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Realistically, dog rescue organisations may vary in terms of their objectives and the standards of care they do or can offer. Depending on funds available, and volunteers and number of dogs, some rescue centres provide toys, games, exercise and daily contact with people. Others provide shelter, food, water and nothing else.
Some may put down dogs they consider unfit for adoption; where others are no-kill shelters, and the dogs may spend a long time there; others act as 'middle-man' between the owner and the adopter; and some work with foster homes.
There are bad rescue centres with irresponsible conduct towards dogs and future adopters. They are overcrowded, and place many dogs at random in the same kennel. This results in dogs fighting over space, food, and mates. The dogs are confined to their small kennel most of the time, which leads to frustration and irritability from lack of exercise.
It also results in the dog learning to relieve himself where he sleeps (something most dogs don’t do). There are no toys to keep the dogs entertained, so they become bored at first, then stressed out. Most dogs aren’t vaccinated, become ill, and disease spreads fast to other dogs. These centres resemble prisons of the worst type.
Because these rescue centres are overcrowded and understaffed, they don’t know their dogs, but make false statements about them. Their main concern is to give the dogs for adoption, with little or no consideration for the adopters – for example, placing aggressive dogs in homes with children. When asked about any dog’s temperament, the typical answer is: playful and affectionate; a bit shy sometimes; all he needs is love and attention. This masks the real temperament of some dogs.
See choosing a rescue dog for more information on selecting a rescue dog that will fit with your environment and circumstances.
Because of the poor living conditions and stress rescue dogs have to endure - some of them for a long time - your adopted dog is likely to arrive with some problems in his baggage. Most of them are solvable, and it's highly rewarding to see a dog blossom into a happy, affectionate, and playful companion. The most common problems are:
1. Internal and external parasites. It's wise to visit your vet before taking your newly-adopted dog home, and tell him the dog was adopted from a shelter. Shelters that don't have funds to take proper medical care of dogs are unlikely to worm them and protect them from external parasites. Because of this, it's normal for the dog to have worms, fleas and ticks. If you have other dogs at home, worm them too.
2. Diarrhoea. Dogs living in bad shelters eat whatever food is given to them. Since these shelters survive on donations - they cannot demand a certain brand of food - they mix and match food brands. This results in digestive upsets, such as diarrhoea.
3. Ear infection. Due to lack of regular cleaning, the dog's ears build up wax and lodge ear mites. If left alone, this can develop into an ear infection.
If you have other dogs at home, tell the vet. As a precaution, he may advise you to keep the newcomer separate for a while, in case he's incubating a contagious disease. Think of it as putting your new dog in quarantine, to ensure he's not a health hazard to the others.
4. House-soiling. Because the dog lived in confinement, he learned to relieve himself where he was - bed, eating place, sometimes food or water bowl. This dog needs to be house-trained as if he were a puppy.
5. Separation anxiety problems. These range from the mild to the extreme, and may require medication and professional help. The dog tends to follow you around; cry or scratch the door if unable to reach you; become restless when he notices you're leaving; chew his paws or tail; chew around door frames when alone (these he sees as potential exit points in an attempt to reunite with you); howl and bark; make small puddles of urine in different places (a response to stress); chew and destroy all types of items when alone; refuse to eat or drink.
It's heart-breaking to see a dog living in fear - anxiety is fear - and it's normal to want to undo all the wrongs in his past. But anxiety doesn't go away just with love and attention. Your dog needs to learn nothing bad happens when he's alone. If you are patient, the anxiety attacks should diminish with time.
6. Fear of quick or sudden movements. There are different reasons why shelter-dogs become afraid of quick or sudden movements. When they're moved about, they're often rough-handled - this means looming over and quick grabbing, which can be frightening. Stray dogs that end up in rescue centres have probably been kicked and beaten with sticks during their searches for food or human company. Abused dogs have been loomed over and hit, or kicked. No matter what the situation is, kicking, beating, and grabbing, involve hands and feet approaching the dog fast and unexpectedly.
7. Fear of unfamiliar places. Dogs that have been in rescue centres for a long time become used to living in their kennel, even if unhappy and frustrated. They learn the kennel is their territory, and become intimidated and frightened by places they don't know. Feed your dog tasty treats, and play enticing games in unfamiliar places, and he's likely to start enjoying them.
Rescuing a dog may not be always as straightforward as getting a puppy from a reputable dealer, but in many ways it can be more rewarding. Especially when you can save a dog from a miserable existence, give it a happy life and see it blossom as a result.