Last year, our dog Toby turned 10 years old. And this year on February 1st, we celebrated an anniversary -10 years since he came to live with us. So, to mark this occasion, I decided to write this post to tell you a little bit about him and to share our experience with dog adoption.
Why I am Writing About My Dog
Toby had a somewhat dramatic start in life. He was born in a puppy mill and lived there for the first 5 months of his life.
When I mention this to people, mostly other dog owners at the dog park, they become very curious and start asking questions about him. A few weeks ago a nice lady told me that we were very brave to adopt a rescue dog.
I was very surprised by her remark because I don’t think we were any braver than anyone else getting a dog. But then I started thinking about it and realized that there are still a lot of misconceptions about rescue dogs and dogs from shelters.
When we got Toby ten years ago, the number of rescue/adopted dogs we met was about 3 in 10.
I thought that thanks to social media, various youtube channels, and the popular TV series Shelter Me, the views on dog adoption have changed. However, I recently realized that the number of rescue/adopted dogs we meet now is still 3 in 10 and the misconceptions people have about adopting dogs are still the same.
Many people still think that these dogs are more prone to serious diseases, harder to train, and simply damaged in some way which causes them to have behavioral issues.
That’s why I decided to share our experience of adopting a rescued dog and living with him for 10 years.
My Experience with Dogs
I’ve had dogs for most of my life and have had plenty of opportunities to learn and analyze the behavior of dogs of different backgrounds.
I am not a dog trainer. I am not involved in dog rescue. I am simply sharing my experience with dogs as a dog owner and a person who is interested in dog behavior and dogs’ interactions with people and other dogs.
Where did Toby Come From?
Toby was born in a puppy mill here in Canada in the province of Quebec. He lived there until he was about 5 or 6 months old together with 270 dogs.
The puppy mill was located in a warehouse where dogs lived in cages. In such conditions, dogs usually don’t get enough food or water. They also get hardly any interactions with humans. In addition, Toby’s tail was chopped off so that probably was also quite traumatic for him.
Luckily for the dogs, the puppy mill was reported to authorities and on December 26 of 2008 police came and all the dogs were seized. Montreal SPCA and local rescue groups took the dogs into their care.
The rescue that we later adopted Toby from agreed to foster a few dogs from that puppy mill because several of the rescue group members were helping with getting the dogs out of the puppy mill.
We later met the girl who actually pulled Toby out of his cage. She said he was shy and was sitting there at the back of the cage not sure what was going on.
She also said that the smell of ammonia from urine and feces was unbearable and people had to take turns entering the building because it was hard to breathe and see.
The dogs were then processed through Montreal SPCA and sent to foster homes. Just 5 weeks after being pulled from the puppy mill, Toby came to live with us.
How We Found Toby
We found Toby on the website called Petfinder where you can search a database of dogs and cats available for adoption in shelters and rescues.
When we started looking, there were a lot of dogs available in the United States but not as many in Canada. However, we still thought it would be a good idea to first try to find a dog here in Ontario before looking abroad.
We searched for a few days and after about a week, we found Toby.
Our Experience with the Dog Rescue
A few people told me that they tried adopting a dog but got frustrated dealing with rescues. So I thought it might be helpful to share our experience dealing with the rescue we got Toby from.
We applied to adopt Toby by sending an application to the email address provided on the rescue website. The application was quite extensive – about 2 or 3 pages long. After we emailed the application we right away received an auto-reply saying that the rescue was run by volunteers and they would do their best to contact us within a few days.
We didn’t have to wait very long and received a reply the next day from a rescue member who asked us to make an appointment for a phone interview.
During the interview, the girl asked if she could come and see our place and meet us so we set a day and time for her to come over. She came with her own dog and after a short conversation, she said she will bring Toby to us the next weekend.
Toby was in a foster home in the Ottawa area which is about 250 km from Toronto. We offered her to drive there and pick him up but she said that they had a dog transport already arranged for the weekend to bring several dogs to Toronto so they would just bring Toby with them.
