have excellent references, but I also had obviously thought long and hard about just what I wanted in a dog. I'm not sure I would do anything differently if I were to do it again, but I certainly would not allow myself to get upset. Dog aficionados (myself included) hold some very strong opinions; the rescues are doing a good service to the community. Not everyone really and truly likes to live planning as much as I plan. The bottom line is that the rescues are saving dogs that would otherwise die, and they are not doing it in the hope of personal gain.

Here is my annotated list some rescues (most notably Adopt-A-Husky) found onerous:

This list will explain what I am looking for in a dog. Please note that any dog I adopt is likely to end up skijoring with me and/or scootering. This will not be a couch potato dog.

  1. Must get along with other dogs. Aloof is acceptable.
  2. Must get along with strangers.
  3. Must get along with kids. Aloof is acceptable.
  4. Should be 1 1/2 years to 5 years of age or thereabouts
  5. Must have excellent movement conformation.
  6. Must be neutered, or acceptable for me to neuter. This is not negotiable.
  7. Weight: 45 – 80 lbs or thereabout.
  8. Must be X-rayed (at my expense) to verify freedom from hip issues (like dysplasia). This is not negotiable.
  9. No known health issues. I will have my vet do a full physical shortly after I receive the animal, and any adoption will be unwound if health issues are evident. This is not negotiable.
  10. Should be housebroken. I expect there will be some accidents, especially initially, but I cannot keep a dog who is not housebroken.  Editor's note: This was included because many sled dogs from serious mushers have never set foot in a house. This statement was explicitly quoted by Adopt-A-Husky as evidence that I wasn't willing to commit to a dog. 
  11. 80% or more of my dog's calories come from a high quality commercial kibble. I will not accept restrictions such as required raw food diets, or use of a particular brand.
  12. I have a parrot, a cat, and another dog living in the house. The parrot and cat are kept physically separated from the dogs; nevertheless, a dog with a very strong prey drive would not be a good choice.  Editor's note: during my initial contact with Adopt-A-Husky they told me huskies cannot ever be trusted with a cat, I assumed that was the reason I was discouraged from applying.
  13. The dog must get along with my aging collie.
  14. The dog must like to run.