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Posted on Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 12:50 p.m.

Adopting an adult dog from a shelter or rescue can be successful if you ask yourself hard questions first

By Julia Levitt


A racing Greyhound in retirement

Julia Levitt | Contributor

Many years ago, before adoption rescues for retired racing greyhounds flourished, I was the head adoption counselor for our Greyhound adoption group. We placed many retired racing Greyhounds into appropriate homes.

I emphasize the word "appropriate," as today many adoption groups have been organized for a variety of AKC-registered dogs, and humane societies have many identifiable breeds and just plain Heinz 57s.

There was not a person I interviewed about adopting a greyhound who did not want to do the best for this wonderful breed. Every person had the dog's best interest at heart. However, not every dog is for every person.

So many dogs get adopted between the ages 6 months to a year and a half. This period of adolescence is a time I fondly refer to as the equivalent (for a dog) of a child asking for the keys to your car. Adolescence is hard on everyone, and this is the age when dogs become a challenge. This generally this is the age most dogs wind up in a shelter or rescue group.

What happens during adolescence? It is a period of testing limits and exploring — not listening. Extra time is needed for training and developing good manners.

With Greyhounds, the situation was very different. These dogs were placed in adopted homes because they could no longer be raced for various reasons —  too old, not fast enough.

The problem with Greyhound adoption is that these dogs have special needs. The foremost point we tried to make with families was the necessity of having a fenced-in yard. 

Coming from the track, Greyhounds have no homing instinct. Unleashed, they often stray. I often heard prospective owners say, "I’ll just run after the dog." Unfortunately, a human is no match for a dog that can run up to 40 miles per hour. By the time you realize they are out the door, they are gone.

Another few points we made were these:

Greyhounds have no clue how to go up and down stairs.

These dogs are not used to slippery linoleum floors.

They don’t know the sliding door is clear glass (we suggested putting tape or decals on the door).

Finally, they may be fine with a cat or bunny in the home, but outside they will go after anything small and furry that moves.

They are not house-trained.

My point in discussing the different aspects of Greyhounds is this — not every dog fits every lifestyle. While these dogs are adults, many of the same issues we discussed in my last blog regarding puppies also apply to adults adoptees. The remedy? Research as much as you can about the dog you are planning to adopt.

Will this dog fit your lifestyle as an active person who likes to walk and run? Or are you more in tune with a friend of mine who said, "My idea of exercise is turning the pages of a book!"

Rescue organizations are very thorough when adopting a dog. Often times I have heard people become offended when asked to fill out a lengthy questionnaire. From the rescue/adoption group's perspective, though, the dog they are placing has had one home that was not a good placement for human or dog, and they don't want another. Remember my story about Cindy and Red? When the vet checked the dog's microchip, Cindy's was his fourth home!

I was called to a client's home examine a dog's cut foot. I was puzzled, since I am not a vet. When I arrived at the home, the situation was very scary. The dog's cut foot was due to the fact the dog broke a window attempting to jump out after another person and dog walking down the street.

This 90-pound dog was adopted by a family with three small children under the age of 10 — I mention this only because I want you to think about where the child’s face is in relation to a dog's mouth. The father proudly boasted this dog was abused! What part of this sad situation makes sense to you? None of it does to me!

As you can see, adopting an older dog takes effort — patience and a lot of love. The same thoughts apply when adopting an older dog as does a puppy:

1. Do your homework.

2. Ask yourself the tough questions first before you go to an animal shelter and want to adopt a dog. Don't be like a friend of mine who said, "I wanted the dog because it has soft ears."

3. Go to a shelter many times before you adopt.

4. Ask questions — it's the shelter’s job to provide answers.

A few good questions to ask are these:

Does the dog shed a lot? How much grooming does it need? Does the dog have a coat that needs to go to the groomer?

If you have small children, ask can I bring my kids to play with the dog?

Does the dog like cats, birds, snakes, ferrets, bunnies, other dogs or any family pet with whom the dog will share a home.

Does the dog require a lot of exercise?

Does the dog have health issues such as allergies?

How does the dog walk on a leash?

How does the dog get along with other people? Is it friendly or afraid?

Additionally, if you are alone… bring a friend, a person who is objective and won't let you get the hyperactive dog if you work long hours and don't exercise. And always meet the dog in person; never adopt a dog because she photographs well.

Most importantly ask yourself this: Do I have the skills to devote the time to helping this dog adjust and be well balanced?

Remember, just like lunch, there's no such thing as a free dog.

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training ( in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital.


Woman in Ypsilanti

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 5:01 p.m.

I realize that there is a delicate balance and that people who work for shelters or rescue groups see a lot of a terrible things. But I have to say that the last time I was in the market for a dog, I found a very sweet dog at the Huron Valley Humane Society. When I went to talk to a volunteer about it, she was VERY rude to me and spent the whole time trying to talk me out of adopting this dog. It was clear to me that something made her think I wasn't going to be a good fit for the dog but other than some vague statements about how it was a very active dog, she didn't give any reason. I kind of felt that she thought I was too old for an active dog and I was so insulted and angry that I didn't adopt the dog and instead got a dog from another source. In my case it was another shelter but I've known a lot of people who, after being rejected by some shelter, will buy a dog from a pet store. I guess volunteers have to ask themselves, what is worse? Giving a dog to a home that might not be perfect or encouraging the whole pet store puppy mill business.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 11:32 p.m.

