The Pros and Cons (But Mostly Pros) Of Adopting A Shelter Dog

“I’ve always wanted a dog,” my husband told me shortly after our wedding. He admitted that his only memorable childhood pet was an outdoor turtle named Earl who suffered an untimely demise. I was lucky to have a very special Bichon Frise in my life for over 14 years, so I was fully aware of how enriching dog ownership could be. After throwing out the idea of getting a family dog for about a month, we figured the best time to start actively looking would be after the holidays. It seemed like 2013 would be our Year of Dog.

Until we got restless one day, decided to take a quick tour of the local Humane League and pretty much immediately fell in love with a Jack Russell Terrier mix they called “Zoltan” that was just a year and a half old.

We put the deposit down that night, and then went on a spending spree to add to the supplies we had already started to collect for our future pup. It all happened pretty quickly.

On the day we took him home, a volunteer looked at me and thanked us for rescuing a dog instead of buying a new puppy. “Thank you,” I told him, “for doing what you do.” While sincere, I was still a bit bright eyed and in the middle of a dog coma. I did want to thank him, as he seemed like an excellent human being himself. It’s hard work to volunteer in an environment that can sometimes be a little heartbreaking.

We renamed Zoltan immediately, and today he’s known as Burly. (The reference is a mix from Parks & Recreation and The Simpsons. If you can guess them, you are my television best friend for sure.) Burly impressed us within the first two weeks. It seemed he was already equipped with a lot of the necessary programming – he knew how to sit, stay, “drop it” and was already familiar with a crate. It was only until he became fully adjusted to our home that we realized he wasn’t a perfect being (not like we expected him to be, but those two weeks were truly impressive).

Here are some pros and cons of taking up a shelter dog. Before I start, let me tell you we have zero regrets and can’t remember what life was like without him. Adopting is an amazing feeling, and the few cons I have are points I didn’t necessarily think about prior to, and wish I did to better prepare.


You Are Saving A Life. Our shelter became a No Kill shelter in 2013, but when we picked up Burly, he could have been put down or shifted between numerous shelters before finding a home.  He had a better chance based on his age, but when we first laid eyes on him, he was extremely yappy and loud. If I didn’t suggest we have a sit down with him – when we realized the barking was based more on fear than personality – we could have easily passed him by.

You’ll Be Saving Money. I’ll put this out there that his adoption fee was $125 total, and that included neutering, microchipping and first shots. So I kind of view it as, with all of these pricey procedures, he was nearly free. Keep in mind that dogs will be expensive as time goes on – there’s vet checks, food, flea and tick prevention and behavioral courses if your dog requires them. But who isn’t down for saving some cash in the beginning?

You’ll Be Giving A Pup A Second Chance. Every dog ends up at the shelter for a different reason. Sometimes a family realizes that a dog is a bigger responsibility than they’re willing to take on, or sometimes situations change. While I view Burly as a family member and would make so many sacrifices for him to stay put, others might not view a family dog the same way. Is it the dog’s fault that nobody wanted to deal with training him after he was purchased as a Christmas present? Definitely not.

Rescue Animals Just Seem Kind Of Grateful. Again, I can’t read animal minds. (Trust me, it’d be great if I could.) I rescued my cat after she was found as a stray kitten outside, and an acquaintance took her in to rehome her. Since then, she’s just seemed happy to be indoors – even after four years. While Burly wasn’t in the shelter for long (we put the deposit down on his first available day after a 48 hour claiming period), he acted as if he was gracious to have a home, as opposed to a cage.

Adopting An Older Dog Means He or She Is Probably Already Housebroken. Again, each dog is different. We were lucky that Burly knew to go outside. While every dog has occasional accidents, Burly has only had two in the span of seven months, while the puppy we originally thought we’d be getting would probably have at least that many in one day. New puppies can be quite the headache, and while it’s all part of dog ownership, my husband and I, in hindsight, were probably better prepared for a new dog with a few lessons under his belt.

Our Dog Is An Excuse For Me To Not Be Lazy. As someone whose used the excuse of “it’s raining” to not go to the gym, having a dog in the house inspires me to get off the couch and go for a run – for him. Unlike cats, you can’t leave a bunch of food and fresh litter out and expect them to know what to do. Dogs require a lot of attention. Burly has cured a lot of my bad habits of oversleeping on the weekend and using Mother Nature as a reason to watch a bunch of old episodes of The Office in bed – for the fifteenth time. Yet here’s the good thing – puppies need to go outside once every few hours. Puppies often bark throughout the night. Burly is old enough to adopt a routine that’s healthy for both of us.


You Probably Have No Clue Of Your Dog’s History. All we know is that Burly was found as a stray in our county, with no ID whatsoever – yet, being that he already knew a bunch of tricks and commands, he obviously had some exposure to humans prior to him finding us. This could be frustrating, since we don’t know what might set him off. Was he abused? Abandoned? Did he have a bad experience with a child? Why didn’t he at least have a collar with an ID tag? We just don’t know.

The lack of history just made us get creative with ideas of where he came from. Our most popular solution is, he’s an adorable con artist that will one day steal our check book and leave a handwritten apology before becoming adopted by yet another naïve couple. (We have some time on our hands to think of the absurd.)

Our dog is kind of a nutcase around other dogs and strangers. In fact, the only people he’s been 100% cool around have been me, my husband and my Dad, who lives a state away. He’s normally fine around my in-laws, who have never rough-housed him the way my Dad has – yet he’s still growled a bit when uncomfortable. While none of the people who we’ve welcomed to our home have been threatening, he still chooses who he likes and doesn’t like – and I feel like it’d all make more sense if I knew where he came from, and how he was treated as a puppy.

You Probably Don’t Know His Breed. While we’re guessing Burly is a Jack Russell/Beagle mix, we just don’t know for sure. This is important, because breeds can somewhat dictate his needs on exercise, socialization and generally outline why he might do the things he does. Shelters often take guesses, and sometimes they can be wrong – but who can blame them?

While Burly is insanely hyperactive (or “reactive”), our shelter listed him as being “A Wallflower”. And here is their definition of what that entails:

What an understatement. This dog can’t go about his day without jumping on me and licking my face. And barking at neighborhood children. Loudly. But lovingly.

We’re thinking of getting a Wisdom Panel done on him when we have some additional money to spare. After asking an online dog community if this at-home DNA test is worth the cost, I got a 50/50 response. Certain dog owners said that the tests came back inconclusive, while others said their results were an extremely accurate depiction of their dog’s history.

If you’re thinking of adding a dog to your family, please consider a rescue. With a little bit of patience, he or she will fit in perfectly. While you might not be able to prepare quite as well as if you bought a dog from a breeder, you’ll be able to read your dog’s quirks after a few weeks of cohabitation.

Have you rescued your dog from a shelter? Have any questions about adoption that we can answer? Let’s see some pictures and hear some stories!

Image Credits: Shutterstock (Featured), Myself (Gratuitous Burly Pictures)

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