They brought Toby on the day they promised together with a big bag of food.
After that, they stayed in touch with us for the next several months and assisted us when we needed some guidance or help.
This rescue is still operating and is very active on social media.
So, for those who’ve had a bad experience with a rescue, please be patient with them. They are run by volunteers who have full-time jobs and families to take care of. They might not respond to you right away or ask questions that might seem odd but they are trying to do the best for the dogs in their care.
We applied for 2 dogs before we found Toby but the shelters said that the dogs we applied for had been already adopted.
Just keep looking until you find a good rescue or shelter you are comfortable to work with.
The First Day
That Sunday, when Toby was scheduled to arrive at our place, was very sunny and cold. The rescue rep was driving several dogs to Toronto and we were the last on her list.
They finally arrived in the late afternoon and we came outside to meet them. I will never forget the moment when I saw Toby for the first time. I couldn’t believe how tiny he was!
We had only seen one picture of him on the website and that picture wasn’t the best quality (it was before cell phones had good cameras). Looking at that picture, it was hard to tell what size or age he was.
The rep was from Toronto and Toby was in Ottawa at a foster home so she hadn’t seen him before either. She told us that he was probably close to one year and weighing about 20 pounds.
When I picked him up and realized how light he was I said: “Oh, my God! It’s a puppy!” And the rescue rep said: “I know. Is it OK?” And we told her:” Of course it’s OK, he is perfect!”
We estimated his age to be about 6 months because his teeth were still changing.
Toby was super excited to see us and was constantly wagging his tail. He played a lot and then fall asleep completely exhausted.
The rescue rep insisted we crate-train him so we left him to sleep in a crate but in the middle of the night he started crying. We let him out and put some blankets beside our bed for him to be comfortable.
He calmed down on the blankets right away. When we woke up in the morning we found him sound asleep in his new bed. We totally forgot to show it to him in the evening but he got up in the middle of the night and found his new bed all by himself.
Toby’s first two weeks with us were quite difficult because he got digestion problems the next day after arriving at our place.
The situation was made even worse by the very cold weather that suddenly arrived in Toronto with the temperatures reaching -28 degrees Celcius which made it impossible for us to take him outside for a walk.
I had to take a few days off at work to stay with Toby and he woke me up every night when his tummy gave him trouble.
We were very worried about his health. But the vet said that the digestion problems were caused by the stress from so many changes in Toby’s short life. And eventually, he started feeling better.
Regardless of the digestion issues, Toby started settling in the minute he walked into our place.
He was very playful, goofy, curious, and had a sense of humor.
We also quickly noticed that he didn’t know many things that you would expect a regular dog to understand at his age.
For example, he didn’t understand the concept of going for a walk. He would just sit there and curiously watch me getting dressed. And when I brought him outside, he would just walk and look around. He didn’t even know that he was supposed to sniff.
He was also scared to walk in the dark and would get spooked by dark unfamiliar objects. So, to give him some confidence we would take our neighbor’s dog and the four of us would go for a walk in this order: first, our neighbor’s dog, then my husband holding a flashlight, then Toby, then me.
It also became obvious very quickly that Toby didn’t like to get up early in the morning.
To teach him to go outside to pee and poop, I took him out four times a day and the morning walk was around 6 am.
Toby wasn’t impressed by me waking him up every morning. Our morning walks were very short because he knew why I brought him out and did everything he was supposed to do super quickly so that we could get back to bed for another few hours of sleep.
One morning, we walked out of our apartment and I turned around to lock the door. I am not sure how long it takes me to lock my front door but I would guess maybe less than 5 seconds. When I turned back, I saw Toby laying on the floor on his side with the legs stretched out.
My first thought was that something happened to him and he just collapsed. But then I realized that he was sleeping. So, I gently woke him up and we proceeded outside for our 4-minute morning walk.
The First Year
Toby’s first year with us was full of adventures. We enrolled him in a puppy class and took him to every dog event here in Toronto.
