Avoid This Mistake When Adopting a Rescued Pet

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

rescued pet adoption

Story at-a-glance -

  • Adoptions from pet shelters and rescues are on the rise; adoption is now the No. 1 method of acquiring a new pet in the U.S.
  • In 2019, about 7 million U.S. households added a new dog to their family, while more than 5 million added a new cat
  • About 34% of new dogs and 30% of cats are adopted from a pet shelter or rescue
  • Medium-sized dogs or smaller are adopted most often, while large dogs are more likely to be overlooked
  • If you’re considering adopting a new cat or dog, it’s important to look beyond the animal’s physical characteristics and evaluate their personality as well — and be prepared to work through any behavior issues using positive, relationship-centered reinforcement training

About 7 million U.S. households added a new dog to their families in 2019, while more than 5 million added a new cat — a sign that pet ownership continues to increase. Even better, adoptions from pet shelters and rescues are on the rise. Adoption has become the No. 1 method of acquiring a new pet in the U.S.1

The encouraging findings came from “U.S. Pet Market Focus: New Dog and Cat Owners,” a report by market research firm Packaged Facts,2 which also revealed that 34% of new dogs are adopted from a pet shelter or rescue, as are 30% of cats. The findings echo a report in the journal Animals, which found the number of animals adopted from shelters and rescues has increased in the last 10 years. A “cultural shift” was noted as being partly responsible for driving this change:3

“We conclude that the cultural shift in how society and pet owners relate to dogs has produced positive shelter trends beyond the decline in intake. The increased level of control and care dog owners provide to their dogs, as well as the increasing perception of dogs as family members, are all indicators of the changing human-dog relationship in the U.S.”

Adopting shelter pets has become a sign of the times. There are currently six states — Ohio, Colorado, California, Georgia, Illinois and Tennessee — that count rescue pets as their official state pet, and both Texas and Oregon are considering it.4

Many New Pet Owners Fail to Make Sure Pets Are a Good Fit

The Packaged Facts report also revealed that most new pet owners choose their new furry family member based largely on looks alone. Medium-sized dogs or smaller are adopted most often, while large dogs are more likely to be overlooked. Further, as reported by Petfood Industry:5

“Beyond the eye test, very few new dog adopters fully research types of dogs for suitability (including disposition, space and exercise requirements, barking or guard dog characteristics, getting along with children, getting along with other pets).”

If you’re considering adopting a new cat or dog, it’s important to look beyond the animal’s physical characteristics. While you may have a picture in your head of the type of dog or cat you’re looking for, keep an open mind. A dog or cat’s personality, activity level, energy, behavior and temperament, as well as whether he gets along with other animals and/or children, can be much more important factors in determining whether he’ll be a good fit for your household.

To get prepared, make a list of the qualities you want in a pet. Do you envision having a workout buddy who enjoys jogs and hiking, or are you looking for a dog who demands only shorter walks around the block? Would your ideal furry friend cuddle up with you on the couch? Alert you to intruders?

It’s also important to consider your living environment. Do you have a fenced yard where a dog who loves to run can roam? If you live in an apartment, do you need a pet who’s on the quieter side? Do you live with other pets and/or children? When you arrive at the shelter, a volunteer can direct you toward the animals who meet the qualities on your list.

Keep in mind, too, that animals in shelters are in a stressful environment and may not reveal their true personalities until they’re in a safe, low-stress environment. Both you and your rescue pet will need time to adjust to each other, but in time, you can develop an unbreakable bond. The good news is many rescues offer a “dating period” where you can foster your furry friend before committing long term. But before you plan your trip to the shelter, be sure to have your paperwork ready.

You may need proof that a pet can reside with you (if you lease your property), for example, and some shelters will let you fill out an application for adoption ahead of time. In addition to getting prepared practically speaking, you’ll want to prepare emotionally. Making several trips to multiple shelters may also be helpful as you search for a forever soulmate.

1 in 10 Adopted Pets Need a New Home Six Months Later

Choosing a pet that fits with your lifestyle is important, as you’re entering a lifelong relationship. Unfortunately, about 1 in 10 pets adopted from shelters end up no longer in the home that adopted them, six months later. As for why, Orvis noted:6

“There’s not a huge difference in return rates between families who did their homework on pet ownership in advance, and those who did not. But one study found that people with uncompromising expectations of dog ownership were most likely to take the family dog back to the shelter instead of working through problems.”

The fact that more and more people are choosing shelters and rescues when looking for a pet is excellent news, but rescued pets often come with baggage (as do those purchased from a pet store, which typically come from puppy mills). As a result, pets may end up being returned to the shelter because of destructive behaviors, excessive barking or separation anxiety — factors that can often be resolved with proper positive reinforcement training.

Before giving up on your newfound friend, seek professional guidance, especially if you suspect your pet has been previously abused. By working together, both you and your pet can grow in immeasurable ways.