News & Politics

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

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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