For some dogs, there’s nothing sweeter than an adoption story with a happy ending. Coconut, a white-haired mutt from the Henderson Humane Society, was brought in as a 2-year-old dog and found her forever home in the loving arms of a Kentucky family shortly after being returned from a foster home due to the current cat at the home not getting along with her. Her new family could not be happier with Coconut; her demeanor is loving, and she is super sweet and playful.

The process of adopting a dog varies. “Every shelter has a different set of steps that they go through,” said Rachel from the Warrick Humane Society in Newburgh, Indiana. Most of the time, it involves a meeting between the potential owner and the organization, some type of home visit or a questionnaire, a call to the vet to check on the physical health and vaccines of any current pets, and a meet and greet with any dogs from the potential home. These steps help ensure a safe and healthy home for the rescued dog, both physically and emotionally. Despite the variation, there seems to be a high success rate of dogs finding happy forever homes. I have contacted multiple rescue organizations and people who have adopted dogs and will be sharing their stories and experiences in the adoption process, and how successfully the dogs transitioned into their new lives.

It does not matter who you are or where you come from, everyone has the chance to be a dog owner. Rachel stated: “We have people of all different demographics coming in to adopt dogs, from the elderly looking for a companion, families looking for a puppy (or dog in general) to 18-year-olds who have moved out and want a pet of their own.”

There are some limitations when it comes to adopting, with the most common being size. Many apartments and rental properties have weight limits for pets, usually around 25 pounds. To me, that seems very low, as I’ve met many dogs that I can pick up like a baby and all of them are pushing 40 pounds. That is why the most common dogs that are adopted and fall into that weight range include Chihuahuas and Yorkies. When size and weight are not a factor, Labradors are the most popular choice, as they are known as a very playful and friendly breed according to the Warrick Humane Society. The other most common breed is the Golden Retriever. According to Ansley from the Henderson Humane Society, they are one of the most popular family breeds due to their friendly demeanor.

I am partial to what are colloquially called “bully breeds”, such as Pit Bulls, Rottweillers, Dobermans, Boxers, and Staffordshire Terriers. “Unfortunately, there is quite a bit of stigma towards those breeds, due to the many years of dogfighting stories and the myths that Pit Bulls are aggressive and their jaws lock when they bite something both of which are untrue,” said Rachel. Yes, Pit Bulls are good at fighting things due to their head-to-body ratio. They have massive heads and jaws compared to their bodies, and that is why my smallest dog by a sizeable margin (outweighed by 70 or so pounds), a Staffordshire Terrier, is the best at playfighting. “Truthfully, pit bulls are the opposite. Rachel explained that, as long as it hasn’t been through a horrible background, a Pit Bull’s typical demeanor is super friendly, playful, and goofy. And yet, she continues on to say “they are almost exclusively associated with dogfighting.” I can back that up: almost every Pit Bull I have ever met is the sweetest, cuddliest lovebug you will ever meet. As long as there is no prior trauma, they are no more dangerous than any other breed. The big problem is the fact that drug dealers and criminals have purchased these types of dogs to be attack dogs, and the only stories you ever hear are of people being attacked. Any dog can be dangerous if they have been abused; they are scared, and they only have their mouth to defend themselves. Rachel also said, “Most animal care workers will tell you that they have been bit or tried to be bit by way more Chihuahuas than Pit Bulls.” Every dog has an equal chance of being a good or bad pet. It is all on the owner, neglectful owners are the biggest problem in dog development, and it makes me sick how many people do not care about their pets and sometimes leave them behind.

There are many reasons why dogs end up in a refuge league or animal care facility. “The most common way dogs wind up in our facility is because they were found by Animal Control,” said an Evansville Animal Care and Control employee. The second most common reason is surrendering, which is when someone can no longer properly care for their dog and has to give them to a refuge league or shelter. It is sad when that happens, but it can lead to happy endings. One example of this is with George Buckles, who was surrendered by a loving family and spent almost a month in the shelter due to his perceived ugliness and health. He has a large underbite and two snaggle teeth, one on either side, along with having Lyme disease. Fortunately, he was adopted by the Harrison family, who took him in and gave him a loving home where he is now living his best and most comfortable life as the most handsome boy.

Aside from adoption, people can also foster dogs. The fostering process has many different aspects to it. The first and most common is the foster-to-adopt program where the person or family looking to adopt a dog will bring the dog into their home for a few days/weeks to see if the dog is a good fit in the home. This will often lead to the family officially adopting the dog. However, sometimes the dog is not a good fit for whatever reason, whether that be size, demeanor, energy level, or overall care. Sometimes the families are not able to care for the dog and they end up back at the shelter.

Dogs can also be fostered for health reasons. Sometimes a dog will come in with an injury or sickness that needs to be taken care of before they are ready to be adopted. This process can take weeks, if not months, to get the dog up to full health. Sometimes the families fall in love with the dog and end up adopting them, but this process is more about the dog’s overall health rather than adoption.

There are some challenges with finding dogs their new homes. The most common problems are behavioral, with the largest as not being housetrained. Sometimes a family will adopt an animal or even buy one from a breeder and not bother training the dog at all, so by the time they get to the shelter, they are already fully grown. The older a dog gets, the harder it is to train. The second biggest issue is teething. “Having a puppy teethe on you is not that big of a deal, but when a full-grown dog wants to teethe, it can be painful,” said Rachel. Removing these challenging behaviors make the dog more appealing for adoption.

