How to find a purebred rescue dog

Melissa Bell and Sarah Ruckelshaus
Thursday, March 11, 2010; 1:00 PM

Sarah Ruckelshaus, executive director of Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue, joined Post staff writer Melissa Bell to discuss how prospective dog owners can find a rescue in the breed they want.


Melissa Bell: Hey, everyone, welcome to our chat! My guest is Sarah Ruckelshaus, the Executive Director of Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue. We're here to answer your questions on pet adoption. If you have any stories about your own experience, please feel free to share! Thanks for joining in the conversation.


Anonymous: Why do people need a specific breed, especially as many breeds have been artificially perpetuated through the years, perpetuating traits that wouldn't otherwise survive natually? Why not adopt a mixed breed dog? Those so often get overlooked in animal shelters (I volunteered at one for years).

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Breed specific rescues are needed because specific breeds have been bred to do specific jobs and often have specific needs. Those dogs can then be matched up to humans wishing to acquire that specific breed. In my case, Border Collies are bred to work all day and really need someone able to handle all of that energy.

I do agree with you, in many, many cases, a mixed breed dog is the best dog for a home. They make the most excellent companion dogs and forever friends, but in some cases, people desire the specific breed for many reasons. I actually use my dogs to help me with my sheep on my farm, and a mixed breed dog would not be an appropriate choice. I hope that helps answer your questions!


Lovettsville, Va.: My friend has a Border Collie that doesn't have American Kennel Club papers, but she says it's a purebred anyway. She says her dogs belongs to a "Working Dog" registry. Are dogs without AKC papers any good?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: AKC papers are not any better or any worse than any other papers. If you are not showing your dog, you have absolutely no need for papers.


Lovettsville, Va.: Where can I watch real sheep dogs working sheep? Are there any events coming up in this area?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: There are sheepdog trials (sometimes called stock dog trials) all over the eastern seaboard, and throughout the country. If you go to the USBCHA or the NEBCA websites you will find trial listings where you can see our dogs do what they were bred to do. This coming fall, the USBCHA National Sheepdog Finals will be held in Virginia and you will have the opportunity to see the cream of the crop compete for the highest honor or nation has to offer!

Melissa Bell: Here's that Web site. Sounds so fun!


Silver Spring, Md.: How is a purebred rescue different from a local humane society?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: A purebred rescue handles a specific breed of dogs (or group of breeds such as toy dogs). A humane society generally will accept any type of dog or cat in need. Within Humane Societies there may be more specifics, each organisation is different and works under their board's guidelines.


Dog lover in Vienna again: I'm a little concerned about the article's blanket assertion that all dogs in rescue are house-trained. With a dog that comes from a puppy mill, that might not be the case, because such a dog has often lost -- through no fault of his own -- the instinct to keep his den clean that is so important to house training. Also, I've heard of several cases in which rescue groups have claimed that a dog is housetrained, only for the adopter to find that that's not the case at all. This is particularly prevalent among small or toy dogs. Comments?

Melissa Bell: Thanks, Dog lover. The dogs are usually house trained. Most groups work with the dogs, particularly puppy mill rescues to try and socialize

Melissa Bell: the dogs as best they can. However, in some cases, the groups find families that are willing to continue working and training the animals after the adoption. It also takes a few days for dogs to adjust to their new surroundings. So they may act out a bit when they first arrive at their new home. The Yuns said their dog was house trained, but it took them about a week before he started acting that way.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Many, many dogs ARE indeed housebroken while in fosters awaiting their new homes. There is ALWAYS an adjustment period where dogs will make mistakes while the communication builds. It takes time for dogs and their new families to become acclimated to each other.

You are sadly correct that it can be extremely difficult to housebreak small dogs, but with time, patience and consistency, it is possible.


Washington, D.C.: What if you're not quite sure of the breed you want? Is it better to approach a handful of breed rescue groups or just go to one first to see if it's a fit?

Melissa Bell: Each breed has particular qualities to it that really make a difference. There are good and bad qualities. For instance, Great Danes have joint problems and may need more medical care in their older age. But Danes are also super people-lovers. They're not extremely active--which can be a plus or a minus. Take some time to read up on the breeds and find out about their quirks. A good rescue organization should also be able to tell you if a breed is the right match for your lifestyle.


Washington, D.C.: I am looking for an English bulldog? Can you help?

