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Everything You Need to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog

Photo: Christina Kilgour/Getty Images

A pup-finding primer from writer Julie Klam, who has fostered 35 dogs, owned eight, and talked with ten experts.

➽ You could start by window-shopping on Instagram.

There are thousands of stray and abandoned dogs in New York City and a handful of organizations that match them to owners. Follow some of the small rescue groups (like Muddy Paws Rescue, SNORT Rescue, or Good Karma Dog Rescue) to get a sense of the landscape. If you have a couple of favorite dogs, you can meet them in person at regular adoption events. Muddy Paws is a bit of a scene right now with long lines for the more popular pups.

➽ Or you can go straight to a shelter.

There’s a handful of big ones, but go first to Animal Care Centers of NYC. It’s the city’s only open-admissions shelter — it takes any dog that arrives, which means space can be an issue.

➽ Or fly in a dog from Korea.

A few rescue groups transport and rehome dogs from other countries: Korean K9 Rescue brings over dogs from the meat trade, Stray From the Heart imports strays from Puerto Rico and Ecuador, and Long Island Golden Retriever Rescue has golden retrievers from Turkey. You’ll likely pay for the dog’s flight, which can cost hundreds of dollars.

➽ Don’t be swayed by the “cutest” dogs.

A lot of the time, some of the more “sad” dogs just need a good bath. Plus a lot of them are in cages for the first time in their lives. “Visiting a shelter is a bit like visiting a college dorm at the start of a new semester,” says Ken Foster, author of City of Dogs.

➽ So ask the staff lots of questions.

Are they good on a leash? How do they respond to strangers? Do they like to be petted? How do they react to other dogs? Do they like to play, or do they get aggressive? Do they respond differently to men and women?

➽ Consider a senior dog.

Puppies are a lot of work: You shouldn’t take them outside in the city until they’re fully immunized from their shots (at around 20 weeks). Senior dogs (between 9 and 12) have gained in popularity because they’re calmer and usually trained.

➽ Don’t rule out a pit-bull mix.

Pit bulls are actually among the sweetest; they are big and strong, but they are also smart.

➽ And don’t necessarily worry about bringing a Great Dane into a 550-square-foot studio.

Anna Lai from Muddy Paws Rescue says, “One misconception is that New York apartments are not suitable for larger dogs.” Certain little dogs, like terriers, need constant exercise, and some big dogs, like mastiffs and Great Danes, are delighted to lie on your couch all day. (And yes, there are fancy dogs in shelters; plus nearly every breed has its own rescue group.)

➽ Prepare to sell yourself.

Adoption groups will want to know your living situation: Who lives with you, and how old are they? They will want to know your dog history, and if you have one, they may want to speak to your vet. They will call friends as references and ask if you have a plan to walk the dog while you work. They are looking to see that you’re not a fair-weather dog parent. A good way to get it across that you’re not is to ask a lot questions. Later there will be a home visit, at which they’ll want to know how you’ll treat your new dog — if he makes mistakes by chewing or marking (which he most likely will), will you be understanding? Point at your rug and say, “My friend brought her new Jack Russell over, and he peed right there. Ha!”

You’ll need a leash.

Plus a collar and a name tag, and make sure to figure out how you’re taking your dog home. New York public transportation allows dogs in bags (L.L. Bean totes are a nice option), and you can take a taxi or an Uber, but you’re at the mercy of the driver’s discretion as to whether he’ll take a dog. There’s also Pet Taxi, a pet-friendly car service.

➽ Don’t worry about a vet visit right away.

All New York City strays are spayed or neutered and vaccinated.

➽ Make a weekly budget.

The adoption process can cost anywhere from $150 to $1,000. (Younger, healthier dogs usually cost more.) And owning a dog in New York costs about $150 a week. (Dog walkers cost about $20 a day, and food and treats will run you around $40 a week.)

➽ Buy pet insurance.

In New York, where a health problem can cost thousands of dollars, it’s worth paying around $40 a month for a plan that covers accidents and illness, accidents only, and/or routine wellness care. The best insurance plans are Figo and Pets Best.

➽ Register your dog with the Health Department.

You can fill out an application online; you’ll get an official tag in the mail.

➽ And remember, if it really doesn’t work out, you can send the dog back.

It takes time for a new dog and you to adjust and decompress, so give it time. But any reputable shelter or rescue group will take your dog back and should be grateful for the new information you provide.

*This article appears in the April 29 2019, issue of New York Magazine. Subscribe Now!

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Everything You Need to Know About Adopting a Rescue Dog