So you've made the decision to get a rescue dog - but where do you start? Andrea McHugh has 10 top tips to help ease the process.
1. Decisions, decisions…
Make a wish list of the type of dog you'd like. This may include a pedigree, mongrel, large or small, young or old, long-haired or short-haired, good with children, active, or a companion lap dog. Whatever you do, don't look online and fall in love with a dog who is advertised as free to a good home, as you will have little or no idea of whether the dog is likely to be suitable. A good rescue organisation will have trained staff to assess a dog's personality so they can match him to his forever home.
2. Lifestyle choices
Do you plan to do something very active with your dog such as agility or flyball? Many rescue organisations will have identified dogs they feel would benefit from an active home, so if this is something you are interested in make enquiries and see if they have a dog who will fit the bill. Be prepared to wait until you find the right dog rather than taking on the first one you see.
3. On budget
Having a dog will definitely eat into your family budget so make sure that you can afford it. Your dog will require annual vaccinations, flea treatments, insurance, veterinary care, food, training, and of course boarding facilities if you go on holiday or have to work away.
4. Starting point
There are large and small dog rescue organisations all over the country and it can be hard to know where to begin. As a starting point you could visit the Kennel Club website and research the section on choosing a rescue dog. You could also request a copy of the KC's rescue directory, which lists the many general and breed rescue organisations around the country. In addition, ask your vet for recommendations and talk to anyone who has successfully rehomed a dog. Rescue centres that work hard to socialise and interact with their dogs are more likely to help them overcome problems prior to rehoming.
5. Adoption fees
Most rescues require a nominal payment to help cover the costs - which may include veterinary treatment, vaccinations, neutering, and microchips - of the dog in their care. These vary - for example the current Blue Cross adoption fee for a dog is £115 to £125, while Dogs Trust requests an adoption fee of £80 to £100, which includes four weeks' free insurance and a collar and lead.
6. Nice to meet you
Many rescue centres publish an online gallery of dogs up for adoption. Together with the rest of your family, view all the available dogs and draw up a shortlist before arranging to visit.
Take your time and visit more than once before reserving a dog. Ask to take the dog for a walk, play with him, give him a little brush, and see how he reacts to you and your family, but remember that his behaviour in a kennel is likely to be different to when he comes home. Talk to the staff and ask as many questions as possible. With luck, this dog will be with you for many years, so make sure you are very happy before asking to reserve him.
7. Home visits
Reputable charities are very keen for dogs in their care to go to the best homes possible. In order to achieve this they will ask you to complete forms and answer lots of questions about your family and home life, including whether you have children, other pets, and work during the day. Some charities will also send a representative for a home visit. Remember that charities are not trying to be difficult, but have a list of questions and criteria to help ensure a dog in their care is safe and well-suited to a family.
8. Meet the family
A rescue organisation will expect the whole family to meet the dog so they can assess the reactions of the dog to children and other pets. Introductions to other dogs should be done on neutral territory in a large, open space on a quiet walk rather than a forced introduction, which is likely to end in disaster. A successful first introduction won't guarantee that there won't be future problems, but can be a good indicator that they will eventually settle.
9. Show time!
Some of the large rescue centres have stands at national dog shows and it can be useful to visit and talk to staff and find out more about the dogs in their care. Even small rescues often book stands at fun local dog shows to try and raise awareness and funds.
10. Ongoing advice
Once you have welcomed a rescue dog into your family, you may like to book some training sessions with a reputable professional. Your vet will be able to recommend a good local dog trainer who can help with socialisation, training, and any challenges that you may face. Keep in touch with the rescue charity as well, promoting it to anyone who may be looking for a dog and try to continue supporting them so that they are able to help more dogs in the future.