Sarah Ruckelshaus:

(google search English Bulldog Rescue, then do the research on the rescues listed)


Sarasota, Fla: I think is a great place to start. I adopted a wonderful poodle/Shih Tzu mix from a local rescue group six weeks ago, and I found her initially on PetFinder. I originally looked for a Shih Tzu, since that's what my previous dog was, but this particular dog turned out to be perfect for me and my home situation. The best thing about PetFinder is that it shows available dogs in a widening circle from your own zip code, so you're less likely to fall in love with a dog that is 800 miles away.

Melissa Bell: is a great centralized location for rescue groups and many of the organizations use it to advertise. They are also starting a new program this week called Fur Keeps to help cut down on pet relinquishments. Pet owners can get the best advice on how to take care of their dog, especially in scenarios such as during a move, or during a medical problem. There web site has more information:


Silver Spring, Md.: No real question. Just wanted to say how much I love my rescue greyhound. She came off the track at about four and half. She had to learn about stairs, car rides and everything else about living with people. But she settled in grandly and is a fantastic pet. I wish all dog adopters could have the support network our rescue group (Greyhond Welfare) provides. I hate to think that the wonderful little mutts out there being adopted from shelters might be more likely to be returned because there was no one there to say, "the better you are at ignoring the early adjustment whining, the sooner it will stop." Or, "a tired dog is a relaxed dog -- longer walks fix more problems than you might imagine."

Melissa Bell: Thanks for sharing!


Greyhounds: Hi, I just wanted to share how great adopting a retired racing greyhound has been for me. I worked with Virginia Greyhounds, who selected my first dog based on my needs and preferences. He was so great that I ended up getting a second one who learned the house rules simply from watching the first one. Greyhounds are great house pets because they sleep all day while I'm at work and are very sweet when I'm home. My cat loves them, too.

Whatever the breed. I stongly advocate adopting a full grown dog for most people. They are so much less work and bond so strongly with their new owners. Puppies, while cute, require round the clock attention and training, which few people have the time and patience to provide. Any new pet needs some adjustment to a new home environment, but adult dogs adjust much more quickly.

Melissa Bell: I've heard this a lot from people who adopted adult dogs, especially for people with hectic, full-time jobs, the training is a big plus. I'm glad you have such a happy pet family!


House broken rescues: The bottom line is that a dog in a kennel is not getting any kind of housebreaking training, whereas a dog in a foster home is certainly getting something!

Melissa Bell: Agree. Thanks.


Alexandria,Va.: What is the best way to find a Web site for a particular breed? How does one know if a particular site is reputable?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Choose the breed...then do your research, ask around, speak to others who have that breed. If you are looking for a rescue, ask for references. most of all, do the research!


New Haven, Conn.: I tried to rescue a small dog from a breed specific group and, after applications, interviews and general excitement about my new friend, they rejected me. Why? Not because of long work hours, small children or concern for the health, safety or happiness of the dog. They rejected me because I don't have a yard -- despite the fact that I live 10 feet away from a lovely park with an enclosed dog run.

I have heard this from others, too. I understand that these groups don't want dogs bouncing in and out of homes but I had my last dog for 12 years. Long story short - bought a puppy from a breeder.

Melissa Bell: I'm sorry to hear it didn't work out for you. I have a sad story to admit to: I am a rescue group reject too! The groups try their best to match dogs up with owners, but they are really careful about the selection--in some cases, maybe too much (I'd like to think in my case definitely too much. Hmph!), but they often see dogs in really poor conditions and are trying to find the best possible scenario for the dogs. I hope you're happy with the breed dog!


Alexandra,Va.: When mentioning purebreed adoptions, don't forget Greyhounds. They are great dogs, lovable, calmer than most people realize and as well-bred a dog that you can get for next to free.

Melissa Bell: We seem to have a lot of Greyhound lovers on here today. Thanks!


Finding the right breed: If you Google "what dog is right for me" you will find a bevy of online "personality tests" that would help you narrow your search.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: I would recommend taking more than one of those tests to get a sampling of answers.....once again, do the research!


Alexandria, Va.: We have a rescued Border Collie and love him to death -- in fact we now say we could never live without a BC in our house because he brings such joy with him whereever he goes. Oh, and he's a great watchdog because we are his herd! BTW we also have two other mixed breed shelter dogs, so they are not mutually exclusive. Keep up the good work!

Sarah Ruckelshaus: That is wonderful! So very glad to hear it! I couldn't live without a Border Collie (or eight) in my life either!


