German shepherds in a kennel

If you’re smitten with the idea of sharing your home with a purebred dog, chances are that there’s a breed rescue group or shelter in your vicinity with just the right pup in need of a family.

According to statistics compiled by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 25 percent of dogs who enter shelters are purebred.

To help these deserving dogs find loving homes, we’ve put together a helpful primer on locating — and adopting — your own purebred companion.

The Many Breeds Up for Adoption

From Dachshunds to Dandie Dinmont Terriers, practically every breed out there has a rescue group that works to find new homes for dogs who’ve been displaced because of unforeseen family circumstances — such as a divorce or an owner’s sudden death — as well as other crises, like the sudden shuttering of a puppy mill.

According to Sheila Balter of Cavalier Rescue USA, you can find dogs of various ages and temperaments through breed rescue groups. Most dogs available for adoption range from adolescents to seniors, which can be advantageous for prospective owners because they get a solid picture of a potential pet’s size, temperament and health status. Although it’s not impossible to find a puppy through a purebred rescue group, it’s rare — and the few puppies who are available tend to get adopted quickly.  (On Vetstreet dog breed and cat breed pages you can often find information about specific breed rescue groups under the "finding" tab.)

People often think that dogs found at shelters or through breed rescue groups are special-needs pets with health or behavior problems. The reality is that plenty of nice, healthy canines are available for adoption, including purebreds, crossbreeds, mixed breeds, young dogs, adult dogs and senior dogs.

“There’s really any pet you could imagine,” says Kim Saunders, vice president for shelter outreach and public relations at Petfinder. “The reason is because the pets on Petfinder are posted by our members — over 13,500 shelters and rescue groups. These groups encompass everyone: large, well-heeled humane societies; small-town animal control agencies; and foster-based rescue groups, which may focus on one species — dog or cat — or on a particular breed.”

How to Find an Adoptable Purebred Pup Online

Thousands of breed-specific rescue groups across North America post their adoptable pets on sites like Petfinder, where you can search by breed, age, sex, size and location. Petfinder's search results also include dogs in shelters, but the types of purebreds found at shelters vary across the country.

“Out in the Midwest, you see a lot more herding dogs, while in the Northeast, you may see more bully breeds," Saunders says. "In cities, you tend to see small dogs, like Chihuahuas in San Francisco and Philadelphia.”

The presence of certain breeds in the media also influences when certain breeds show up at shelters in larger numbers. Following the release of the movie 101 Dalmatians, lots of people got the dogs, decided that they weren’t a good fit for them and then gave them up to shelters.

In the market for a specific type of dog, either purebred or mixed breed?

You can do two things to improve your chances of finding your dream dog: First, set up a search on Petfinder, so that every time a pet of that type is added to the site, you’ll be notified. You should also contact shelters and breed rescue groups to let them know what you’re looking for, ask what you can do to meet any screening requirements and check back with them regularly.

“Letting them know about your specific desires will be helpful for you, so that the next time a pet that matches what you want does come in, they would have you top of mind,” Saunders says.

What You Need to Know About the Application Process

Whether you've fallen in love with a dog based on his Petfinder photo or you're in the process of getting prescreened by a rescue group, references, a personal interview and a home visit may be required.

The process may seem demanding — but it’s for a good reason.

“Rescue groups have taken responsibility for the dog being offered for adoption, so they have careful parameters to ensure the dog will not go into a situation that will cause the match to fail,” says Robin L. Adams, executive director and founder of the Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue in Reinholds, Pa. “Things like fenced yard requirements and no children under a certain age are for the protection of the dog and the family.”

How to Help Your Adopted Dog Feel at Home

Transitions take time. For the first few days, keep things low-key, so your dog learns that you’re consistent, kind and approachable. Although it may be tempting to show him off to friends and family, it’s best to develop and nurture the bond between you and your new friend first.

Some dogs may lapse on their house training, act out or even try to run away when you bring them home. Be patient, Balter advises, and don’t hesitate to ask the rescue group for advice.

Additional tips: Keep to a steady schedule, so your dog knows what to expect. And provide a crate, where he can retreat if he’s feeling overwhelmed.

One advantage of adopting an adult dog is that he has life experience to draw on, potentially helping him to settle in quickly. If you choose to adopt a dog who has come from less-than-ideal circumstances, take heart.

Although many people fear that such a pet is damaged goods, Adams says that dogs have a miraculous ability to respond to love: “I can’t even count the number of emails and letters I receive that tell us, ‘It’s like he’s been here forever.’ ”

Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning writer who's a huge fan of breed rescue groups. Her late Greyhound, Savanna, and her 11-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Twyla, both came from breed rescue groups and have been more special than words can say.