Adopting a Rescue Dog and Bringing It Home

Everything to know about starting life with your new best friend.

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Adopting a rescue dog can be challenging and rewarding.

Adopting a rescue dog can be tremendously rewarding. What could be better than giving a sweet pooch a loving home and getting a new best friend to boot? 

But bringing your rescue pup home isn’t just cuddles and fuzzy feelings; helping them acclimate to you and their new home can also be a major challenge.

Let’s dig into the process of adopting a rescue dog—from finding the right pup to navigating those first few days, weeks, and months at home with them.

Plus, we’ll talk about the benefits of hooking your new pup up with a pet insurance policy, like some of the plans offered by Lemonade.

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Where can I adopt a rescue dog?

Make sure to adopt from a reputable rescue or shelter.
“I believe I actually rescued you.”

Some reliable resources for finding rescue dogs near you include Petfinder and the ASPCA’s national database. Both of these sites can help connect you with pups from local shelters and rescues. 

Adopting a dog online can be a risky venture, so it’s best to stick to these official databases. Steer clear of fishy adoption listings on Craigslist and unaccredited “rescue” organizations. You should already be able to tell if a rescue is legit from its reputation, but here are some tips for spotting a fake.

Note too that rescues and shelters–although both excellent places to adopt from–are slightly different things. While shelters are usually government-funded organizations that protect and care for all of their pups under one roof, rescues are privately funded operations that tend to rely on individual fosters to house all of their adoptable dogs. 

Since shelters are often publicly funded or more cash-strapped, they usually have more available pooches and less stringent adoption requirements. Rescues, on the other hand, are a great option if you’re looking for a specific breed or a pup with more training. Because they’re typically better funded than shelters, they also tend to have stricter adoption requirements. 

Although rescuing a dog can be much more affordable than buying one from a breeder or pet store, it can still cost anywhere from $50 to $500, depending on where you live. The adoption fee covers the basic medical care your dog receives before coming home with you, plus a small processing fee.

What are the requirements for adopting a rescue dog?

In most states, you’ll need to meet three requirements to adopt a rescue dog:

  • Be 18+
  • Have a photo ID
  • Show proof of residence (through a utility bill, for example)

If you’re a renter, some states, like New York, might also require you to bring a copy of your rental agreement to prove that your landlord allows dogs. Some rescues may even ask you to prove that you have sufficient income to support a dog.

You might also be asked to provide personal references who can vouch for your readiness for pet parenthood.

Before taking the leap, make sure that you’re familiar with all of the responsibilities of dog parenthood, including how much it costs.

What kind of rescue dog should I adopt?

You should weigh several factors when deciding what kind of rescue to adopt.
Lemonade employee, Alex, and his girlfriend had every intention of adopting a small pup, but then they fell hard for the now 55-pound Sandy-Lu.

Choosing what kind of rescue dog to adopt is a big decision, and you should weigh several factors before making your choice. 

Ask yourself:

  • Are you a seasoned pet parent, or a first-time dog owner?
  • If you have any other dogs or cats, do you know how they react to newcomers, and what temperaments they might get along with better?
  • Will you be raising a house dog with a fenced in backyard, or an apartment pup?
  • How much time do you spend at home? Would that change if you get a new job in the future, for instance?
  • How much time and experience do you have to train and socialize your dog? 
  • Are you prepared to take on the responsibilities of puppyhood, like potty training and more frequent vet visits, or could adopting an adult dog be a better fit?

Rescues and shelters are usually pretty good at assessing pet-parent-to-pooch compatibility and take these questions into account as they help match you with the right dog. They’ll also be familiar with your dog’s behavioral history and be able to brief you on any issues that aren’t immediately apparent when you first meet them. 

You might think you’ve found love at first sight, but it’s generally still a good idea to shop around—even among other rescues—to make sure you find the perfect match! 

And, even if you bring home the sweetest and gentlest pup you’ve ever met, their integration and compatibility will still depend on continued socialization, training, and responsible pet ownership practices. 

Giving the gift of a new best friend

The spirit of giving can be contagious—especially during the holiday season—and you might be thinking about giving yourself, or someone else, a furry gift.  

We don’t recommend buying a dog on a whim, no matter how adorable they might look with a bow on under the Christmas tree. 

You should also think twice about giving a dog as a present. As kind of a gesture as it is, it’s best to introduce the dog to your kids (or to whomever the recipient is) before taking the plunge.

It’s common for shelters to report a spike in adoptions and surrenders around the holidays.

But, fortunately, there are so many other paw-some ways to support animal causes and shelter dogs during the holidays.

Before you bring home your rescue

Starting the journey with a new pet is unpredictable and even a little messy at times. Here are some simple steps you can follow before picking up your pup to help ease the transition:

  • Decide where in the house your dog will be spending the most time. They might be overwhelmed in those first few weeks and forget some of their housebreaking, so make sure to pick a room that will be comfortable for them, and easy to clean (like the kitchen).
  • Dog-proof your home, or at least the room where they will be staying in the early days. Stow away any dangerous decorations and potentially toxic food, plants, or chemicals. Make sure that all valuables are out of reach (especially things of the more chewable and scratchable variety).
  • Set up the crate if you’re planning to crate-train your rescue.
  • Establish a training plan with your whole household—consistency is key. Agree on a shared vocabulary of commands so that you’re not sending mixed messages. And, if you’re bringing home a puppy, try to create a schedule for them.
  • Stock up on dog food, treats, and toys. Here’s a list of everything you’ll need for your new dog. Ask the rescue what food they already eat, and consult with a vet if and how to transition them to different food.
  • Consider microchipping your pup if the rescue hasn’t already done so. It will come in handy if they ever run away or get lost. 

