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Adopt a Shelter Dog Month 2018: Should I get my dog from a rescue, no-kill shelter, or "kill&qu

October is Adopt a Shelter Dog Month and in celebration of that fact I'll be writing some posts specifically about bringing home a new dog. The first thing I'd like to discuss is where to adopt your dog from: rescue or shelter? So, what's the difference between a rescue and a shelter? Typically the term shelter is reserved for a physical facility where dogs are kept, versus keeping the dogs in foster homes which is what many rescues do. And within the category of "shelter" there are two kinds of shelters: "no-kill" and open admission shelters (commonly called "kill shelters").

Maya the adopted lab mix

First and foremost, there is a serious problem with society's view of these two different types of shelters. I often get asked if someone should support a "kill" shelter, or if the rescues I work with are "kill" shelters, like the person doesn't want to support this awful thing, but the truth is that open admission shelters are a valuable, necessary part of society and do some of the toughest work out there in animal welfare and rescue. Notice I said open admission shelters, which is the proper label, not kill shelters. The real difference between kill shelter and open admission shelters is that the latter must take every single animal that is surrendered or brought to them, whether that dog is from an owner, found as a stray, or some other situation. It is illegal for them to turn any animal away, which means that sometimes they have no choice but to euthanize for space. When you have 200 kennels and 250 dogs, eventually logistics will become a problem.

Additionally, a no-kill shelter doesn't even necessarily mean "no-kill" in a literal sense; typically it means that shelter has a live release rate of 90%, which means that a possible 10% of animals taken in can be euthanized if they are deemed "unadoptable" (typically due to behavioral or medical reasons). No-kill shelters do not legally have to take in animals and are allowed to pick and choose which animals to pull, choosing the youngest, cutest, ands healthiest animals to re-home. A few good articles to read about this topic can be found here and here.

Phoebe the rescued lab/hound mix

Please understand, I'm not saying the above to belittle the work of anybody involved in rescues; all parties, both open admission and no-kill entities, are very important and the more ethical, responsible people we have involved in rescue work the better. However, I wish we as a society would stop calling them "kill" shelters (which makes it sound like a terrible place where cruel people work and "kill") and start truthfully calling them open admission shelters and appreciate them for the work they do.

So what about rescues? Rescues are typically foster-based, which means that individual dogs are placed within homes where the dogs live their day-to-day lives with their foster families, rather than in a kennel or shelter environment. Dogs can be in their foster homes for a few weeks or for years depending on the individual.

So, should you adopt from a shelter or a rescue? Does it even matter? I should preface this by saying the following is my opinion from my years working with dogs, but that's it, just an opinion. The pro of adopting from a foster-based rescue is that usually the foster family has a really good idea of the dog's temperament in a home environment. Some behaviors don't surface unless the dog is in a home environment, so you won't see certain behaviors in a shelter. If you have particular needs in a dog (i.e. you'd like to do therapy work, you bring your dog to work, you have kids and need to know that the dog is used to children, etc.) I think a foster based rescue is the way to go; that way, you'll know a bit more about the dog before bringing him home. While many shelters have behavior assessments (also sometimes called "temperament tests") these won't show the full scope of a dog's behavior, especially in a different environment. The nice thing about a shelter is that you can meet several different dogs at once, and hopefully the shelter will have kept detailed notes on the dog's behavior in the kennel so that you can have an idea what the dogs have been like with strangers, other dogs, and new objects.

Lukas the adopted retriever mix from Second City Canine Rescue

No matter where you end up getting your dog from you'll be saving a life and adding a wonderful new dog to your family. If you need help deciding what to look for in a dog or would like a second opinion on a dog you're looking for check out my pre-adoption counseling services or email me at Or, check out some of my other posts on adopting a dog found here and here.

Please see below for some local rescues and shelters to find your new furry family member at:


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