L'Enfant Plaza: My brother is looking to adopt a purebred Welsh Corgi. Is there a good way to find one in need of rescuing rather than buying from a breeder?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: google Corgi Rescue, contact one (or a few) and go from there. Be forewarned, patience is needed with special breeds like Corgis, rescues can be scarce, but the patience adopter will win with a wonderful new friend!


Lynchburg, Va: I have a critique/question for the rescue. I have a rescued Great Dane from MAGDRL. She's wonderful. I have been trying to convince my parents to go the rescue route for a new Golden Retriever. In the past they've bought from backyard breeders and puppy mills. Are they perfect pet owners? Unlikely, but I think they're very "average" pet owners. They applied to a rescue and were denied because they did not do annual heartworm tests. Now they're just going to get a dog from a backyard breeder. This seems to me to be against the very long term goals of most breed rescues. It seems to me that most rescues want to be so sure about an adopter, that they're hurting the long term goals of eliminating puppy mills and backyard breeding. I suppose there's no right answer to "how sure do you need to be?" Your thoughts?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Is there a reason they did not do annual heartworm checks? If their vet didn't recommend it, and they do keep their dogs on heartworm preventative, I would suggest they try another rescue. If they are simply not caring for their dog by putting the dog on preventative, most rescues will not adopt to them...Remember, we are looking for homes where the new owners will provide great care for their new friend. Not using recommended treatments is considered to be substandard care...


Chestertown, Md.: What kind of exercise do Border Collies need? How often? I don't have sheep!

Sarah Ruckelshaus: You don't need sheep, but you do need to provide a border collie with plenty of activity and a JOB! Running, playing ball, therapy work, agility, tracking...the list is endless!


Kensington, Md.: Just started thinking about getting a dog for our family of 4- two kids (5 and 2). We live in a house with a fenced-in backyard and we could possibly come home during the day to walk.

Not a huge fan of dog hair (who is?) and I love English bulldogs but I think my husband would want a more active dog.

There are so many breeds and it seems the ones that would not shed are a poodle mix, and I don't like poodles.

Any suggestions?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Have you ever met a Standard Poodle?? They are wonderful dogs, and nothing like the little guys that many people love.

The best thing to do is RESEARCH! I cannot say that enough. Read about dogs, what they were bred for, and what their temperaments are like. See what might fit in your home, then talk to people who have that sort of dog.

One thing to keep in mind is that NO DOG will be perfect, it will take time and training to have the dog really fit into your home. There is good and bad about every breed of dog...

Melissa Bell: Here's a list I found of dogs that aren't big shedders:


Washington, D.C.: Hi Sarah, I know we have e-mailed and possibly met in person at Pet Expo. I think it's worth it to explain that Humane Society and other rescues work with breed rescues because of what you said about each breed being different. You helped our Rescue find a home for a Border Collie maybe a year ago, and I just wanted to thank you again.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: You are so welcome! Maybe we will meet again someday!


Woodbridge: Does no one care about cats?

I help feed and care for homeless felines along Rt. 1 in Woodbridge, of which there are many. We really need assistance from others and it doesn't take much.

Please send a little love to cat caregivers, owners and lovers. Thank you.

Melissa Bell: I do! I do! I love cats (I'm a cat person, don't tell everyone else on here...). There are a ton of great cat rescue organizations around and they do need just as much adoption love as dogs. I just got this reader note: "I volunteer at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, a no-kill shelter. This winter, we have gotten Siamese, Persians, Abyssinians, and more, as well as many pets whose owners have lost their homes. There are always more cats needing homes than dogs in shelters."

Sarah Ruckelshaus: As someone who rescues cats along with dogs, the difficulty is finding folks willing to adopt those cats. Sadly, cats are so common and are easily found as kittens in the newspaper, vet's offices, etc, that rescuers have great difficulty finding adopters. There are loads of cat rescues out there though, one in the DC area is called Alley Cat Rescue, we actually helped them with a dog!


Alexandria, Va. : I wanted to add to the sheep dog watching - there are plenty of farms in Northern VA out near Leesburg that train sheep dogs for both competition and just for the fun for the dog and its human. If you Google it, they are there.

Melissa Bell: Thanks so much! I want to go check this out.


Puppy Mill Dogs Follow up: I have a puppy mill dog I got from Potomac Lab Rescue who has never had an accident in the house. He seemed to know he was not to go in the house. Sure he tried marking a bit, all dogs do. But in 1/2 hr, he was over it. He learned quite quickly what he could and could not do in the house. He is now a perfectly trained house dog.

