Less Adoptable? Maybe. Definitely Not Less Lovable.

For Petfinder’s Adopt a Less Adoptable Pet Week, I’ve done a lot of thinking on what it means to be “less adoptable.” Petfinder itself surveyed shelter and rescue workers who came up with a list of the most common reasons animals are passed over. The results are not exactly surprising. The one thing I did notice is that no one mentioned colour or breed as a central factor in preventing adoption.


As you may or may not know, I cam very close this summer to taking home a dog that fit this description. Dawson was a high-energy boy who lived in a shelter environment for over a year. From all appearances, he should have found a home fairly quickly. He was young, healthy, and almost too friendly. If there can be such a thing. Unfortunately, he had picked up some bad habits after being cooped up for so long. And the longer he waited for his forever family, the more obvious these negative behaviours became.

In my opinion, they were all things that could easily be trained. I knew that once he got out of the shelter and into a home environment, he would show off his true fun nature. It was convincing adopters of this that was the problem. A local trainer dedicated many volunteer hours into helping Dawson overcome some of his shelter-borne afflictions. I know I showed this video before but I still am in awe of how quickly he picked up on his training. Shiva would do well to learn a few things from him.

Fortunately, as of two weeks ago, Dawson is now in his new home. Hopefully he stays there. I was lucky enough to see him the day before he left the shelter for good and he was just as spirited as always. It amazed me that even though my heart broke for him as the weeks went by, he never lost his big goofy grin. Behavioural issues aside, does such a happy boy turn away so many people? How was he not adopted months ago?

It baffles me. Maybe it shouldn’t.

Before we adopted Shiva, I’d actually been looking at an older border collie mix named Daisy. She was a good size and had a super-sweet temperament. The day we went to the shelter to fill out an application we found out Daisy had already been taken by someone else. I was horribly disappointed. We returned home with our heads low.

A few weeks later I happened to see Shiva’s picture on Petfinder and we decided to go in the next day to meet her. Upon arrival at the shelter we found out Daisy had been returned.

“Separation anxiety,” said the woman at the front desk.

“Oh,” I said. “Then she wouldn’t be good for us either. We live in a duplex and have elderly neighbours.”

Less than thirty minutes later I signed an agreement to adopt Shiva. A dog who not only suffered from a myriad of fear and frustration-based issues, but who also had a definite case of separation anxiety. The same thing that caused me to turn away from the first dog I wanted. Of course, I had no idea until we brought her home. When it was too late.

I am not saying everyone should rush out to adopt a highly reactive dog or a cat who likes to attack everything that moves, just to see if they can handle the problem. But I am saying that all pets come with baggage, some more and some less than others. Even puppies have personalities and problems of their own. If you are the kind of person willing to take in a pet from a shelter or rescue, there is a pretty good chance that pet will have some behaviours that didn’t show up during her stay in the shelter or foster care. With all the resources available, unless the pet is a danger to others, there is no reason the Dawsons of this world need to hang out in a kennel for so long.

Dog training is intimidating. I get that. But everyone who lives with a dog usually ends up working on some level of canine life skills. There is no such thing as a perfect dog. If you have the energy, why not take a chance on an animal who has waited a little longer than others to find that special family? Why not take in that dog or cat who has been returned to the shelter several times? With the right tools, you may surprise yourself.

Adopting Shiva changed my life. I am not the same person I was over three years ago. I hope Daisy’s eventual family is as grateful as we are.

17 thoughts on “Less Adoptable? Maybe. Definitely Not Less Lovable.

  1. Great post and words today! 🙂 I think finding a perfect dog would be like seeing a unicorn. Your best bet is to look for a dog who’s perfect for you. If you are a person who enjoys going out into the outdoors a lot or who wants to do agility or flyball, a high energy dog is made for you. And if you want a dog to curl up on the couch with you, there are dogs perfect for that, too. The trade off is always worth the pay off in my book! 🙂


  2. Both of our dogs, Zoey (Lab/Mastiff Mix) and Emmett (*brown chicken brown cow* mix), were a part of the “unadoptable” group. Zoey was “too big,” 27 inches at the withers and 89lbs when we brought her home.
    Emmett, is about 5 years old, “too old” to find a home for. The lady at the shelter was so thrilled someone would drive to Cambridge, Ohio to see him, she kept the shelter open late and all but threw him into my arms!
    We intentionally go for the “unadoptables,” maybe we’re weird… we like puppies well enough, and we like to leave them with their people. Little dogs are cute and fun to dress up, but there’s something to be said for sharing your couch with a 115lb Lab/Mastiff Mix on a cold winter’s night!


  3. Great post Kristine! I agree with Carrie. Finding a perfect dog IS like trying to find a unicorn. It appears perfect people are hard to find too. I am always amazed at the wonderfully dogs people pass up just to get a puppy they can mold themselves. Guess what folks? That is work too. There is no easy out.

    Of course you could adopt a dog already trained. That’s how I got Indy.
    People always fall in love with Daisy and say how nice she is, but no one imagines the patience and love and work and patience (yes I purposely said that twice) it took to get her to this point.

