Everything you need to know about taking a new family member from a shelter
Written and photos by Georgi Hristov, edited by Lindsay Martin.
Before starting with the how’s and why’s, I will share some background information on myself, my wife, and our dog.
We love our dog. He has become an irreplaceable part of our lives and we take him almost everywhere we go. He watches TV on the couch with us, sleeps next to our bed, and enjoys the love we give him.
It hasn’t always been a fairytale, though. My wife and I were together for 4 years before we decided to get a rescue dog. The decision for a pet was easy, but at the time, we knew little about how to care for a rescue dog. Please take note of the word “rescue,” as these dogs are different from the ones you get from breeders or pet stores. I’m sure you have noticed that lots of dogs are living on the streets of Sofia. These dogs have been through a lot; abuse, loneliness, stress, disease, and lack of food and water. Some have even come close to death. These dogs are not used to being on a leash or eating their food from a bowl. They are not accustomed to being hugged, pet, or played with. Now think about bringing such a mistreated animal into your home. Making them feel comfortable in your home will take time and patience. It’s essential that you adapt to their habits, not the other way around.
So, how did we go about adopting our dog?
Naturally, we thought we wanted a puppy to adopt and train ourselves. At the event, we found 10 energetic puppies playing everywhere. They were jumping, scratching, and biting. They didn’t care about anything apart from playing together. We were a bit overwhelmed, so we asked if they had older dogs for adoption.
Luckily, they hosted another event the following weekend at Park Zaimov, where they brought a variety of teenage dogs.
As they unloaded the dogs from the vans, the last dog grabbed my attention with his pitch-black fur, pointy ears, and shepherd features.
I immediately said to my wife, “this is our dog!”
The shelter volunteers recognized us from the previous event and were happily surprised we are back to adopt a dog. At the time, our apartment was not ready, so the shelter agreed to hold the dog until our apartment was finished. The day we met Blue (our new dog), we spent five hours with him. We played and bonded, and it was great! We agreed to visit Blue each Sunday for the next month until the apartment was done.
Each Sunday we went to the shelter, Municipal Shelter Dog Ecoravnovesie to visit and walk him for hours.
One lucky Sunday, our apartment was finally done, and we brought him home.
Below, I will share what I didn’t know before adopting Blue. This is not meant to scare you, only to make you aware of things to consider.
These are true for my dog, but not all dogs are the same. Do not adopt a dog if you have the slightest concerns. Discuss your concerns with the shelter staff. Returning a dog to the shelter is truly devastating for dogs.
- Blue was hesitant to eat from his bowl. It took him time to understand that this food is his own. He didn’t know that no one would steal it or fight for it. When eating, he was ready to flee the scene at the smallest sound. He was not food aggressive, but scared to eat. Watching this was heartbreaking. Luckily he got past it within a month.
- Blue is still afraid to climb stairs. The sight of stairs terrifies him, probably due to trauma from his past. I sometimes have to carry him up or down because he starts shaking.
- Blue loves his privacy. I never touch or bother Blue when he’s lying in bed. I learned this the hard way. In the beginning, he bit me several times until I understood that he prefers to be alone sometimes. Again, I blame this on past trauma. Other males probably abused him since he never does this with my wife or my mother.
- Blue loves his toys. When given a toy, he protects it and stashes it under his bed. He rarely destroys a toy. We think this is because he is not used to having things and protects them at all costs. I again learned this the hard way.
- Blue NEVER pees or poops inside. When we adopted Blue, the shelter volunteers told us was that rescue dogs rarely destroy your home or pee and poop inside, because they know, they have a home now. They don’t want to lose it. This is so true! Blue has never done it for the three years we’ve had him.
- Blue still doesn’t know how to play with other dogs. If you watch my dog closely, you will see that his fur spikes when dogs approach. Other dog owners often get afraid if they don’t understand dogs.
- Speaking of other dog owners. Other people will know your dog is a stray. Bulgarians use the ugly word “пoмияр,” which is also used as an insult. Not all of them will let your dog play with theirs. Keep this in mind and don’t get offended if someone calls their dog away. In these situations, I remind myself that I have given Blue a better life.
- It took time for Blue to learn how to walk on a leash. He would drag, pull, and try to unhook it constantly. Just give a command, treat for obedience, and remember that they are not used to being on a leash.
After two years, and lots of learning, we live very happily together. We no longer have bite incidents. Blue is obedient and generally a happy dog.
We now live in France and Blue has 2,200 kilometers of road trip memories.
After reading about our experience are you still sure you want a rescue dog? Are you 100% sure you are ready to commit? Are you 100% sure you will not return the dog, even if you leave Bulgaria?
Here are some Facebook groups and websites to get you started.
Adopting from the Municipality Shelter is free of charge. I was only asked for my name and EGN so the dog could be registered in my name.
I am by no means a dog expert. But, my advice is, don’t adopt on the first day. Go each week and spend time with the dog you like. Bring him treats, walk him, and play with him. Spend time together until he’s comfortable with you and you are sure this is your new best friend.
At home, do not overwhelm the dog with attention. Do not start giving orders right away. Let your new pet settle in. Allow him to come to you when he’s ready. Give him space and don’t expect him to be lovely all the time. These dogs have had hard lives before arriving in your home, and they need time to adapt.