white pug
An estimated 25 percent of dogs in shelters are purebreds, which means that you don’t have to agonize over wanting a purebred dog and wanting to adopt. If you’re looking for a particular breed, though, you may have a tougher time finding the dog of your dreams in a shelter. But don’t rule out adopting. There’s something else you can try: a breed-specific rescue. 

Breed rescues can vary as much as the breeds themselves. Some are associated with AKC breed clubs, while some are independent groups; some take mixes of their chosen breed and some don’t. But there are a few things you can expect if you take this route to getting the purebred dog you want. 

An Honest Look at Idealized Breeds

One advantage of a breed rescue is that you’ll be getting a dog from owners experienced with the breed who can educate you about the pluses and minuses of the breed and help you figure out if the "dog of your dreams" is a good fit for you. 

"We clear up a lot of misconceptions," says Chrissy Muse, applications chair for Mid-Atlantic Pug Rescue (MAPR). "A lot of people think Pugs don’t shed — they shed all year, constantly. They’re masterful shedders. Some people want a more independent breed, so this isn’t the right dog for them. We can make sure this breed is best for their family and lifestyle."

Volunteers for these rescues are passionate about what they do; in Muse’s case, fostering Pugs was at the forefront of her mind even when shopping for a home. "We bought this house specifically because it accommodated fostering dogs really well," she says. 

But despite — or perhaps because — of their devotion, a good breed rescue will be up front about the breed’s disadvantages, because that’s important to determining whether a dog is right for you. Nanci Hanover, who is the California, Arizona and Nevada rescue coordinator for the Flat-Coated Retriever Society of America, offers an example of this type of honesty: "Our dogs eat poop. They’re Peter Pans their entire lives. They’re counter cruisers. A Flat-Coat is not for everybody," she says.

"Every breed has its own quirks," Hanover adds. "We know what these quirks are, and we want this to be the right match."

How Purebreds Wind Up Available for Adoption 

We tend to think of shelter dogs as lovable mutts, but that’s not always the case: Even purebreds can find themselves searching for forever homes. So how does a dog end up in the care of a rescue group? The answer may differ depending on the breed. Pugs are relatively common — MAPR has 50 to 100 dogs in foster homes at any one time and adopts out almost 400 per year.

In fact, many of their dogs come from shelters. "A lot of the shelters give us dogs who have medical issues — some don’t have the resources for the sheer number of dogs they take in," Muse says. But they are also given healthy dogs, to help with shelters’ space limitations. "It clears a spot for [the shelter] so that they can take another dog," she says.

But that’s not the case for every breed. "Flat-Coated Retrievers are such a rare breed it’s like finding a needle in a haystack," Hanover says. Bred by a small number of breeders within a very tight-knit community, puppies will likely have been purchased by someone who signed a contract with a return clause. "If, 10 years down the road, they can’t keep the dog, [the breeder will] take it back," Hanover says.

This makes it very rare for a Flat-Coat rescue to get a dog from a shelter. Instead, breeders might contact their local rescue when they have a show dog that didn’t turn out quite as expected. "Sometimes we get dogs that breeders keep, thinking they’re going to be show dogs or add to their gene pool, and for whatever reason the dog doesn’t turn out," Hanover says. "Maybe his bite is off; maybe he’s too small. So I get calls: ‘I have an older dog, do you have somebody on your list who might consider an older dog?’ "

This means that Flat-Coats adopted through a breed rescue will almost always have registration papers. MAPR, on the other hand, gets owner-surrenders and Pugs from breeders who are downsizing or looking for homes for older dogs; those dogs may come with papers, but most don’t.

black pug

Mixed Breeds and Special Needs

Rescues differ on whether they take mixes. Some do not, but others make exceptions; MAPR takes them when they can. "Some of our fosters are interested only in fostering purebred Pugs," Muse says, "so we may not have room for a mix, but we like to help when we can." They will also take a mix or even another breed if it comes in as a bonded pair with a purebred Pug.   

Though MAPR has many young healthy dogs who were surrendered for reasons that have little to do with the dogs, they also take dogs with special needs. "We’ve never declined a dog for medical issues," Muse says. "We definitely don’t decline for age — I have a 15-year-old foster at my house right now."

The rescue treats the dog’s problems and works to find the right home. And when medical issues are serious enough to prohibit adoption, the dog is placed with a foster as a hospice case.

Adoption fees — which vary by organization and sometimes by dog — support the work of the rescue, including medical fees.

A Detailed Screening Process

There’s a stereotype that adopting from a breed rescue is particularly difficult. Because every group is independent, processes differ, but the first thing to remember is that you’re dealing with volunteers who have jobs and families — and lives outside the rescue — and who may not answer your emails as quickly as you’d like. "People get frustrated because it’s completely volunteer-based, and it can take time," Muse says.

The process may also be unexpectedly involved. "I was quite surprised at the application itself," says Bryony Terrell, who adopted a dog named Stellina from MAPR in March. "It was lengthy, and I was surprised about some of the things they asked." MAPR sees the application as part of the process of informing potential adopters about the breed. Terrell says she "was really impressed with how educational it was."

The process of adopting through a breed-specific rescue may also involve more than simply filling out a form. "I was surprised at how many steps there are," says Rob Drew, who adopted Bossman, a Pug, and Arya, a Pug-Chihuahua mix, in April. Drew submitted an application, but he says that was only the beginning. "The second step was a telephone interview, then someone came and did a home inspection. The final step was to really discuss what the right dog was for my partner and me." 

Terrell had a similar experience, "The phone interview was quick and easy," she says. "They apologized a little for telling us stuff when we were already Pug owners, but I enjoyed hearing about it, to learn a little more about the organization and confirm we were doing all the right things in handling our Pug." 

In the same way, the home visit, which people often dread, is also meant more as an educational opportunity and a chance to see which individual dogs might suit your home — for example, whether stairs would rule out a dog with specials needs. 

"We are thorough with the screening process because we want this family to be the final family," Muse says. In addition, a high level of detail means you’re more likely to get a good fit with individual dogs as well as with the breed. That’s precisely the experience Drew and his partner had. "After the home inspection they called and asked me to consider one particular dog, Bossman, who had been raised by a single man for 10 years and didn’t really respond well to women. So coming to a house with two men was the perfect fit for that dog." 

Adoption Isn’t Necessarily the End 

A rescue will help you find the perfect dog for you, but that may not be the end of your relationship with the organization. You should expect to sign a contract with the group as part of the adoption — and don’t be surprised if it contains a clause requiring you to return the dog to the rescue if you can no longer give him a home, just as if you had gone to a responsible breeder. The contract may also include another clause that gives the rescue the right to reclaim the dog; this is meant to cover rare situations of abuse and neglect.

Drew considered the MAPR contract at some length before he adopted Bossman — particularly the part about how the rescue could come and take the dog away if it wasn’t being properly cared for. "I was a little nervous about that, but I’m OK with it," he says. "Dogs don’t go into rescue because they had a cushy life, so I’m glad that they don’t adopt out these dogs and forget about them. They’re advocates for them, and I appreciate that." 

Adopting through a breed-specific rescue can be a complex process, but in return you may get more than just a dog who’s a good fit — a good rescue organization will continue to serve as a resource after you take your dog home. You may also find you have an ongoing relationship in other ways, too. "I’ve become Facebook friends with the woman who did the home inspection," Drew says. "She has a monthly Pug get-together." 

Hanover adds, "Getting a Flat-Coat is joining a family. We want to hear from you."

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