Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Why adopt a stray?

Originally written on October 29th, 2011

There are several reasons why a stray dog can make a most wonderful pet. These are purely my observations though, without being based on scientific evidence I am aware of:
  • Stray dogs in Romania come in all sizes, ages, energy levels, colours, temperaments. Chances are one of these stray animals may be absolutely perfect for you.
  • Many stray dogs can be very easy to housetrain. A dog naturally avoids doing its business in the area where it eats or sleeps. Furthermore, strays tend to prefer doing their business in the grass outdoors. The stray puppies and adults we have fostered were sort of "naturally" housetrained- they would start crying and scratching at the door in order to be let outside to relieve themselves. I did not teach them this, I did not housetrain them myself, this is what even puppies were doing naturally! This is very different from what dogs from caged environments- such as puppy mills- do. Usually, such dogs take the longest to housetrain, because their natural tendency to avoid relieving themselves where they eat and sleep was counteracted by the possibilities of their limited environment.
  • It is my impression that stray dogs tend to have fairly robust immune systems. Life on the streets is tough, plus no medical care usually, plus no preventive medication. It's really a survival of the fittest, meaning that the existing strays have strong immune systems if they survive and even get to reproduce in such conditions.
  • I also do believe that many stray dogs are particularly smart, crossing the streets with humans, learning to use the sound of the traffic lights for crossing the streets, knowing where to go for food, etc. Again, a sort of survival of the fittest that has selected for smart dogs, capable of living in urban environments and learning super fast, adjusting well to new environments.
  • Stray dogs LOVE food and are rarely picky. Furthermore, they're always willing to work for food, which is likely to make their training much easier. Brains plus love for food is a really good combination for when training a dog!
  • Many stray dogs are absolutely superb with people and other dogs. Chances are that as puppies, they were properly socialized with their siblings and other dogs from their pack. Furthermore, the lucky ones have hopefully been well socialized by well intended humans caring for them and bringing them food.  
That being said, there are some things to watch out for when choosing a stray:
  • Some may have had really traumatizing experiences with people, or may not have been lucky enough to be properly socialized with people in their puppyhood. Such dogs may need a lot of time and patience and even expert behaviorist advice.
  • Stray dogs are likely to be fairly independent in the first few days from adoption. It's not uncommon for a newly adopted stray dog to try to escape during the first 2-3 days in its new home. Hence, care must be taken to ensure the dog cannot escape during its first couple of days in its new home, before it gets to form strong attachments to its caregivers and feel at home.
  • Even some of the smartest and best cared for strays still get into trouble, enduring injuries and broken bones during their tough life as strays. Hence, it's not unlikely the dog may have suffered a fracture in the past, his entire medical history being unknown until going through a thorough vet examination.
  • You may not know anything about its family history. So the cute, adorable puppy you like so much may grow to be quite a big doggie! Something else to be aware of.
I have tried to describe the benefits and drawbacks of adopting a stray dog from my own perspective, in a manner as objective as I could. Adopting a stray dog must be an informed decision, well considered, as I really do believe that "a dog is for life, not just for Christmas" (Dogs Trust logo, a quote I highly believe in). Personally, as owner of a stray dog, I know I made the right choice.

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