With 3.9 million abused, abandoned, and neglected dogs passing through shelters every year, the decision to adopt a rescue comes easily to most dog lovers.
You look into their sad eyes and learn about their troubled past, and before you realize what’s happening, they find their way into your heart. Rescue dogs come in all different sizes, breeds, colors, and personalities, and they each have their own story of heartbreak to tell.
Bringing one into your home is a decision that will undoubtedly change the dog’s life, but it will also change yours.
If you’re thinking about rescuing a dog, here’s what you can expect to happen. And if you already have a rescue in your life, you can relate.
1. Your dog surprises you.
The dog you meet at the shelter may not be the dog you bring home. No, it’s not some kind of body switching conspiracy. You can’t judge a book by its cover, and you definitely can’t judge a dog’s personality by how he behaves at the shelter.
Sometimes those surprises are good, and sometimes not so good, but you learn to accept them, and you move on.
2. You’re really busy for at least the first two weeks.
When you’re adopting the dog, you get caught up in the excitement. You get ready for endless cuddles. And slobbery kisses! And Instagram-worthy pictures! And you forget that owning a dog (especially a rescue dog) is a lot of work.
While your dog works on transitioning into your home, you’ll be busy figuring out a training schedule, planning meals, scheduling vet visits, and going on walks. Lots and lots of walks. But eventually, you get used to each other, and things go back to normal. Or maybe, you just get used to the workload.
3. You have random emotional breakdowns.
If the pup you adopted is anxious, fearful, lacks training, or picked up bad habits either on the streets or at the shelter, training (and life in general) will be frustrating. They won’t listen to a word you say until you earn their trust. They’ll pee on things and keep you up at night. And it’s normal to become overwhelmed.
But when the storm passes and they’re snuggling in your lap, you’ll stare at them and think, “How could anyone not love you?” And then you break down for completely different reasons.
Owning a rescue is like putting your emotions on a small boat and sending it to the middle of the ocean—in a hurricane.
4. You regret your decision.
Wait, what? That’s right, it’s not uncommon for new pup parents to suddenly panic. It may only be for a second, but when your newly adopted rescue dog is peeing on your carpet for the fourth time that day, your expensive couch cushions smell like a kennel, and your yet-to-be-trained dog is waking you (and all your neighbors) up at two in the morning, you will be plagued with doubt. And that’s okay.
If adopting rescues was easy, everyone would do it, and the problem wouldn’t exist. But you have to remember that the first few days are always tough. You’re both adjusting and getting to know each other. Give your dog a chance. Train her, love her, and don’t give up. With time, commitment, and work, you’ll forget all about those doubts.
5. You feel like a hero. And then you feel guilty about it.
There could be any number of reasons why you chose to adopt a dog instead of buy one from a breeder, but number one on everyone’s list is that they want to save an innocent animal. And when you do that—when you take a dog out of a shelter where it has no family, gets minimal attention, and gets closer to being euthanized with each passing day—it feels great. It feels heroic. And then you start thinking, “Did I adopt this dog so I would feel good about myself?”
Whether the answer is yes or no, it doesn’t matter. Adopting a dog is a great thing, and it’s okay to feel good about it. It doesn’t mean you’re a better person than your neighbor with the perfect purebred. And you’re not entitled to any kind of special privilege because of your good deed. But you did save a life. Why would you feel guilty about that?
And last but most definitely not least, you’ll learn that through compassion, patience, and practice, you can love an animal that someone else deemed unworthy. Your life will be changed for the better all because you walked into a shelter and let those puppy dog eyes win you over.
Adopting a rescue dog may not be easy, but it’s always worth it.
Have you adopted a dog? Tell us your experience in the comments below!