You don’t know what you’re getting

I’m going to confess right off the bat that this post is not coming from a place of altruistic knowledge-sharing. I’m a little bitter. I shouldn’t be, but I am.

For the past two weeks, we’ve had white moms climbing over each other to apply for this litter of puppies we got in. Seriously, our application spreadsheet looks like Bed, Bath and Beyond on Black Friday. We’ve had some good apps, we’ve had some really bad apps, and we have people getting salty either way because, with only seven puppies, there’s no way we can make all 854,256 applicants happy.

Really, I should be thrilled that so many people took the time to apply to rescue a puppy instead of buying one of Craigslist. Some of them will probably end up doing that anyway, but hey, at least they made the effort. However, as it always happens when we have puppies or even just a purebred dog into the rescue, we get uppity folks who have never looked twice at us marching into our emails or our comments wanting to know, “When can we come take a look at the dog?” And yeah, I get that people like what they like, but it really boggles the mind to watch people practically line up around the block for a fat, maniac silver lab without a goddamn day of training while sweet, calm, snuggly mutts don’t even get a second glance.

I told my mom I was feeling bitter about this. My mom, because she is nicer and more empathetic than I am, said, “Well, you know, people want a puppy because they want to know what they’re getting.”

That’s true. People seem to think adult rescue dogs are basically just a bag of issues held together by fur, and that by getting a puppy they’ll avoid any surprises. We had a couple applications that said something to the effect of, “I have a cat, so I want to get a puppy so they can be raised together and get along.” If you get them early in life, you can raise them to be the exact kind of dog you want, right?


That’s the problem. You don’t know what you’re getting. Furthermore, you probably don’t know a damn thing about raising puppies.

Really, you never know what you’re getting with a puppy. If you’re paying $5,000 for a puppy and the breeder is on the up-and-up with socialization and that fun stuff, then you can probably bet the puppy got a good start. If you’re getting a puppy off Craiglist or from your neighbor or your local backyard pond scum breeder, you can probably bet that puppy got the worst start it could have. If you get a puppy from a rescue, their start could be anywhere between those two extremes, depending on, well, a lot of things.

We don’t have any  background info on the latest puppies to come into the rescue. We know we got them at seven weeks, which is too young to be away from their mom, and they have the hard mouths to show for it. I’ve never had to work on bite inhibition to the extent that I have with these. At seven weeks, one of them was already resource-guarding out the wazoo. If they don’t want to be in their crate, they’ll shriek until blood comes out your ears.

So cute, and yet so bitey.



Let’s have a few more examples. In fact, how about me as an example? I’ve had two of my three dogs since puppyhood, more or less. Once he came into my house at about eight weeks, Niles never left. Celia was fostered by another volunteer before me, and then she had two short stints with other people in failed adoptions. Nevertheless, both of them were around my dog-savvy cat in puppyhood, and both of them harass the cat to no end. They’re not trying to kill him, they’re just playing, but the cat doesn’t like it. I don’t like it. Meanwhile, Nelson, the dog we adopted as an adult, barely looks twice at the cat.

Both Celia and Niles are reactive. Nelson is not reactive. Nelson knows cues far more reliably than Niles and maybe even more than Celia. Nelson ambles along on the leash with no problem, but to get loose-leash walking out of the other two takes constant work and practice. Of all our dogs, Nelson fit our lifestyle, while we’ve adjusted our lifestyle to fit the other two.

My point is not to be afraid of puppies. My point is, when you get a puppy, you’re not getting a blank slate who’s going to grow up into your dream dog just because it’s lived most of its life in your house. Their genetics, the situation they were born into, how the breeder or the volunteers handled and socialized them, those are all going to affect your puppy. And that’s before we even get to what you do with them. So don’t be afraid, but don’t you dare be complacent about it, either. Know what the hell you’re doing, or get connected with a trainer who does.

My other point is, for the love of God, at least consider adopting an adult dog. It’s not charity. You’re not sacrificing a damn thing if you adopt an adult dog instead of a puppy. In fact, you’ll get more sleep, you won’t have to replace your carpet less than three years after moving into your house, your furniture won’t look like you live with a pack of beavers, and the burden of the dog’s formative years won’t be on you.

Bugsy is a perfect example. He’s six years old and nobody even thinks twice about applying for him anymore, but he’s an absolutely wonderful dog. He has to be an only pet — which is, I assume, why nobody applies — but it’s not like he has to be locked in away from all living things. Bugsy is not reactive in the slightest, so unlike Celia and Niles, he can go to Letchworth Park, have an awesome little hike past people and kids and other dogs, and he’s perfect. I mean, for Pete’s sake, look at him.

Click here for more info on Bugsy

Again, the point of this is not to make you afraid of getting a puppy. The point is, 1) if you’re set on a puppy, just admit that it’s because puppies are cute, and that’s the only reason and 2) stop being set on a puppy and consider an adult dog. Trust me, the sky will not fall if you change that Petfinder search to include “all ages” instead of just “baby.” Chances are, even if you haven’t thought about it, you want a dog who’s going to fit in your life, not just a dog who’s cute for three months and suddenly becomes more than you bargained for. And yeah, I know, that sounds dramatic because lots of people raise puppies to adult dogs and they seem fine, but you know what else lots of people do? Dump their adolescent dogs at shelters because they’ve decided they’re not for them.

If you’ve read this far and you’ve managed to not be totally turned off by my bad attitude, then bless you indeed. Occasionally, I sit down at my computer breathing fire and feel better once I’ve gotten it off my chest, but in this case, it irks me that I can’t find a nicer way to say this. I feel bad that I don’t get happy about being inundated with puppy applications, and I recognize that you don’t come by this perspective unless you’re involved in rescue. However, my point still stands: Adopting a puppy doesn’t guarantee you the dog you’ve always wanted, but adopting an adult dog just might.



2 thoughts on “You don’t know what you’re getting

  1. I’d much rather get a housebroken dog, even just a couple of years old. My family has had 8 puppies in my lifetime and I”ve been through that enough. Would rather get a dog that is more low maintenance and already knows not to pee on the carpet


  2. Hi Carly

    It is very hard for you to see that you take very difficult rescue conditions and you care enough to maximize the rescue chances for successful, healthy relationships. Social workers and human adoption counselors work no harder than you do. People look for their dogs to solve problems under all kinds of circumstances and truly, it is not on you to solve their challenges. You use your knowledge and your spirit to help rescues develop relationships with humans — that’s like getting aliens from the Crab Nebula to become buds with the swamp thing. With all those barriers, you teach each side of the relationship, human and canine, some of the rules for interacting. It is not easy.

    Of course I’m not god, but I can see that it is good the things you do for dogs and people . It is not bad if a rescue takes time, and it is fine if you need a break from rescue as well. It takes a long time for the myth of the perfect ready made dog to mature with scientific evidence, and you and your boyfriend bridge the gap every day.

    Make good friends with the rug shampooer. You rock.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s