Melissa Bell: Great! Thanks so much for sharing.


Washington, DC: Can you discuss what a "home visit" prior to adoption or rescue involves? I'm reluctant to go down the road of adopting a breed from a rescue group because I've heard bad reports of the degree of intrusiveness involved. Thanks.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: A home visit is sort of like coffee with the new neighbors. Of course we do it to ensure a potential home is not a hoarder, but we also do it to uncover the tone of the home. Is it quiet? Noisy? busy? laid back? We want to know so we can be SURE that the dog we place into your home can handle your home, and that you get off on the right foot...don't be nervous, it is the last step (with us) before you meet your new family member!


Bowie, Md.: I would love to get a rescue dog, for all the right reasons, but the application and review process is daunting. I've heard some horror stories about it. What advice can you give me about preparing to start this process?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Go in with an open mind and be patient.

Do your research up front. Find a group with an excellent reputation and success rate. Chances are their process is built to find you the best possible dog for your home. Their process is designed to learn enough about you so they can place a wonderful new friend in your home and have the fit be as good as possible.

A good rescue will answer your questions and will explain their process so that you can understand...and don't be put off please. We have you, and your new friend in our best interest!


Greyhound USA: I'd like to give a shout-out to Greyhound Rescue. Greyhounds are great pets who need loving families. As more and more racing tracks close the need to find homes for these retired racers increases. We adopted our greyhound last July and he's been a joy. This breed has a great disposition and contrary to popular perception is not high-strung. In fact, they sleep up to 18 hours a day! Here are links to two local rescues that have more information about the breed and the adoption process: Thanks for posting!

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Greyhound Rescue is AWESOME!!! Glad to hear you have had success adopting through them!


Tampa, Fla: I can certainly second the motion about the benefits of adopting a rescue dog. Here in the Tampa Bay area, there is a very active organization, Tampa Bay Beagle Rescue, that sponsors adoption "meet and greets" about once a month at a local park. We found our 2-year old Beagle, Lady, at one of the rescue events about a year ago, and she is the sweetest thing in the world. Her previous owners were divorcing and neither wanted her (although she is so sweet, I can't imagine why neither of them wanted her). Not only did we get a great dog, but they also gave us her crate, her food bowls, a bag of food and some chew toys, which saved us about $200. They also had her previous vet records, which was so helpful when we took her for her first visit with our vet.

The rescue also required us to send them a copy of her vet visit with us, proof of current shots and contact information. We also were required to sign a contract that if we eventually couldn't keep the dog, that we would return her to the beagle rescue, not a shelter. Not bad for an total expense of $400 and a great family dog.

Melissa Bell: Great! I've heard so many happy stories from satisfied rescue "customers". Glad you found a great addition to your family.


Arlington, Va.: Is there a vetting process for potential foster homes? If so, what is required?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: The vetting that MABCR does is similar to what we do for adoptive homes...we do an interview, go over our procedures and ethics, and we conduct a home visit. We have no requirements, we take every application (adoptive and foster) on its merits.


Boston, Mass.: I've got 3 rescues -- 1 Greyhound and 2 Iggies and the animals are great family member additions. Rescue leagues are all over the net. Just keep in mind that they may have been abused or neglected by their prior owner and it takes a little work and time to gain their trust. If you don't have the time to devote to the animal, don't get one, but instead leave a donation to the shelter.

Melissa Bell: Good advice, thanks! Most of the organizations are volunteer-based and non-profit. The groups do charge for the animals (anywhere from $50 to $500) and that usually goes to pay off medical costs and food. They rely on donations to help cover other costs, such as unexpected medical care.


Washington, D.C.: I have had a German Shepherd from the Mid-Atlantic German Shepherd Rescue for about a year. He is great to the "parents" in the family, great to the younger boy, but he has decided that our 12- year-old boy must be some kind of a threat because he "announces" his presence anytime the 12-year-old comes into the room and wants to protect us from him getting too close. He seems to be in competition with him. Any ideas to help put the GSD back in the pecking order where he belongs?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: You should contact a trainer with experience with GSDs. You may also want to contact MAGSR for support as the rescues can often help in cases like this...


Yards and HW tests: Heartworm is a very painful death for your dog. There are basically no symptoms and once it gets past stage 1, the dog is almost certainly doomed. Your parents should be giving this care to their dogs. Mosquitos are everywhere.

