Puppies: Finding a Reputable Shelter or Rescue

Updated: Oct 25

When looking for a new puppy or dog, it is important to take a close look at your lifestyle and what you’re looking for in a dog so that you can choose the best puppy for you! [Need help doing that? Check out the first post in this series on Picking the Perfect Puppy!]

Once you’ve decided what type of puppy you’d like to bring home, it’s time to look for your puppy!

How should you choose where to get your puppy?

Depending on your goals for your puppy, getting your puppy from a reputable shelter/rescue may be the best choice for you or it may make the most sense for you to get your puppy from a reputable breeder. No matter where you get your puppy, the most important thing is to find a reputable source that cares about the dog’s long-term well-being.

Shelter and rescue dogs can make absolutely fabulous pets, but we often don’t know exactly what they will grow up to be. Sometimes you think you are adopting an Australian Cattle Dog puppy, but then she grows up to be a teeny 20 pound dog named Gouda! If you have a specific goal in mind and really want to adopt a rescue/shelter dog, adopting a slightly older puppy or adult dog will likely be a better fit! This will give you a better idea of what the shelter pup’s size and temperament will be. This is how and why I adopted Korra! I knew that she had the perfect temperament to become a therapy dog and that she was the size I was looking for because she was already full grown when I first met her. If your primary goal for your new puppy is to have a pet to share life’s adventures with you, a rescue/shelter puppy can often be the best choice. Shelters and rescues can also be an economical choice as their adoption fees are often less than the cost of a reputably bred puppy, but cover a good deal of veterinary care.

Unfortunately, not all rescues & shelters are ethical and reputable. Some are taking poor care of their animals, hoarding, or may even be a front for a puppy mill. [In fact, some rescues are actually buying puppies from the very breeders they publicly scorn.] How can you tell if a rescue or shelter is ethical and reputable? Check out these tips.

10 Signs You've Found a Reputable Shelter/Rescue

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1. They let you meet the puppy before adopting.

While there are lots of shelters and rescues that are very good at publishing thorough information about their puppies available to adopt, there is no substitute for meeting your new puppy in person. This is especially true if you have other pets at home. While some cats or small mammals might not be able to meet a dog before adoption, you should certainly do your best to introduce your current pets to your potential puppy. Remember, your primary goal should be to take the best possible care of the pets you already own! If your current pet doesn’t get along with the new puppy, it’s best to keep looking. Some shelters and rescues may require that you fill out an application before scheduling your meet and greet. This is ok! It helps them to use their resources efficiently and saves them from spending a lot of time with people that just want to hang out with a puppy and not actually bring one home.

Red Flag: They pressure you into bringing your puppy home NOW.

While some reputable shelters and rescues may offer same day adoptions, many don’t. You should be glad if they give you time to go home and prepare for your puppy. You’ll probably have lots to do! You’ll need to puppy proof your main living space, get a leash, crate, food bowl, and more. If your application has just been turned in, they’ll also need time to check in with your veterinarian and references. Reputable shelters and rescues generally have a lengthy application approval process!

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2. They ask you a LOT of questions (and answer yours).

Shelters and rescues are trying to find the home that is the absolute best fit for each and every puppy and adult dog that comes through their doors. Don’t be surprised if they ask you about your lifestyle, your plans for training your puppy, and how often the puppy will be home alone. They may even run a background check on you, ask for references, and look into the medical history of your current and past pets. No shelter or rescue has a perfect record of choosing the perfect home for each puppy, but these questions help them get closer to finding the perfect match for each puppy. Do you have questions about the puppy’s history, temperament, behavioral concerns, or medical records? Reputable shelters and rescues will be willing to openly and honestly answer your questions. If the puppy is a stray, they may not have too much history, but they should be able to tell you about the behaviors observed and veterinary care received since the puppy entered their system.

Red Flag: They limit your humane training options to one specific methodology or trainer.

Training is often the only thing that can stand between a puppy staying with its family and being surrendered to a shelter/rescue or returned to the breeder or even being euthanized. Different training methods work for different puppies (and owners!). Limiting the ways someone can help or even save their puppy is not setting that person or that puppy up for success. While a reputable shelter or rescue may certainly question you about your plans for training if problems arise or even require that you take your puppy to a trainer, they shouldn’t limit your training options.

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3. They don’t adopt out dogs immediately after they arrive.

If the shelter or rescue you are adopting from brings their puppies in from heavily populated areas with high euthanasia rates or even transfers in puppies from other local shelters, they should be keeping them for several days before even considering adopting them out. This is important not only so they can get to know the puppy and ensure they are finding a home that will be the best fit, but also to ensure that the puppy is healthy and has received all necessary medical care. In some areas, they may be legally required to hold onto stray puppies to give owners a chance to claim them or to quarantine puppies that came from outside the area.

Red Flag: They’re not forthcoming about behavioral issues.

While some behaviors might not actually appear until the dog is in a home, the shelter or rescue should be open and honest with you about what they have observed. If they have set limits on a dog’s potential home (no children, no cats, no other pets), they should be able to clearly tell you what behaviors made them set those limits. If they aren’t being clear, don’t adopt the puppy.

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4. They are clear on where the puppies came from.

You should be sure to ask how the shelter or rescue acquired your puppy. It could be an owner surrender, it could be transferred from a different shelter or rescue, it could have been a stray, or it could have been born at the shelter or rescue. If the puppy was a stray, make sure that shelter or rescue can legally take in stray dogs. Some municipalities may require strays to be taken to one specific facility. Shelters and rescues should have a very clear record of how the puppy wound up with them.

Red Flag: They can’t or won’t tell you where the puppy came from.

While they may not be able to give you full details on the previous owner for privacy reasons, any lack of transparency should be a big warning sign. If you think the puppy might be stolen or purchased from a breeder or auction, ask! Pay attention to the reaction. If things feel sketchy, go with your gut and find a puppy somewhere else.

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5. They have a variety of breeds and ages available.

Most shelter or rescue dogs are older, since it can take a few months or years for behavioral issues to become serious enough for surrender. Shelters and rescues in some areas may have a higher percentage of certain breeds - hounds in areas with lots of hunters or herding breeds and livestock guardians in farming communities - but nearly every shelter or rescue should have a large variety of breeds unless they are a breed-specific rescue. That’s what makes rescues and shelters so great! Visiting one gives you a chance to get know man