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Getting a Dog: Rescuing a Best Friend

Animal shelters are overcrowded with great dogs in need of homes—so how do you pick the right one?

Photograph courtesy of Mary Matalin.

Mary Matalin

Republican strategist and CNN political commentator

Dogs: Paws, a chocolate Lab; long-haired dachshunds Gorgeous and Cherry; corgis Lilly and Jack; Bieber (named after Justin Bieber), a Yorkie-poodle mix; and Skeeter, a mixed breed from a shelter.

You split your time between New Orleans and Washington, so what happens when you travel? “I’m blessed to have a loving and devoted dog helper and kindred spirit in New Orleans who lets the dogs sleep in her bed when I’m out of town.”

Adopting from a shelter can mean saving a life, but choosing one dog out of a crowded kennel—often without specific traits to rely on because there are so many mixed breeds—can seem overwhelming.

The Washington Humane Society’s Scott Giacoppo says adopters first need to evaluate what they’re looking for in a relationship with a dog: “If we have a dog that’s more of a couch potato, we aren’t going to put them with someone who’s training for a marathon.”

The dogs up for adoption at the Humane Society’s two DC shelters have all undergone behavior evaluations, so the staff has a good sense of each one’s personality and can point adopters in the right direction.

The Washington Animal Rescue League, in Northwest DC, also emphasizes self-evaluation. Each adopter is required to take a short survey, and the shelter’s Meet Your Match software determines which dogs are best suited to the adopter’s life and expectations.

When visiting a shelter, spend time interacting with the dogs and ask staff about potential behavior issues and for any information available about the animals’ histories. Natalie Kahla, adoptions manager at the Washington Animal Rescue League, says adopters should keep in mind that shelters are stressful environments and dogs may behave differently once they’re in a home.

Finding the right fit doesn’t apply only to the dog. Staff want to ensure that each animal is going to the best home. But Giacoppo insists there’s no need to worry.

“We don’t look for reasons to turn people away,” he says. “We just want to make sure it’s a good match and do what’s in the best interest of the animal.”

This article appears in the November 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.

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Things to Know About Getting a Dog

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