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:
- 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.
- 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
- Private all-breed rescues: A few of these are well funded, most are not. They too are money losing operations.
- Muni rescues: Most cities and/or counties have some sort of humane society.
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
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
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
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
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.
- Samoyed rescue (NISA) said they had a one week return policy, no
questions asked. This was, of course, long enough for my vet to do the
inspection, and I did end up adopting Zephyr from them. The next time
I was looking (after Zephyr died) and the time after that they didn't have a suitable candidate.The
lady who started NISA (Jean) did however help me find other rescues.
NISA hasn't been getting a lot of dogs in recently, which is a good
- National Samoyed Rescue has a Facebook group. I found someone who
was in the process of rescuing a Sammie from a tie-out situation
through them. I started communicating with Yvette, who was doing the
rescue. I managed to convince her I had a very good home to offer the
right dog (with help from NISA's Jean and others) and the result is
currently sleeping upstairs. It was a pretty expensive adoption, which
included air shipping the dog from Utah to Chicago. I recommend against
even attempting a long distance adoption unless you have very special
requirements for a dog. This particular dog was not X-rayed ... the
decision to not X-ray him was mine. Both parents were known, and both
parents had OFA evaluations. This is the gold standard for breeders.
OFA evaluations are pricey, and are used to demonstrate excellent
structure in animals being considered for breeding. It is quite rare to
know a rescue dog's lineage, and rarer to find a rescue dog with
parents that are OFAed. The X-rays were allowed, but I decided it was
- Collie Rescue of WI and MN said they did not normally allow
returns BUT offered to do the X-ray on my behalf if a suitable
candidate dog came in. Actually, they were quite supportive. I was told
they had never received such a request before, but given my plans for
the dog they thought it a great idea. There was no suitable candidate
while I was looking ... although, wouldn't you know it, a day or two
after I adopted Vita they contacted me and told me they had just gotten in a great dog for what I wanted. Sod's law.
- Collie Rescue of Greater IL (with whom I have extensively worked
in the past) offered to make me a foster so I could evaluate a dog's
temperament and get my X-rays. I should point out that I have been
working with them at various events over 12 years. I'm kind of an insider.
- Aussie Rescue was horrified at the thought of one of their dogs
being used to mush. End of discussion. For the record, I have contacted
numerous vets including specialists to verify that non-traditional
mushing breeds can safely participate. All have told me that aside from
some breeds with unusual conformation (like dashunds) all dogs big
enough can participate. Of course, some breeds will be better at it
than others; but that is a performance issue, not a safety issue.
Retriever Rescue (As Good As Gold) were more than okay
with my requirement for an X-ray. No suitable candidate came in while I
was looking, but they were actively screening dogs on my behalf as they
came in. I contacted them when I was looking for my second sled dog,
but once again no suitable candidates cropped up while I was looking.
- No Muni rescue would consider my request for an X-ray. This was
no surprise. I must have contacted half a dozen different Muni rescues.
- A Sammie rescue in Texas (North Texas Samoyed Rescue) was willing
to work with me ... we got as far as starting to arrange shipping
logistics. Just prior to booking a slot on an airplane the rescue's vet
did the X-rays I wanted and pulled the plug on the adoption due to
dysplasia. This is exactly why I insist on X-rays. I can't say enough
nice things about the rescue. They performed extensive temperament
tests on my behalf, and were generally really wonderful.The local
Samoyed rescue (NISA) referred me. Once the vet's recommendations came
back they were very matter of fact about it. We were all sad, but there
was no attempt to convince me to ignore the vet's recommendation.