    I guess the point I am making is that we are all work – humans and dogs. To think you can somehow avoid it is denial. And it ain’t in Egypt.
    Okay. Stepping down off soapbox now.


  4. I tell dogs that all the time – it doesn’t matter who picks them, because all peoples come with some sort of baggage or other too. They just have to find a way to work with the peoples they get.

    Congrats to Dawson to finally settling down and picking peoples of his own!


  5. I’ve adopted two animals that were ‘hard to place.’

    The first one was a cat. We wanted to get a second cat to keep our first cat company. A coworker had a friend that was trying to rehome two cats and a dog at the time. She tried to get me interested in Toby. “He’s really friendly and a great cat,” she said. “I have one of those,” I replied. “What’s the other one like.” “Oh, you don’t want him, he’s antisocial.” Guess which one came home to us. And who was stressed and reactive because of the jack russell and baby in his original home, and turned out to be a total cuddlebum? Luther, the black cat, lives on in memory.

    The second one was my rat terrier/chi mix. We actually have a good bit of his history. He had bounced on and off the PetFinder site for 8 months. He was 18 months old when we adopted him. During that time of on and off he had failed out of three possible homes. His original owner bought him from a pet store, I suspect as a ‘pocket pet.’ Little puppies are SO CUTE. He was never socialized and grew to be a 12 pound dog. Not so pockety. Again, we were just looking for a companion animal to our first dog, a chi. Bailey was fearful of men, barked uncontrollably at EVERYTHING, and hated being crated. The crate issue we solved almost overnight, changing out the plastic carry version to a wire crate next to our other dog’s wire crate (they also get fed in the crate.) End of crate issues (although he will never be a dog that loves his crate). He was never really scared of my hubby Mark and accepted him without fuss. The barking was an outside issue that we ‘solved’ the first four years by limiting the time he was outdoors. He may have never progressed beyond that and still been a great dog for us. We kept working on things tho, and he’s now an agility dog that can walk on a loose lead and do obedience work in public. This has been a 6 year journey. We took things in our time and didn’t worry about how long it took. For him, this was the way, and I don’t regret any of it. He’s loyal, devoted to me, tries his damnedest to achieve whatever I set him to do, even as he works through his fears to do so. Wouldn’t change a thing. Love my dog.


  6. I will like every dog to had a good forever home!

    She did getted dogs from a shelter and She taked dogs with behaviour problems and She did loved they, but now She cannot cuz He sayed so He and She getted me!! And Aswell too!!


  7. Great post! As the proud human to a pack of the less adoptables – due to blindness (3), deafness (1), under-socialized, anxious (I swear he’s gonna get an ulcer!) and untrained, I am always thrilled to read about others who also take the time to see the potential. It’s also important to know your own capabilities and to not be afraid/embarrassed to ask for assistance. They will always have issues, some more apparent than others, but, as has been said before and I readily agree and will admit – I have issues too! None of us are perfect but we are all worth it!


  8. There’s no guarantee with a puppy, either. We’ve had Silas since he was five weeks old, and he’s still a mess. He just didn’t come genetically equipped with many of those “canine life skills.”


  9. I’m so happy for Dawson! I hope his new family helps him work through is issues, because he sounds like a terrific dog. Neither of my dogs would be considered adoptable, and that’s okay with me. We’ve taught each other a lot and my life wouldn’t be the same without them.


  10. When we adopted Shadow my husband had one requirement. After all the drama with Agatha and Christie, he wanted a calm dog.

    I had two requirements. Our dog had to walk well on leash and should not react strongly to other dogs. Shadow pulled us out of the shelter when we took her for a walk and all over the fields. But she paid no attention to the other dogs. So I figured we were getting 2 out of 3 things.

    Of course as soon as she left the shelter, Shadow reacted to every dog in sight. Eventually we got both the pulling and the reactivity under control. And she was very calm in the house and trustworthy there from the very first day.

    I argue that the most successful romantic relationships are those where the person you’re with tolerates your worst traits better than someone else would. It’s not about liking the good stuff. It’s about tolerating the bad.

    Maybe it’s the same with adoptable pets?


  11. Absolutely wonderful post… you make excellent points. Nobody (human or dog) is perfect. If we waited for the perfect animal (or the perfect partner), we’d never be able to have any relationships. I agree with Pamela – sometimes it’s more about tolerating and being willing to work with the things you don’t necessarily like so much. Working on those things can lead to a much stronger bond as well.


  12. Today I had an experience with a rescue group and “less adoptable” dogs. I’m on vacation in another state and near where I was staying I saw a sign for an animal shelter. So I looked them up- 16 out of 46 dogs were coonhounds!! (well, I am in coonhound land here). When I saw they were going to be a craft fair I was attending today I got a little excited. But the only thing they had brought were fluffy puppies and little fluffy dogs! Grrr! I mean, not even a hound puppy!! Hounds already have a “less adoptable” stigma in the south and not bringing them out where the public can meet them and see how great they are doesn’t help! It just ticked me off.


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