Not having a yard as a reason for the rejection may have been about the dog you were specifically looking at. Some dogs in rescue need yards, or so their fosters feel, and some dogs don't. I live in a condo, so I understand. I do think that some of our dogs (min pins) in rescue will do better in a home with a yard. I do imagine that line was just a line, and that they just liked a different applicant better; because they knew you did not have a yard from jump, and still put you through the process. Maybe that other applicant did have a yard, and therefore that was the reason they decided to use in the decision making.

Melissa Bell: Thanks for your thoughts on this.


Arlington, Va.: Sarah - you do a wonderful job. Eight years ago, you paired us with Dillon/Dylan (formerly Diablo!). Just as you predicted, he really settled down with the boundaries and discipline we provided and proved to be an incredibly laid back dog. Last week he was diagnosed with cancer. :( We've had three rescues so far of different breeds and think it is totally the way to go. We bonded with each and every one of them and I'm sure will bond with the next one too. Thanks for all you do.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: I am so sorry to hear about Dillon. It is so sad when our guys get sick or old. Can you send me an update privately?? I would like to put his photos and story on our blog. Thanks so much for giving him a great life and a wonderful forever home! Virtual Hugs to you.


Arlington, Va.: How do I find reputable rescue organizations? On some of the websites, I've noticed a reference to "CFC numbers." What is that?

Melissa Bell: The best way is to do your research online and talk to other people who have adopted from the groups. And really trust your gut. If you feel uncomfortable with a group, or do not like the way they proceed, then something is probably fishy. A CFC number shows that it's a charity listed with the government. You can find more information about the group at


Thank you, Va.: Just wanted to say thank you for what you are doing. I know fielding questions is one of the harder parts of rescue, especially since people tend to get heated about purebred dogs. From one volunteer to another, thank you.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: You said it! Fielding questions is something I love, but it is challenging!


Washington, D.C.: Where do your rescues usually come from? Do rescues generally have older dogs, or do you get puppies, too?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Our dog ages range from newly born (with their mums) to very old (last year we took in a dog we believed to be 16 or 17, she lived with her foster until she passed away die to age).

Our rescue dog's stories are as varied as the number of dogs. Strays, owner relinquishment, too much dog for a home, dog not doing well in a shelter...the list is endless...and, each dog is nicer than the one before. Make no mistake, these dogs may be (have been) unwanted, but they are all good dogs.


Vienna dog lover: It's wonderful that rescue groups take the time to vet prospective adopters. But it's equally important to be sure that any dogs are adoptable. What kind of behavioral assessments does Ms. Ruckelhaus's group do on the dogs that come into her rescue group?

Melissa Bell: Sarah will have to answer the specifics about her group, but I know most of the organizations visit with the dogs before taking them into their program, sometimes a number of times, to see if the dog can be socialized and placed in a foster home. Since the dogs are kept in people's homes, the foster families get to know the dogs well--their likes, their dislikes, etc.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Every dog that comes into our rescue stays with me for at least 7 to 14 days before going into foster, or a new home. Behavioral study is my thing, and I assess each dog for their temperament and energy levels so that we can be as successful as possible when placing a new dog into a new home. We will not adopt out a dog we feel will be or could be a danger to itself or others.


Home Visits: I also use home visits to talk about what to expect from a rescue dog, to look at whether you have a double door or not (some dogs are escape artists), is your fence secure, to let you know that dog food companies cannot be relied on to tell you how much to feed your dog, to talk about the importance of HW pills and tests, rabies vaccines, microchipping, etc., in addition to making sure that you're not a hoarder or running a pit bull ring.

Also your three-story townhouse might not be the best place for an older dachshund unless you plan on carrying it up and down the steps always.

Melissa Bell: Thanks!


Reston, Va: Hi! We have a wonderful Border Collie. She is the sweetest thing in the whole world. Unfortunately, she has major anxiety issues. We feel badly for her because she misses out on things because of it. We've been working with her. We've taking her to agility, which she doesn't really love. She does love herding so I try and do that with her when I can. She, of course, loves her toys. Balls and frisbees are her thing. My question is: Do you think she would enjoy having another border collie for company and maybe help her with her anxiety/fear issues?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Often a dog friend with a more solid temperament can help a dog with anxiety. Consider contacting a reputable rescue and discuss your situation with them to see if a buddy might help. Also consider increasing her exercise and decreasing the protein levels in her food...


