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How to Pick the Right Pooch from a Shelter

National Pet Week starts Sunday, and not a moment too soon.

An estimated 4 million shelter animals are euthanized each year because of a lack of space and resources.

So what better time to think about rescuing a dog?

Your family could add a cherished member.

But you have to be careful to try to assure you pick a pooch right for you and yours. Your new canine friend can come with some issues that require patience and special training.

On "The Early Show on Saturday Morning," resident veterinarian Dr. Debbye Turner Bell, who's also a CBS News correspondent, shared tips to help when you're adopting from a shelter or rescue organization.

She also brought along dogs from the North Shore Animal League, in Port Washington, on Long Island, N.Y. All are available for adoption.

With nearly 10 million dogs and cats in shelters around the country, according to The Humane Society of the United States, a rescue dog may be the way to go.

Some advantages of adopting a shelter dog

You're providing a much needed home for a homeless animal.

Some 25-30 percent of shelter animals are purebreds. So if you have your heart set on a purebred, shelters have them!

Good shelters will have already assessed the personality and temperament of the animal and will be able to correctly match the pet with the right family.

Shelters get new animals every day, so if you don't see something that you like, visit again at another time.

While many of the animals that end of up in shelters have had a difficult past (abuse, neglect, abandonment), it is still very possible to get a pet that is kind, gentle, fun, and loving. Most reputable shelters use trainers or behaviorist to evaluate the dogs that come into the shelter. Then, lots of time and resources are put into rehabilitating the dogs that need help. A good shelter WILL NOT adopt out a dangerous or defective animal. The last thing that they want is for that animal to end up back in the shelter or abandoned. So they work very hard to make sure adoption last for the life of the pet.


First, understand your lifestyle and expectations. You should choose a dog whose own natural traits best fit your lifestyle. If you lead a busy, active lifestyle, then you want a dog that fits your household. If you want a lap dog, then don't choose a Border Collie!

CCarefully look at the breeds or dogs that match your lifestyle. Spend time with each animal. Observe how the dog relates to you. Look for a "connection" with that dog. Often, the dog will "pick you" if you take the time to notice.

Avoid animals that look sick (i.e. runny nose or eyes, scaly skin, dull coat, open sores, lethargic, coughing or sneezing, etc.)

Pick a dog that is curious and alert, but not fearful or jumpy. When approached, the dog should accept your advances, sniff you, or even present her belly or rump to be scratched.

If you have other pets at home, observe how the shelter candidate interacts with other animals. Avoid those that display aggression toward or extreme fear of other animals. A very general rule of thumb when bringing home a dog with dogs already in the home, is to choose a dog that is younger and opposite sex of the dog you already have.

Before you make your final choice, take the ENTIRE family to the shelter to meet the dog. Sometimes, a dog will respond differently to different people. You don't want to find out that your new pet doesn't like 5 year old AFTER you get him home!


Get a complete history of the animal that you are considering.

Age (although, sometimes there is no way for the shelter to know for sure.), breed, gender

Where the dog came from

What his previous living situation was

His medical history

How he's behaved since being at the shelter

Does the dog have any ongoing medical issues (cancer, diabetes, intestinal parasites, heartworms, etc.), and is the dog is on any medication

What follow up services the shelter provides, such as obedience training, consultation for behavioral problems, medical services

Ask about their return policy. It's important to know if you can return the dog if the adoption does not work out.


Most shelters will conduct an interview with you to determine your lifestyle, resources, and dedication to providing a "forever home" for the animal. You usually will have to fill out a fairly exhaustive application that will ask questions about your employment, living situation, family members, income, other pets in the home, etc.

Many shelters ask for references and check them!

Some shelters will even conduct a home evaluation to make sure your living environment is suitable for a pet.

Animals will already have been spayed or neutered. Or you will have to provide assurance that you will spay or neuter your new pet as soon as they reach the appropriate age.

The animal will also already be vaccinated and de-wormed.

There is usually an adoption fee, but it is much less than the cost or purchasing an animal at a pet shop or breeder. Expect to pay anywhere from $50-150 or more.

Shelters have visiting hours, so call ahead to know when is the right time to show up.

After you've taken your newest, furriest family member home, often the shelter will call you to see how you and the new pet are doing.

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