Boy did that bring memories of having a young puppy in the house. Yes, it was worth it and because I have summers off? I spent the summer getting a puppy use to us and camping. Coo, what an experience that was. Especially with our then adopted 5 year old fur baby rescue 3 years ago last October. Now that was a challenge. But worth it.

Julia Levitt

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 9:55 p.m.

WY. thanks for your follow up reply. I am glad you enjoy your dog . Thanks for commenting-Julia

Woman in Ypsilanti

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 7:38 p.m.

Well, luckily it was happy endings all around. It took me about a week to calm down after the experience. I went back to the Humane Society to try again but that sweet dog had been adopted by someone else so at least I don't have to feel bad that the dog suffered because I walked out. And the dog I ended up getting is awesome although I'll admit that she has been a bit of a challenge training wise too. ;) She's awesome *now* but was a handful for that first year. So in that regard, I totally agree with this article. I adopted my dog when she was six months old and we had a difficult year. I was replacing a dog who had died of old age and it had been 15 years since I had owned a young dog and I had forgotten all of the trouble they can get into. But once I changed my life to allow for extra training time (and extra exercise), it all worked out. I definitely agree that managing people's expectations about a new dog is a good thing for people who are adopting out dogs to do.

Julia Levitt

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 6:14 p.m.

This is a complex issue. Thank you for giving me "food for thought" for a future blog-julia


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 5:43 p.m.

Cherry Hill HS will get on volunteers if they act rude to the prospective adoptee. I would have said something because you never know, it may have turned out differently. Glad to hear you got a fur baby you are in love with.

Joe Zurawski

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 3:03 p.m.

I would like to add one additional recommendation - go to the website of the national breed organization for the breed you are considering. There you will find information about the characteristics particular to that breed. You can start at the American Kennel Club website where they have links for each breed's organization. When I was a child we had Beagles and Dachshunds. Later with our children we had Cocker Spaniels and Golden retrievers. Each breed has very distinct behavior characteristics. Now we have a Golden Retriever/Chow mix we adopted as a 2 year old from the Humane Society of Huron Valley (HIGHLY recommended) and a Great Pyrenees we adopted as a 2 year old from Great Pyrenees Rescue.

Julia Levitt

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 3:20 p.m.

Thanks for your comment Joe-Julia


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

The HSHV encourages prospective adopters to test walk a dog and play with it in one of their enclosed outdoor playards and/or "real life family rooms."...a good system with minimal return rates of adopted animals.


Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 5:40 p.m.

They also want you to bring other fur babies with you that are in the home as well. We did with ours and it turned out first. We had to return the adopted baby because things did not go well the first year. Pretty heart breaking but it did work out with another. So it was a win win for all. Found out the animal we adopted did better without other pets in the house. Again? Never know until you try.

Joe Zurawski

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 3:07 p.m.

Julia - HSHV is very thorough. I am extremely disappointed the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners refuses to recognize their value to the community, especially in these times with people losing their homes and cannot keep their pets.

Julia Levitt

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 1:52 a.m.

I am glad the Humane Society encourges this- it is so important-thank you for commenting-Julia


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 11:16 p.m.

I can't agree MORE with this article. I wish I had known these things before adopting my first adult dog. I ask a couple of questions at the shelter but everyone said that she would probably get better. (this should have been my first clue) She ended up biting three little dogs (they were okay but now scared of anything that resembles her) and she tried to escape out a second floor window because she had such SEVERE separation anxiety. I've had a lot of experience with dogs but this was something I could not handle. So after lots of time, effort, love and money I ended up having to return her. Next time I adopt i'm going to be much more selective.

Julia Levitt

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 1:50 a.m.

Good luck next time UofMGirl and thanks so much for sharing with all of us-Julia


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 8:01 p.m.

There is some very helpful information in here regardless of which dog breed you decide to adopt. We're on our 2nd adopted Golden Retriever, which we adopted from the Golden Retriever Rescue of Michigan (<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> group. Our first died of cancer at a relatively young age, but our 2nd, which we've had for over 9 years is still going strong. We were &quot;checked out&quot; very carefully before being allowed to adopt. But, the process went great. My advice is to look at a good number of dogs before selecting &quot;the one&quot;. After narrowing down the choices based on descriptions, try to meet at least 3-4 dogs. This can be challenging depending on where the dogs' foster homes are. But, it's worth the effort. And pick a dog that fits your lifestyle and family. Sometimes younger dogs are better. Other times, a more mature and less energetic dog would be appropriate.

Joe Zurawski

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 3:11 p.m.

Goldens are wonderful, aren't they. Such a great personality! The two biggest drawbacks are their propensity for contracting cancer and the SHEDDING!

Julia Levitt

Fri, Jan 6, 2012 : 1:48 a.m.

Thank you so much for such a thorough thoughtful comment-81 Wolverine. Julia

Julia Levitt

Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 4:31 p.m.

Very good point- JNS-thanks for your comment-julia


Thu, Jan 5, 2012 : 3:47 p.m.

I have to giggle at this article. Why? Because we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into when we adopted our rescue. Yes, she has provided us with giggles and hardships, but even after 3 years? We still laugh at the first 3 months we had her. Getting her adjusted to our lifestyle and not trying to run away while going for car rides. Those made for an interesting trip. Otherwise, you do need to know what you are getting yourself into, but in the end? It is all worth it.