Laurel, Md.: A comment about patience and rescue groups: One thing people need to realize is that the people involved in dog rescues are usually all volunteers. So if it seems to take a little while to get you a house check or anything else, remember we are doing this after many hours at our own jobs, taking care of children and all of the other normal parts of living. So it may take a little while. Being involved in a rescue is one of the most rewarding things to do with your time. Matching a person and their perfect pet is an amazing feeling.

Melissa Bell: Great point. Thanks for it.


To Kensington, Md.: If you like English Bulldogs, but your husband wants a dog that is more active, look no further than the Boston Terrier!! They are small, but my two are faster than labs and boxers at the dog park. I also take them both babysitting with me, and they are great with kids and babies. Both have been poked in the eye and have had their ears pulled by babies with no reaction at all...except maybe a kiss. The are also short very little grooming, and I only find hair in the lint trap. Good luck with your search!!

Melissa Bell: Thanks!


Re: Housebreaking: Just a clarification: don't assume because a dog is at a shelter, and not fostered, that it is NOT housetrained. Many adult dogs are at shelters for reasons unrelated to behavior, and may have been trained previously. Some shelters, such as the Washington Animal Rescue League, also take dogs to outdoor areas frequently to reinforce housetraining.

Melissa Bell: This is really true. A lot of the dogs going in to shelters now come from loving families, but because of the economic downturn, they lost their home and can't keep the dog in their apartment, or they can't afford medical care, or what-have-you.


Olney, Md.: My wife and I both grew up with dogs all our lives, and are so excited to be moving from a condo in DC into a house where we can have dogs!

Could you comment on whether getting two dogs is a good way of providing companionship for the dogs while we humans are at work?

Also, what breeds (or breed mixes) do you most recommend for families with babies?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: I do think two dogs is excellent, but get one dog at a the adoptions at least 6 months apart and work with your rescue to find dogs that suit you AND each other.

As for breeds to recommend for a young family, I would rather recommend that the humans involved learn how to teach their young children how to respect their pet's space, how to handle them, and how to train and properly socialise their dogs with children. That is far more important that learning which breed will suit...


Rockville, Md.: Hi! I'm currently fostering a puppy for a Boxer rescue in Richmond. I'm a first-time foster mom, and have had the puppy for about 6 months. He was adopted once, but returned to the rescue (and me) because it wasn't a good fit. The rescue has his information on petfinder and their website, but we haven't found a home for him yet. I've put out a few flyers myself, and posted him on Craigslist, but can you recommend other ways for me to get the word out about this little guy? I am not getting a ton of support from the rescue and really want to find a home for this wonderful pup. Any suggestions would be helpful! Thanks!

Melissa Bell: Hmmm... Have you tried Facebook? Spreading the word through your friends could be a good solution. Also see if your rescue organization or other groups in the area host adoption days. You could bring the puppy to meet potential adopters in person.


Baltimore, Md.: Thanks for the chat. I just want to say that I adopted two six-year-old rescue dogs (dachshunds) and the rescue experience has been a joy. I hadn't realized that there is a rescue group (in fact, multiple groups) for virtually every dog breed -- getting a rescue dog and a particular breed are not mutually exclusive. I would suggest that potential owners open their minds to the possibility of adopting an older dog. For me, it eliminated the puppy phase -- the need for training, the chewing, etc. Older dogs were a good choice for me because I wanted companionship, not necessarily a canine jogging partner. And rescue dogs seem genuinely grateful for the new home! Adopting my dogs was the best thing I've ever done.

Melissa Bell: Thanks for sharing!


Orlando, Fla: What are some ways I can volunteer and help local dog rescues? Additionally, are there any donations that are more helpful than others?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Oh my, there so many ways you can help a rescue! Do your research (did I say that again??) and find a rescue you think you might like to work with. Contact them and ask them what you can do to help them. Keep in mind what your special talents are and how you can best utilize your time and talent to help. Work together with them to find the best fit.

Donations? It may be obvious, but money is oh, so important. After money, towels, treats, collars, leashes, etc, but ask the rescue before you donate as their needs may be different than ours!

And thanks! Volunteers is something we can never get enough of!!!


South Jersey: It was mentioned earlier about "matching up." How does this process work and is the process similar between rescue organizations?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: The process can be very different between organisations. You should do your research before submitting and application to be certain you are a good fit with the organisation and their procedures.