Tracking your rescue’s progress using the 3-3-3 rule

It generally takes about 3 months for your rescue to fully settle into your home.
It took about three months, but Lemonade employee, Emily, eventually developed a strong bond with adorable senior rescue, Emmett, who has a few quirks. (Hint: he doesn’t like cars or men!)

There isn’t a perfect timeline for integrating your rescue dog into their new environment, but the “3-3-3 rule” is a loose guide for tracking their progress in their first three days, three weeks, and three months at home with you. 

It stresses the importance of patience and consistency over and above immediate results. You have to allow for a long adjustment period before you can expect your rescue to be fully comfortable in your home.

Let’s break it down.

The first three days

Main goals:

  • Give your shelter dog space and set boundaries
  • Supply them with plenty of food and toys
  • Continue to take them out, but refrain from giving them too much attention or introducing them to other animals or family members

The first three weeks

Main goals:

  • Gradually introduce your dog to more of their immediate environment
  • Start taking them on longer walks in different areas
  • Introduce them to other family members
  • Start to make introductions to the rest of the fur fam (more on that below)
  • Establish a routine 
  • Reinforce positive behavior with plenty of treats and praise

The first three months

At the three month mark, you should finally start to feel like your pup is part of the family. 

Main goals:

  • Continue rewarding good behavior
  • Consider signing them up for obedience classes or working with a trainer if you’re noticing any behavioral issues

Bear in mind too that all dogs are different, and that your shelter dog’s progress may not follow this exact timeline. As the saying goes, every dog has its day!

Healthcare for rescue dogs

After you adopt a rescue, you'll want to set up a vet visit.

Your rescue dog will probably have already received some basic medical care before you adopt them. Most animal rescues examine, vaccinate, and spay or neuter all animals before putting them up for adoption; it’s also common for rescue dogs to come pre-microchipped. 

You should get documentation of your pup’s full medical history before bringing them home, which will be useful, especially if you decide to get them pet insurance.

Once you’ve picked up your pooch and settled in, you should schedule a vet visit

Note: If you adopt a puppy, you can expect several more visits to the vet, especially to stay on track with their vaccination schedule.

Does pet insurance cover rescue dogs?

Your love for your rescue dog might be priceless, but vet bills can add up fast. Pet insurance helps you focus on keeping your new furry friend happy and healthy, without stressing about the cost of an expensive trip to the vet. 

A base policy from Lemonade Pet can help cover the costs of diagnostics (like x-rays or blood tests) and treatments (like surgery or medication) for eligible accidents and illnesses. But you have the power to customize your dog’s policy with preventative care and add-on coverages to meet their needs, and your budget. 

For example, if your new rescue “Rufus” gets separation anxiety the first time they’re left at home unattended and ends up chowing down on a shoe, they might experience intestinal blockage. This condition can be life-threatening and might require emergency surgery that can range from about $2,000 to $10,000 or more. Pet insurance could really be a life saver.

Keep in mind that Lemonade pet policies have waiting periods, which begin on your policy’s start date, and your pooch won’t be covered for any pre-existing conditions. That’s why it’s important to buy dog insurance before your dog needs it. At Lemonade, you can cover your pup from the time they’re two months old.

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How to handle introductions with other pets

Make sure to follow the proper protocol when introducing your rescue to the rest of your fur fam.

If you’re introducing your shelter dog to a dog already living with you, don’t make the first introduction at home: choose a neutral location, like your local park, and take them on a walk together. Each dog should be leashed up and handled by a different person.

While walking, maintain a healthy distance between the two dogs, only allowing them to sniff each other if both parties seem comfortable. If the walk goes well, you can gradually transition their interactions indoors, but be sure to keep resources like foods and toys out of the mix at the beginning to avoid any conflicts or aggression. 

Rescuing a puppy? Check out our tips for introducing a new puppy to your adult dog.

Introducing your rescue to a cat? Keep both animals separated for a few days. This will allow them to gradually get used to each other’s scents while preventing any conflicts.

Once you do introduce them, make sure there’s still a barrier between them, like a baby gate, with the dog safely leashed up and the kitty able to easily exit. Continue these supervised interactions for at least a month or so until you’re sure both animals are safe around each other. 

Before we go…

Adopting a rescue dog can be as challenging as it is rewarding. Doing your research and prepwork beforehand can make a big difference in this long-term commitment. And don’t forget to be patient with both yourself and your new furry friend, especially during your first few months together. 

Choosing the right dog might take time, but you can sign up for Lemonade pet insurance in seconds. Click below to get your quote started.

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A few quick words, because we <3 our lawyers: This post is general in nature, and any statement in it doesn’t alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. You’re encouraged to discuss your specific circumstances with your own professional advisors. The purpose of this post is merely to provide you with info and insights you can use to make such discussions more productive! Naturally, all comments by, or references to, third parties represent their own views, and Lemonade assumes no responsibility for them. Coverage and discounts may not be available in all states.


Please note: Lemonade articles and other editorial content are meant for educational purposes only, and should not be relied upon instead of professional legal, insurance or financial advice. The content of these educational articles does not alter the terms, conditions, exclusions, or limitations of policies issued by Lemonade, which differ according to your state of residence. While we regularly review previously published content to ensure it is accurate and up-to-date, there may be instances in which legal conditions or policy details have changed since publication. Any hypothetical examples used in Lemonade editorial content are purely expositional. Hypothetical examples do not alter or bind Lemonade to any application of your insurance policy to the particular facts and circumstances of any actual claim.