I grew up with a series of delightful and unique rescue dogs, all of them with their own interesting backgrounds and particular quirks. When I finished college, started a career, and felt ready to finally adopt a dog of my own, I knew I’d be going the rescue route too. It had always been a part of my life, and the idea of saving a dog from a hard life to give them a great future filled up my heart. 

I currently have two rescues, and although I adopted both of them from nearly identical shelters, the adoption experiences could not have been more different between the two. The reason: I adopted one last year, during the pandemic.

Pre-Pandemic Shelter Adoption

I adopted my first shelter baby, Luna, about two and a half years ago now, from the humane society in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Essentially this type of shelter is what used to be called a “pound” and still is in some places, the building with rows of kennels, each with a dog waiting to be adopted. 

The northern states tend to receive dogs from the South, where there are higher stray populations and more kill shelters. Luna had arrived from Mississippi, recently having had puppies who were presumably also rescued, though I never saw them. I know nothing else about her background, besides what can be guessed from the fact that she was very underweight, had old scars, and had never had her nails cut or her allergies or other health needs treated. Her first couple of years clearly weren’t the best.

The adoption experience for Luna was what you might expect. Once I decided I wanted to adopt, I watched the shelter website for dogs that fit what I was looking for. I had almost no criteria, aside from wanting an adult dog that wouldn’t be above my apartment’s weight limit. There were plenty on the site that fit that description, and I went into the shelter to meet them.

The experience was rather relaxed. I brought a friend, and we were able to walk through the kennel rooms, feed the dogs treats through their cages, and see whether they were barking, and so on. Each cage had a fact sheet with a little information, but nothing detailed.

Then we could tell the staff the names of dogs we wanted to meet more closely, and they were brought one at a time to a smaller room to play with us, meet us, and get one-on-one attention, while staff read through more comprehensive info on their behavior history, medical issues, and so on. We met a couple dogs, and I was immediately attached to Luna, this spunky little nut.

We went home and I had time to think it over, though of course I was just obsessing over this dog. I went back the next day to put a hold on her, then had time to return with supplies and payment. We went home the next day, and her new life began.

COVID Shelter Adoption

This past September, my partner and I, now living in Oregon, wanted to adopt a second dog. We had a place with a yard, more space, money, and time. Plus I felt Luna needed companionship. The experience could not have gone more differently.

The start was the same–looking at the shelter’s website and available dogs. But again, those pages generally list almost no information about the dog’s history, behavior, or medical issues. This time we were a little more particular in looking for a dog of a similar size and age to Luna, but with a much more relaxed personality (she’s a spitfire!).

I looked around for a while and submitted some applications at rescues, but the dogs always got scooped up too quickly. Pandemic dog adoptions have been through the roof. So, intent on my mission, I began checking the local shelter’s website more often. Finally, I saw a new dog listed who was the same age and size as Luna, and so adorable. With no other information, we put in an application.

I got a call a couple days later saying I was the first applicant on the list and we could schedule an in-person meeting. We had to bring our current dog, of course, to see if they got along. This time, there was no going into the shelter to meet dogs at our leisure. In fact, we never stepped through the doors. We met in a small fenced-in area outside, where some staff brought the dog out and walked him around on a leash, while our dog, also leashed, sniffed him, and we determined that he had no opposition to her.

And then, 10 minutes later, they took him back inside and asked us to make a decision! We didn’t even pet him, interact with him without our dog, or see him for more than a few minutes before it was decision time. And for whatever reason, seeing how calm he was around our dog, we decided just to go for it.

They asked if we had a leash on hand, and, panicked, we asked if we could come back later in the day when our other dog wasn’t in the car as well, a super chaotic way to bring a new pet home. They agreed with some hesitance, and we came back two hours later with supplies.

We completed all the paperwork and payments outside the shelter on a clipboard, in a vaguely rushed fashion. And all of the sudden we had another dog, Atlas. But not only was he thrilled to have a family to leave with, I can honestly say I’ve never had a better or more affectionate dog in my life. We took a total gamble on his personality, and it paid off. But truly it could have gone either way.

Adopting a shelter dog these days certainly requires a little more patience and a lot more risk-taking, but the outcome of saving a life and having a wonderful companion is the same, pandemic or not.

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About Annie Burdick

Annie Burdick is a writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon, but transplanted from the Midwest. She also works as a community inclusion specialist for adults with disabilities. Previously she's edited and written for magazines, websites, books, and small businesses, on an absurdly wide range of topics. She spends the rest of her time reading, eating good food, and finding new adventures in the Pacific Northwest.

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