Melissa Bell: I loved Sarah's quote in my story: "We're e-Harmony for dogs." I think that really sums up the matching up process. The groups get to know potential owners and find out all about their habits through the application and subsequent conversations and then they try to find a dog within their group that would fit in well to that family.


I would like a Rhodesian Ridgeback: Do you know the local contact?

Melissa Bell: The American Kennel Club lists two organziations: Ridgeback Resuce of the United States (at and Rhodesian Ridgeback Rescue ( Good luck!


I've heard bad reports of the degree of intrusiveness involved: A lot of the screeners inject their own personal prejudices into the home visit. I know one atheist who was denied because the "Christian" woman who visited her home didn't like her lifestyle. It is so so sad to me that homeless dogs get caught up in people's prejudices and bigotry.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: It's important to remember that most rescues are staffed with volunteers, and are often very different from each other. You want to be comfortable with the rescue you work with, we hope that potential adopters can find one that does business in a professional manner.


Greyhounds and cats: FYI - Greyhounds are wonderful dogs but some of them can have strong instinctive prey drives that can be triggered by cats resulting in bad things to cats, dogs and homes. If someone has cats and wants to adopt a Greyhound, they just need to make sure to get dogs that do NOT have this strong prey drive. The rescue organizations generally know which dogs would work best w/other small animals.

Keep up the good work with the rescues.

Melissa Bell: Thanks for the information!


Small kids: I'm a big rescue fan, but now we have a 4-year-old and a 1- year-old, and many rescue places won't place dogs with small kids. (We just lost our 12-year-old Westie to cancer, and she was a champ with the kids, but Westie rescue absolutely won't place with kids).

Maybe we just go the mix breed route? Any thoughts on small kids?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Dogs and kids go together like peanut butter and jelly. The breed has little to do with the fit, it has more to do with the training of the dogs, and the kids involved. Get help, research, have common sense, and respect for the dogs involved. And consider using a rescue (all breed or specific) that will work with you to find a dog with the right temperment for your home.


Kids and dogs: I work with a small breed rescue. We only occasionally come across a dog that is great with small kids. What I tell adopters is that small kids move fast, make loud noises and are generally clumsy. These things can terrify an already high-strung toy breed. Not to mention that small dogs have small bones that break easily. I've pulled at least two dogs with broken legs because the kid dropped them, and the parents could not afford the $3,000 to repair the break.

Sarah do you recommend pet insurance?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: I think pet insurance can be a great thing. That said, I do not have it. I have 8 dogs, and a great vet...


Richmond Boxer foster: Put an "adopt me" bandana on the dog when you take him out in public - parks, pet stores.

Melissa Bell: That's a cute idea!


Gaithersburg, Md.: I would ask that people please remember the people working with rescues are volunteers. I have worked with several rescues fostering, doing home visits and transports. They all have their hearts in the right place and are trying to find the best fit for the dogs they have. When I do a home visit, I am checking to make sure that the fence is intact and in good repair, there are no obvious dangers to a new dog or puppy in the house or yard, and again the tone of the house especially if there are children in the home.

Melissa Bell: Thanks!


Washington DC: I might be interested in fostering or helping rehabilitate a rescue dog. How do I get involved? Are you looking for people and if so, what are the criteria?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Most rescues are always looking for volunteers to help socialize or foster dogs. In our case, we are simply looking for bright, friendly people who want to learn more about our breed and are willing and able to work well with our organization. We rarely turn anyone away!


Washington, D.C.: Do you know what sort of screening Petfinder does before listing groups' dogs? Sometimes you see very young litters of mixed breed puppies on there, with adoption fees of a few hundred dollars. If the puppies aren't coming with all of their shots and haven't yet been fixed, what's the (comparable to older dogs) fee for? I've wondered whether individuals accidentally wound up with some non-purebred puppies and are hoping to still make some money on them.

Melissa Bell: I asked Petfinder to answer this question for me, but they may not be able to get back to me by the time the chat is finished. If you'd like, email me directly at and I'll let you know the answer as soon as I hear from them!


Omaha, Neb.: Thanks for doing this chat and getting the word out about rescue organizations. I have always loved Border Collies from afar, but I always hear a ton of warnings about how much energy they have and how destructive they can be if not properly exercised (an important consideration.) Can you give specific examples of what a Border Collie would need as opposed to, say, a Lab? Do you need to have your own herd of sheep?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: A Border Collie will either be the best dog you have ever had, or the worst, and 98% of that is up to you...