- Rover Rescue, an all-breed rescue, offered to allow me a one week
return, no questions asked. I ended up adopting Vita from them. I'm not
sure what breed she is ... part Golden, part Sheba Inu, maybe some
Husky? Rover Rescue - at least the branch near me - is an interesting
organization. It was started by someone who apparently heard of a high
kill shelter in Southern IL. She offered to foster dogs in Northern IL
until they could be adopted out near her. The dogs they adopt out would
almost certainly be euthanized but for the organization. I also want to
mention that one dog I was considering from Rover Rescue had a seizure
2 days before I was to meet him. They contacted me to let me know; they
were very up-front about it, even though they knew it would result in
me not adopting the dog. As it turned out I adopted Vita from them a
couple of weeks later.
refused to adopt to me because we had a cat; they
believe no husky with sufficient drive to mush can ever be trusted
around a cat. Ironically, our cat died a few months later from natural
causes. During my next adoption they advised me to get a dog from a kennel and NOT from rescue because
rescue dogs could not be relied on to pull. When I
pressed, they suggested this was for my own good as I was likely to be
disappointed in a rescued dog. After some back-and-forth, in the end
they said that if I became an approved adopter they would allow me to
X-ray a dog prior to adoption but no anesthesia could be used. Of
course, a proper Xray
requires anesthesia. The
person I emailed was overwhelmed with my list of traits I wanted. I
still think the list is a good idea, at least if you keep it to
yourself. I've reproduced it below with a few annotations.
Spirit Husky Rescue balked when I insisted on an X-ray prior
to adoption. Huskies, it should be pointed out, have very low incidence
of hip dysplasia but it is not zero. I was really amazed I was refused,
as I have worked with them in the past. When I bumped into one of their
officers at a race after adopting Vita he apologized; but when I
contacted the organization for my next adoption they did not return my
- ADOPT, a local private rescue, refused my request to X-ray prior
to adoption. This came as quite a shock to me: the kennel manager was
very supportive when I told her what I was looking for in terms of
temperament and they have an excellent reputation. The manager even offered to help
me find a dog with a suitable temperament. But ADOPT found my X-ray requirement unacceptable.
Alaskan Malamute Rescue was willing to work with me but warned me that
it would be difficult to find a mal who would get along with my collie.
- Lenawee Humane Society in MI deserves special note. They had a
sammie available; when I contacted them and told them what I wanted,
they discouraged me from adopting that dog because that particular dog
was a couch potato. (Yes, even sled dog breeds have couch potato
individuals). They suggested I consider another dog they had available,
a pit mix. They were very supportive of my X-ray requirement. My wife
doesn't like pit bull mixes, so I passed ... but this is a group I
would recommend without a moment's hesitation.
- I heard about Door County Sled Dog Rescue after I had started the
process to adopt the Sammie from Utah. Wow, what a great rescue. They
were 100% supportive of my desire to do X-rays, already knew how to
screen dogs for pulling and offered to do so on my behalf. I had a very
nice phone conversation with the lady who runs it. We also knew quite a
few people in common - as we both mush in the same area, and remembered
seeing me years ago racing with my collie (who was the only collie in
the country doing sled dog races).
- I also contacted several breeders to see if they had any dogs
they were looking to re-home. These would be dogs with known parents.
The parents would have been screened for genetic defects, so I wasn't
sure an X-ray was indicated. I talked to a couple of collie breeders,
none seemed upset at the notion of their dogs being used to mush. But
breeders only rarely get returns. Since I come with excellent
references I could have put myself on a waiting list for a puppy ...
but I'm not keen on getting a puppy.
Interestingly, breeders I've contacted have been very supportive even
when they found out I wanted to participate in an activity not normal
for the breed. I communicated with a couple of collie breeders who
assured me their dogs would perform well (not at championship levels,
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:
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.
- Must get along with other dogs. Aloof is acceptable.
- Must get along with strangers.
- Must get along with kids. Aloof is acceptable.
- Should be 1 1/2 years to 5 years of age or thereabouts
- Must have excellent movement conformation.
- Must be neutered, or acceptable for me to neuter. This is not negotiable.
- Weight: 45 – 80 lbs or thereabout.
- Must be X-rayed (at my expense) to verify freedom from hip issues (like dysplasia). This is not negotiable.
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.
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
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.
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.
- The dog must get along with my aging collie.
- The dog must like to run.