He made many doggie friends at our local park and every day spent hours running and playing with them.
In summer, when the weather finally got better we took him to the beach. When Toby saw the lake for the first time he was absolutely fascinated. He already loved playing in the water in the bathtub but this was completely different. He went to sniff the water but wouldn’t dare to go in.
So, I went into the water and called him. He slowly started following me. He walked as far as he could and when the water reached his neck he stood up on his back legs and kept walking. Then he reached the point when he no longer could walk and just like that he started swimming. And at that moment he was in love.
Since then, every summer, we drive 150 kilometers one way to take Toby to his happy place – a dog beach at the Lake Huron where dogs are free to run and swim as much as they want.
Toby learned everything very quickly and we didn’t have to make a lot of effort to explain to him what we wanted him to do. For example, he learned to sit on command on the fourth try.
Toby’s best buddy was a service dog who graduated from a service dog school. He had the best leash manners and Toby learned from him how to properly walk on a leash.
Toby also had some very strange interests. He loved eating dandelions and was interested in rain worms which was disgusting at times.
Besides going for a walk, swimming, and sleeping he also loved destroying his toys.
The only thing we couldn’t teach him was to love his crate.
As I’ve already mentioned above the rescue we adopted him from insisted that we crate-train him. I think crates are great because they help to keep your dog out of trouble when you are away at work.
I also know that many dogs feel safe and protected in a crate and get into a crate whenever they want to have a rest.
We bought a big crate for Toby and put it in our bedroom hoping he would feel comfortable when left alone. I also wanted to teach him to go inside the crate on command.
As smart as Toby is he very quickly figured out what “crate” means. But instead of getting inside the crate whenever I told him so he would run away and lay down on his bed instead and look at me like “Look, I am a good boy. I can stay here on my bed.”
It was clear to us that he remembered living inside a cage in the puppy mill and this is what a crate was for him – a cage from his past. So, we took the crate away and promised him he would never have to sleep inside it again.
I have Conversations with My Dog
Toby is able to express himself in a very dynamic way. He utilizes a number of movements, gestures, and sounds to convey his desires and emotions.
For example, he points in the direction of the desired object by looking at me and then moving his head towards that object. He kicks with his back legs if he is excited or unhappy. He forcefully exhales making a sound if he wants to get my attention.
He knows many words and, as we are a multilingual household, he knows quite a few words in 3 languages.
In addition to that, I have real conversations with my dog.
Not as in “my goldfish is my best friend because I can share everything with her”. (By the way, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that and it can actually be quite therapeutic.)
It’s just my conversations with my dog consist of two-way communication where one asks questions and the other one answers them.
Here are two examples.
Where Did He Go?
A few weeks ago my husband came home from work and, as usual, Toby was very excited to see him and run to look for his ball because he always brings my husband a ball when he comes home.
As Toby was running around looking for the ball, hubby said that he forgot his wallet in the car and went outside to get it. When Toby found the ball and run to the door holding the ball in his mouth he saw the door closing behind my husband.
Toby dropped the ball and looked at me as if asking: “Why did he leave again?”
I said: “He will be right back. Just wait”.
Toby understood and sat down in front of the door patiently waiting for hubby to come back.
Humans, Give Me My Dinner!
A few years ago we decided to renovate our kitchen. So, one day we cleared out the space and started painting.
In the evening, we were busy finishing up the walls when all of a sudden Toby barked. We didn’t pay attention because, like any dog, he sometimes barks for no apparent reason.
After about a few minutes he barked again, and then again. We came into the living room to check on him. He was just sitting in the middle of all the kitchen stuff we brought into the living room. We thought he was just bored and went back to painting.
In a few minutes, he barked again. We went back to him and I asked him: “What is going on?”. He was staring at us and wagging his tail like he was trying to telepathically tell us something.
We said that we didn’t have time for playing and wanted to go back into the kitchen when he barked again and again.
We were not getting it. So, I asked him: “What do you want? Tell us!”