One perk of choosing a rescue dog over a purebred dog is the likelihood of having a healthier dog. Purebred dogs tend to have far more health problems than dogs with multiple breeds in their genes. The reason for this is the same as why people who are related should not have children: not enough genetic variation to help cover up defects, such as breathing problems or a tendency to get sick due to a weakened immune system. The main reason dogs continue to be bred this way is because people want them almost as fashion accessories and, in order to keep the desired traits, you need to breed very selectively, as dogs should not have too many litters. “A female dog should only have 3-4 litters to not cause health problems in the mom. With that, breeders do not want to waste one of their few litters on a mutt.”

I have heard that adopting a dog can be especially challenging for dog lovers, as they will want to adopt every dog in the building, but it’s just not feasible. “Yes, it is hard not to want to adopt them all. I am a very big animal lover and I believe all animals deserve a loving home and a warm place to live,” said Nic Scott of Evansville, Indiana.

Running a shelter is no easy task. It takes dozens of employees and volunteers.

Tammy Thatcher, a volunteer at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland (ARLGP) in Westbrook, Maine, commented on her time working in the shelter: “What I took from that experience is that there are far too many animals who need good homes, and I am so thankful that ARLGP provides for them while they wait. It takes a lot of good people to run a shelter. Volunteers are a critical component. I could not adopt them all, but I could provide them with love as they waited for their new families.”

The adoption process is equally as involved on the side of the potential owners.

The paperwork, meetings, and travel to receive the dog can be laborious. Julia Harrison from Steep Falls, Maine, has rescued three dogs from various organizations and had to make multiple hour-long trips to both screen and pick up each dog.

The first dog was a Labrador Pit Bull mix named Dexter. He came from an abusive household and, due to his reaction to that trauma, he eventually had to be put down, as he would bite when scared.

The second is a Staffordshire Terrier named Lily, a short and stocky dog who weighs in at about 40 pounds. Julia decided to get Lily to give Dexter a friend, as he was very high-energy and needed a playmate. The process of getting Lily was a little unorthodox. Julia took Dexter to meet another dog, but they did not quite hit it off. Dexter had sniffed Lily through the fence on his way into the yard and Lily was having a meet and greet with a family who did not end up adopting her. This was a blessing in disguise for Lily. Julia asked if she could have Dexter meet Lily and they “immediately started running around and playing. Dexter even went into the wading pool and completely ignored her for a little bit.” This was the perfect indication that they could live together. They enjoyed each other’s company but could also co-exist without the other bothering them. Lily did come with some incontinence issues (not being able to control when she pees), but the Harrison family is a large one, so Lily always had someone around to take her out – now, she has not had an accident in over a year. Lily also came from an abusive home; she does not like tall men, so that led Julia to believe that she was abused by a tall man. Now, Lily is living a great life with her new friend George and a family that loves her very much.

The third and final dog is George Buckles, a Pit Bull and Boxer mix with the snaggle teeth, mentioned earlier. Once Dexter was put down, the Harrison family decided that Lily now needed a new playmate. They went to the same shelter they got Lily from, the Animal Refuge League of Westbrook, Maine. Andy Harrison, Julia’s husband, said, “I do not want to get an old and sick dog,” but after one look at George, Julia was sold, and it was decided. Andy went in there looking for anything but an old and sick dog, and what did he leave with? A seven-year-old sick dog (anything over 6 years old is considered an older dog, as dogs usually pass around ages 12-14 depending on size and breed). Fortunately, Andy came around very quickly and loved George just as much as the others, if not more, thanks to his good behavior and friendliness.

Going to an adoption facility or refuge league is not the only option when it comes to rescuing a dog. Tracy Chambers from Portland, Maine, has adopted two dogs from different organizations, but they were not the typical processes that you would go through. The first is a Beagle named Heidi. Heidi was brought to Tracy through the Beagles of New England States organization, or BONES. This organization acts almost opposite to most organizations. “Usually, you go in and pick the dog you want, but

BONES has you fill out a survey and they match the dog to you,” said Tracy.

Tracy’s second dog came from Tennessee, another Beagle named Todd, while not initially thrilled with the name the Chambers family now thinks his name is perfect.

Todd’s story is short but rather sad. He was left behind by his family when they moved. “The neighbor found him wandering around in the street,” said Tracy. The pickup was supposed to be a surprise for her youngest daughter Callie, but because they had to bring Heidi to make sure the two dogs went along, Tracy decided to tell her daughter first. They have had Todd for 2 years now and he is as happy as can be all cuddled up with his new mom.

Nic Scott from Evansville, Indiana, has adopted 2 dogs, with both of them being successful integrations into the household. The first was Roe, a small multicolored Mutt that Nic got from a friend who could no longer take care of her. Nic prefers to rescue dogs rather than buy puppies because “it is not the dog’s fault that it was born and I have found over the years that rescuing over buying gets you a better dog, fewer health problems, and a more loving animal in general”.

The second dog Nic rescued came from the Warrick Humane Society in Evansville, Indiana. Her name is Mazikeen and she is a small Labrador mix. Nic chose the Humane Society because it is a kill shelter, and those dogs need homes a little more desperately than dogs at no-kill shelters since they could be euthanized to make space for newer dogs.

Overall, I think rescuing a dog is the better choice than buying a puppy. When a breeder has a litter, the buyers are lined up the moment they announce how many puppies they have. Unfortunately, not every dog in a shelter will get adopted, so whenever you have the chance, you should give those dogs a second chance at a happy life. From what I have seen you will have just as good of a dog as any other.

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