Adopting a Stray - What to Expect

Those cute and adorable pictures that we often post on Facebook of our rescued dogs up for adoption – have you ever wondered what the “Before” pictures look like? A total far cry from the carefree Doggie in the Window appearance!

A tiny lonesome puppy looking for food on the streets

A rescued stray, fur matted so badly over the years, it became an "extra tail". Today, she is known Goldilocks.

Most of our newly rescued dogs come to us with matted fur caked with years of neglect, dirt-encrusted nails, starving, injured and scared out of their wits. A total difference from the confident and gorgeous dogs with beautiful, advertisement-ready fur that we proudly parade during our adoption drives. Welcome to HOPE Dog Rescue, where rescued dogs get a second shot a life, with a complimentary makeover thrown in. :)

Such friendly stray doggies!

In reality, it takes us ages and a lot of effort from the volunteers and fosters to prepare the doggies for the day they are adoption-ready. That’s the main reason why most of our dogs are fostered while waiting for their forever homes. Different dogs take on different behaviors and temperaments when it comes to a new environment; a fostered environment give them the space and time for them to adapt at their own pace, which has long-term benefits to the dogs as well as the potential adopters. Undesirable behaviors are corrected at the onset and good habits are formed and encouraged, leading to a well-adjusted furry pal and a happy adopter.

Many of them are terrified of their collars or leash. They leopard crawl and have uncontrollable poo (This is Horlicks)

Many are terrified of humans as they have never had human contact (This is Roxy, a pleasant, confident young lady now. Still awaiting for her forever home.)

For the first few months when the dogs are rescued, a huge headache (and major worry) for us is when they constantly try to escape. Newly rescued dogs are high flight risk, not because they do not like us, but simply because they do not understand that we are trying to help them. They are not used to urban living with confined spaces. To them it’s a sudden loss of freedom, as they are used to living on the streets with unlimited room for them to move about freely. They just want to go back to what they are familiar with, the factories, the construction sites and the dingy streets they grew up in.  

Whoever said all strays are aggressive?

Most of the dogs we rescued don’t even know how to drink water because they lived on the streets with no water source; they drink from drains when it rains; and the lorry oil that drips from the heavy vehicles at the construction sites. Most are often found with toxic poisoning too because they drink from dirty puddles on the road that might contain harmful toxins. Even months after rescue, these dogs will invariably still lick water from the floor or drains during their walks, for such is their lives before we rescued them. Many of them do not know how to eat from bowls as well; the fosters have to put food on the floor first, then slowly onto a plate, and then onto a doggy bowl eventually.

Watch a short clip on some sweet strays.

Many of the first-time adopters, when they welcome their dogs to their homes for the first day, usually expect that the dogs will know basics such as drinking and eating from water and food bowls, which usually comes naturally to puppies brought up in a home. However the sad truth is that these rescued dogs have grown up in forested areas with little or no human contact. Their only natural instinct is to survive with whatever scraps they can scavenge from the ground to fill their tummies, and to run away from humans. Their fear of humans is made worse when heartless dog-catchers invade their terrain and they see their friends being caught mercilessly and howling pitifully while being taken away. Some also experience cruelty from members of the public who shout and throw stones at them, with no qualms about injuring them. In some of the more severe cases that we rescued, the volunteers are advised not to move suddenly or abruptly near these dogs as they are already displaying apparent signs of anxiety and are extremely skittish around humans. We let them cower under the chairs or tables where they feel safe and slowly let them get used to us (which takes weeks or even months!) before attempting to pat or engage them.

Such friendly strays are often the first to be caught by the authorities. Culled for being trusting. 

Even a simple act like putting on a leash for them so that we are able to take them out for walks, is a major challenge for some dogs, and us. It is very heart-breaking to see them shivering and screaming in fear while we attempt to let them get used to their leash. Some are even so fearful that they cannot control their bowels and defecate everywhere while we are trying to walk them with their leash. But tough love we agreed, it has to be done, so that when they are rehomed, they are able to lead a normal and fulfilling life with their adopters.

It is definitely not easy for our volunteers and fosterers to rehabilitate every stray that comes to us, from rescuing them from the forested areas to cajoling them to take the first sip from a water bowl, and eventually even allowing us to shower them easily (ok we admit, some we bribe with doggy treats). Tears, sweat and even blood are shed often. But all of us agreed it is worth it, as each and every step they take towards being adoptable is a sweet victory for us, because it is our ultimate shared goal that drives us to do the utmost best for them. To take them off the cruel streets, to give them a chance to experience love and an adoring family in this lifetime.

The most heart-breaking cases for us are when a rescued dog departs even before being adopted, even before being loved and even patted. Some passed on from their injuries; some waited too long and was never given a second glance by potential adopters. However we take comfort that the least we could do for them is a dignified send-off and a bunch of caring volunteers who showed them kindness in their last days.

So do consider adoption, because seeing a rescued dog learning to live, love and trust is a rewarding and fulfilling thing that touches and changes our lives deeply.  

Written by : Jamie Faith