Border Collies are independent thinkers and need structure and direction in order to be successful canine buddies. Running, agility, SAR, therapy work, trick training, Rally...all are things that help keep border collies busy. Be creative, the list is endless.


Winchester, Va.: Why do rescue orgs insist on a fence? My dog gets plenty of exercise and walks, and time off leash weekly at a dog park.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Not all rescue orgs require a fence. Do your research...find one that will take your situation on its merits.

Melissa Bell: I don't think it's a question of a fence or not. It's more a question of if a particular dog needs a fenced-in backyard. And as another reader mentioned, there are often a few families in contention for one dog. Perhaps another family had a fence and so it came down to that simple fact.


Just another shout-out for breed rescue...: I adopted a darling Beagle from Beagle Rescue in VA, and they were fabulous to deal with, she fits our life, the size dog we wanted...everything! Hoping to get a second one soon for company!

Sarah Ruckelshaus: YAY!! Thanks for choosing RESCUE!


Bichon owner asks: What's your advice about bringing a small young dog into the household where a still-active bichon, now 13, has been the only dog for all her life? A good idea? Or are we courting trouble? Thanks.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: Honestly, I would consider an older, more middle aged dog before I would consider a pup. A 5 to 7 year old dog is a far better match for an older dog than a pup.

As for courting trouble, you know your dog. Does she like other dogs? If so, there is no reason why you shouldn't bring in another dog. Work with the rescue to find a dog that will be a nice match for you AND for your older girl, introduce them on neutral ground casually and carefully...take it slow!


but the application and review process is daunting: Go to the SPCA. They have hundreds of dogs who need good homes without the snobby favoritsm of the rescue groups. I tried with a DC breed rescue group, felt insulted and now have two beautiful dogs I got throught petfinders. Every day my neighbor sees us walking and says how lucky those dogs are. We love them and spoil them and have a happy home, with no help from the snobby rescue groups. There is no reason the dog adoption process should be daunting and insulting WHEN GOOD DOGS ARE KILLED EVERY DAY FOR WANT OF A HOME.

Melissa Bell: I'm really sorry you felt insulted by the group. The people I spoke with did not seem snobby--even when they rejected me as a foster parent--but rather they just seemed really concerned with finding the best home for the dog. Breed dogs and mixed breed dogs all need to be rescued and placed in good homes. I'm glad you gave a home to two of them.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: SPCAs and Humane Societies are wonderful places to find new canine friends. As are all-breed rescues, animal control shelters, and breed specific rescues. Don't let one bad apple turn you off to an entire industry, rather, do your research to find a good place to work with and go from there.

The moral here is there is no bad place to find a furry friend, the path you follow needs to suit you, your family and home, and your lifestyle.


Washington, D.C.: What led you to start a rescue?

Sarah Ruckelshaus: I was working at my local shelter and my mentor convinced me to take hoe one of the shelter dogs to rehab. I did, I rehabbed and re-homed her and was hooked. That was in 1997 and I have never regretted it.


Melissa Bell: Just got the answer on Petfinder: "Before an organization joins Petfinder, the team requests a copy of their non-profit status (if they have it) along with a letter of reference from the group's veterinarian and their adoption contract. They also have a personal conversation with each and every group that joins Petfinder to learn more about their organization and to tell them more about Petfinder.

Many of Petfinder's groups take in a wide variety of animals from litters of puppies to adult dogs, plus cats, rabbits and just about everything you can think of! They understand that no reputable rescue group is out to make money off the dogs they post on Petfinder, but it is a balancing act. A group may end up putting hundreds of dollars into an adult dog to take care of vaccinations, spaying/neutering, dental issues, etc., but would not be able to charge hundreds of dollars for that dog's adoption fee. Therefore, if a puppy is adopted out on a spay/neuter contract, any extra money coming in for that adoption fee will be cycled back to the other, more needy animals in their care."


Hurting the long term goals of eliminating puppy mills and backyard breeding.: That is not going to happen through supply and demand. It is going to happen through commerce laws.

Sarah Ruckelshaus: I don't think there is a definitive answer. Honesty, education is what will make the difference, which will affect the demand, which will affect the supply. Commerce laws will help as well.


Melissa Bell: Thanks so much everyone for making this such a fun chat! And, Sarah, a big thanks for joining us today. I'm sorry if we couldn't get to your questions during the time slotted. If you want to contact me directly, I'll try and follow up on any unanswered questions. My e-mail is Enjoy your dogs!


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