In response to that question, he turned around a banged his food bowl with his paw and barked, and then banged it again.
And finally, we understood him. We were so busy with the kitchen that we completely missed his dinner time.
We brought his food bowl from the kitchen into the living room together with all the other things and he patiently sat by his bowl waiting for us. When he finally figured out that we were not paying any attention he decided to tell us that he was hungry and it was time to feed him.
Dog Adoption Question # 1: How Do Dogs End Up in Shelters?
Many people think that dogs end up in shelters because there is something wrong with them. In reality, most dogs in shelters are just regular dogs who ended up there because they were no longer wanted by their humans.
There are of course instances when dogs come from a puppy mill that was shut down or were confiscated from an abusive owner or a hoarding situation. It can also happen that owners die or are no longer able to care for the dog due to some unfortunate circumstances.
But there are also people who simply have no heart. For them, dogs are objects which can be discarded when no longer needed.
I once chatted with a woman who was walking a cute puppy similar age as Toby. Toby and the puppy hit off right away and were playing nicely together.
The woman said that her dog was a poodle and cocker spaniel mix. She really wanted to have a dog like Toby (meaning a dog looking more like a poodle) but instead, as her dog was growing up he looked more and more like a cocker spaniel.
When two different breeds are crossbred it’s impossible to predict how the puppies are going to look like. In her case, even though the breeder promised her that the dog would look like a poodle, he was taking more to the spaniel side of the family instead.
Even though the dog was adorable and had a very good personality she was considering returning it to the breeder and getting a new puppy.
I was hoping that she was joking but later that month she came to the park with a new puppy.
I thought it was absolutely heartbreaking and could only hope that the breeder could find a better home for the dog.
Someone also told me once that they had to bring their dog to the shelter because they bought a new condominium and the dog would scratch the hardwood floors when walking.
Dog Adoption Question # 2: Are Rescue Dogs More Likely to Have Health Problems?
People often think that rescue dogs are more prone to medical problems. It’s heartbreaking to see your dog suffer and veterinary care can be very expensive so the concern about getting a healthy dog is completely understandable.
Over the past 10 years, I’ve seen a number of dogs in my neighborhood develop cancers and various autoimmune diseases early in life.
Many of them were Toby’s buddies when he was still a puppy. Quite a few of them died from cancer shortly after being diagnosed. All of them were purchased for a lot of money from reputable breeders.
I’ve also heard people say that they prefer to buy puppies from breeders because they offer a health guarantee. This seems like a great idea at first but keep in mind that this guarantee doesn’t cover everything.
For example, it doesn’t cover infectious diseases or accidents. The health guarantee can also be offered for only a limited amount of time because nobody can really guarantee that the dog will never ever have a health issue.
And the most important point is, what happens if you want to take advantage of the “health guarantee”? In many cases, it means that you have to give your dog back to the breeder. Would you do it??
Going back to the example of dogs from my neighborhood – the dog who lived the longest and died of old age at 17 years old was adopted from a shelter at the age of 2. And his owner had absolutely no idea what kind of life this dog had before.
So, what about Toby? Does he have any health issues?
Toby has a sensitive digestive system. When he was young, we had to consult a vet on 3 separate occasions regarding his tummy troubles. However, since we figured out a proper feeding system, Toby has been doing just fine.
Toby also has bad teeth and, over the years, has had several teeth removed.
Although I do think that his tummy troubles and his teeth issues were caused by the conditions he lived in as a puppy. I also know that many dogs have the same issues even dogs that came from breeders so it’s not something only puppy mill or neglected dogs are prone to.
Otherwise, Toby is doing pretty well. He is still very active and loves all his activities. His body language is still the same as when he was young so people often ask me if he is a puppy. I usually tell them that even though he is over 10 years old and is approaching his senior years, he is forever my puppy.
Dog Adoption Question # 3: Are Rescue/Adopted Dogs More Likely to Have Behavioral Issues?
