In 2012, 46% of U.S. homes owned dogs. If you are one of the 54% that hasn’t let a dog into your home, maybe it’s time to join the doggy love cult and find out what all the barking is about.
Oaklanders who want to adopt a rescue dog have a wealth of choices, with an estimated 40 rescue organizations operating in the greater Bay Area.
Juliet Boyd, Executive Director of Hopalong and Second Chance Animal Rescue, Oakland’s oldest rescue group, recommends adopting a rescue dog because “it is a wonderful opportunity to find a perfect match.” She added, “There is a dog out there for everyone.”
Hopalong, like most of the volunteer-run nonprofit rescue groups, places its dogs with foster families, who provide a quiet space for the pooches to recover from the sometimes-chaotic environment of the shelter. “When [dogs] go into our foster system, we get a real snapshot of their personality,” said Boyd, who calls what her group does “matchmaking.”
Donna Reynolds, Director of Bad Rap, which specializes in finding homes for Pit Bulls, said, “We advise people to look at a lot of dogs because there are so many different personality styles within any breed.”
The first step with Bad Rap, Hopalong, the Oakland Animal Shelter (OAS), and any local adoption group is to fill out an application. Most groups have applications online. The form will ask questions about your household, lifestyle and preferences to help an adoption counselor match you with the perfect dog.
After reviewing the application, Dusty Paws Rescue Inc. President, Diane Meranda, said, “The whole family has to meet the dog.” Dusty Paws follows up with a home visit before approving the adoption.
Dogs from rescue organizations generally come with a lifetime guarantee. Dusty Paws took back Cocopuff after four years with a family, because one of the children had developed an allergy to the dog. Now Cocopuff is in a foster home, waiting to be part of a new family.
Pat Luchak, a volunteer at OAS, has this recommendation for prospective dog owners: “Be realistic about what you can handle. If you are 4’11” and 80 years old, you don’t want to adopt a Great Dane.”
“Take your time. Don’t rush out and say, ‘I’m getting a dog this weekend.’ You’re going to enjoy the next 15 years of your life more,” Reynolds said, if you bring home the right dog.
“Don’t adopt a dog based on trend or fad of what you read in magazines,” cautions Boyd. She credits Paris Hilton’s chihuahua with a fad that has flooded local shelters as people discovered the tiny dogs are not toys but actually have big personalities.
Chihuahuas now sit alongside pit bulls as the most common dogs in local shelters. This fact lead Deirdre Strickland-Meads, an OAS volunteer, to found The Power Of Chi Chihuahua Rescue.
“Chihuahuas are very loyal and they make great pets,” said Strickland-Meads. “They are the perfect size for pretty much anything.” If you think of them as yippy, that’s due to lack of training. “They have to be trained like the big dogs,” she said.
Playful, athletic and independent, a chihuahua might be the perfect pet “if you are a cat person but you’ve always thought about getting a dog,” said Strickland-Meads.
Pit bulls are the most common licensed and unlicensed dogs in Oakland. “They are very popular because they tend to be wonderful family pets,” said Reynolds, “which helps explain why so many are in the shelters. The housing crisis forces people to give up really wonderful pets.”
The services offered by Bad Rap extend to helping people secure a lease that will allow them to keep their dogs. She gave kudos to State Farm for providing homeowner’s and renter’s insurance that doesn’t discriminate by breed. “Renters can get a policy and present it to their landlord or prospective landlord,” she noted. “That can open doors.”
Luchak, who has two pit bulls at home, said the dogs require a commitment from their owners: “You have to be the boss,” she said. “You have to have time to give them exercise.”
Bad Rap offers free training, shots, microchips and a mobile spay/neuter van that will visit West Oakland next on November 2. “We really want to help owners who don’t have money and want to do the right thing for their dogs.”
OAS also offers free training classes to anyone who adopts a dog from the shelter and to everyone who lives in Oakland, no matter where they got their pooches.
“Almost every dog will come with some kind of funny quirk or unique attribute. There will always be surprises down the road. Be patient. Expect the unexpected,” Boyd said. “There’s always help out there.”
If you want extra time to get to know your future doggie companion before taking the plunge of adopting, you might want to volunteer to be a foster home. You can help a dog recover from the stress of the kennel while it waits for its forever home, give the rescue groups more capacity to take in animals and, along the way, you just might meet the right dog and fall in love.
Once you find the perfect dog, you will have to pay an adoption fee, which can range from $135 at OAS to as much as $300 from a rescue organization. Some groups offer discounts on senior dogs. Hopalong has a Seniors for Seniors program that matches senior dogs with senior humans for $100.
The fee is actually a bargain. Rescue dogs always come spayed or neutered (it’s state law) and they will have had all their shots plus treatment for any medical issues. “We never adopt out unhealthy animals,” said Boyd.
“Owning a dog is more than the licensing and adoption fees,” said Luchak, noting that a prospective owner should budget for food, vet bills, and, with a puppy, the fact that it will destroy something in your home.
Once you have passed the inspection of the adoption agency, made room in your home, your schedule and your budget, you won’t be sorry to have added a rescue dog to your family. Said Strickland-Meads, “They are grateful. They will always be loyal. I can’t imagine having any other dog but a rescue dog.”
Petfinder provides a comprehensive online list of rescue dogs available in the area.
Oakland Animal Shelter has cats and bunnies as well as dogs.
Bad Rap has a great FaceBook page.