Zen and the Art of Dog

The Art of Adopting a Dog

So you’ve decided you are ready for a dog! And you’ve chosen to adopt!


We are big proponents of adopt don’t shop. We adopted 3 dogs in 2 different states from 3 different shelters over the course of 4 years. Adopting a dog can be a daunting process.

Depending on where you live, there can be page upon page of dogs to be found on websites like AdoptAPet.com or PetFinder.com.What should you be looking for? Puppy, older dog, senior? Dogs are surrendered at all phases of life but from our general experience as volunteers, most dogs are abandoned during their terrible teens (1-2 years old) when their cute puppy behavior turns destructive. Do you want a high energy dog to go running with? Or a dog that will sit on the couch with you and watch Netflix all night? How much training do they need? How much walking and stimulation will they need? A low energy senior dog and a high energy teenage dog have very different needs.

With all these things in mind, here is how we adopted each one of our dogs and which process we preferred. I would like to believe that we got older and wiser with each dog adoption.

Our First Dog

Denver the husky mix was our first dog. We saw his photo on a Chicago shelter website and fell in love with his beautiful husky mask and his big, goofy smile. I had a husky when I was a young child and had fond memories of living with one. Denver was 18 months old, the perfect age in our mind–not a puppy but with a long life ahead of him. The next day, we went to the shelter to meet Denver. We saw him through the window as we rounded the corner and in that instant, we were completely smitten.

In hindsight, Denver was totally bonkers when we had our first meeting. He jumped all over me and my wife, got himself tangled in the leash, and dragged us all over the shelter’s small outdoor space.

We were blinded by his beauty and his huge, wild smile. We decided to adopt him after spending 10 minutes with him. We filled out a basic application, they interviewed us, and gave us some vague tips. Within the hour, we walked out the door with our first dog.He turned out to be an absolute maniac and within the first few days, we wondered if we had made a huge mistake. We even briefly contemplated returning him to the shelter but this was his third chance. He had been transported from a shelter in Tennessee and we worried that we were signing his death sentence.

After hiring a trainer, Denver improved by leaps and bounds.

Our Second Dog

Benji the big mutt was our second dog. We were living in Denver, Colorado with Denver the husky and he was pretty settled and relatively trained. We started getting the second dog itch. We thought we would scratch that itch by volunteering at a local no kill shelter. Week after week, we walked and played with dogs. There was an older dog named Baby that was around 7 years old that my wife absolutely fell in love with. Baby was the softest, sweetest dog and because of her age, she was there for months and months. We were still on the fence about adopting a second dog when finally, someone adopted Baby. We were a little devastated that we hadn’t been the ones to take her home. It was then we decided we were ready for dog #2. We considered a few of the other long term residents of the shelter who had not been adopted for various reasons–breed, age, aggression, etc. We even brought Denver in to meet with a black and white mutt that had been labelled potentially dog aggressive. It went okay for the first few minutes and then Oreo snapped at Denver and the shelter could not in good conscience adopt her out to us. 

One day, I went to volunteer and there was a new dog named Nelson. He was the weirdest looking dog I had ever seen with a big head, really long body, and thick stumpy legs. We brought Denver to meet Nelson a few days later. They immediately took to each other, sniffing and chasing each other in the shelter’s outdoor courtyard. We filled out the application and waited for them to check our referrals, contact our vet, and get approval from our leasing company. A couple days later, we were approved.Going from one to two dogs was a huge adjustment (read our article here if you’re considering getting a second dog). Our experience with the Denver shelter was vastly different from the Chicago shelter.  It was a much more rigorous process but we were caught on our back foot after adopting Benji.

Our Third Dog

Chloe the pitbull came into our life unexpectedly. We had moved back to Chicago with our two large dogs and started volunteering at our local animal shelter. Chloe had been left chained outside during a brutally cold February day when she was confiscated by the Chicago Police Department. Her owner was charged with animal cruelty and she was held at the city pound as evidence while the owner awaited trial.

She spent a year at the pound before the owner was sentenced. After the trial ended, she was eligible for adoption or she would be put down to make space at the already crowded shelter. The city pound is overrun with pitbulls and they are usually the ones that get put down. She escaped that fate when our local shelter pulled her from the pound. Because of her previous experience with abuse, the shelter had a long list of requirements before she could be adopted out – experienced adopter, no other dogs, no kids, etc. She had been living at the shelter for over a year when we met her. She was 4 years old and had been living in a non-home environment for more than half her life.

Over the next few months of volunteering, Chloe quickly became one of our favorites. We were flabbergasted why no one had taken home this sweet girl yet. She was exuberant to get out of her kennel but once outside, she was relaxed. The shelter had labelled her as unsocialized, so we took her to a group training class that was led by the trainer that we used for Denver and Benji. We expected her to be very reactive and while she did have a few instances of dogs getting too close for her liking, Chloe mostly wanted to lay in the shade. During one memorable class, she laid down in the middle of a circle of dogs and their humans and refused to walk.

We saw how much happier and content Chloe was outside of her kennel. The shelter where we volunteered did not typically foster animals unless they had health issues. Since we had grown so attached to Chloe and had been taking her to training, the shelter agreed to let us foster her. The first day we brought Chloe home (and pretty much every day since), she slept like she had never had a good night’s rest. Chloe officially joined our family 2 months later when we formally adopted her.

This was by far our favorite way to adopt a dog. We spent a lot of time getting to know Chloe through volunteering and fostering allowed us to see how Chloe would behave outside of the shelter environment. There were still adjustments introducing a new dog to the pack but we had a better idea of what to expect. 

So in summary, please adopt don’t shop. If you can’t adopt, foster. If you can’t foster, volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, donate. If you can’t donate, educate. 

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