In my experience, any dog can develop behavioral issues.
Recently, Toby made a new friend at the park – a dog similar size to him, some kind of a terrier mix. His owner told me that she adopted the dog about a year ago from a local shelter. He was around three years old and the shelter told her that this dog didn’t know how to walk on a leash, would bark uncontrollably at any dog, and was generally super hyper.
She adopted him anyway and just a year later, the dog is as calm as a dog can be. Just hangs around by his human and was even overwhelmed by Toby’s invitations to go play.
This is an example of how proper training and exercise can affect a dog’s behavior.
On the other hand, a friend of mine bought a puppy from a very caring breeder who only had a couple of dogs and took extremely good care of the mother and the puppies.
Despite the best care, the dog developed extreme separation anxiety. It was an otherwise lovely, friendly, gentle dog who just wouldn’t stay alone.
Luckily, my friend was allowed to take her to work every day and had a lot of friends who were willing to watch the dog but it was still a big hassle for my friend to have to constantly arrange for a dog sitter.
I by no means suggest that inexperienced people should adopt dogs with behavioral issues.
Dogs have different personalities and need training and attention regardless of where you get them from. Even well-mannered fully trained dogs can end up in a shelter and dogs from the best breeders can end up with bad habits. There are no guarantees either way.
Dog Adoption Question # 4: Can Rescue/Adopted Dogs Be Trained the Way I Want Them?
People often tell me that they prefer to buy a puppy because they want to train it “a certain way”.
I always thought it was a very strange excuse because if you are really set on getting a puppy you can adopt a puppy instead of buying it. You might need to do a bit more work or wait a little longer but puppies for sure can be found in shelters and rescues.
When we got Toby he was probably around 6 months old. Some people think that it’s already too old and a dog of this age can’t be trained or won’t bond with the owners. This cannot be further from the truth. Toby was very eager to understand his new environment and bonded with us very quickly.
Another question that I have for people who say that they would rather buy a young puppy because they want to train it a certain way is this: what do you want to teach your dog?
We all pretty much expect the same things from our dogs (I am talking about regular pets and not service dogs). Our dogs should know where to do their potty business. They should know how to behave at home, for example, not to steal food and not to destroy things. They also should know how to behave when they are outside.
We may also want to teach them a few tricks. And that’s pretty much it.
Dogs from shelters become police dogs and service dogs all the time. So, almost any dog can be taught how to be a pet.
Of course, it’s important to choose a dog that suits your lifestyle. For example, if you are a not very active person, don’t get a dog that needs a lot of exercise. If you would rather have your teeth pulled, then vacuum your home don’t get a German Sheppard. And if you live on a boat, don’t get a dog who is afraid of water.
But beyond a few lifestyle considerations, buying a puppy just because you want to train it “a certain way” is just an excuse that doesn’t make much sense.
Are You Still Here?
If you’ve read the whole post, thank you very much for taking the time! I hope you enjoyed the story and will consider adopting a dog instead of buying one.
I wanted to write more about Toby but this post turned out to be much longer than I anticipated.
Rescue dogs are really no different from other dogs and will love you just as much and sometimes even more because they know you helped them to get out of a bad situation and they do appreciate that.
At this very moment, millions of smart and lovable dogs just like Toby are waiting for their forever homes in shelters and rescues in the US and Canada. For many of them, the time will run out before they get another chance at life because many shelters euthanize healthy adoptable animals.
If you live in Canada and think that it doesn’t happen here, you are wrong! Not only do dogs get killed by shelters here all the time, but they are also often given to laboratories for animal testing.
Dogs in rescues may be safe but rescue groups have limited foster homes so when you adopt from them a spot becomes available for another dog from a shelter.
If you love dogs and want to be a part of the solution – adopt. Don’t shop.
Update (July 2021)
It is with a very heavy heart I am writing this update.
Three weeks ago, we suddenly lost Toby to hemangiosarcoma, an aggressive blood cancer. Toby just turned 13. We miss him every moment of every day…