10 min read

People Keep Asking If I’ll Rescue Another Dog

They’re making the most misguided assumption.

My 6-year-old rescue dog, Vector, has endured a litany of health issues since joining my family in 2013. 

The list is expansive, and expensive: Stitches to his ear and the painkillers, ointments and inevitable self-inflicted re-wounding that came with them. Heartworm treatment — a series of painful injections of an arsenical compound whose side effects can be fatal. Ongoing treatment for ehrlichia, a tick-borne type of canine Lyme disease that attacks white blood cells and poses risks ranging from neurological ailments to kidney disease.

Lately it's the ehrlichia that’s been vexing Vector, flaring up into a bout of severe, acute autoimmune-driven arthritis. Recently, Vector was in agony and barely able to walk for several days.

Vector is currently undergoing remission treatment: an aggressive round of steroids. He's mostly better, but tires easily and has some obvious muscle atrophy. He's back in reasonably good health and rambunctiously good spirits. For now.

From the post-storm calm, my wife and I can start to see Vector's horizon. The bout he just fought through was brutally painful, took a visible toll, and led to side-effect-laden prescriptions. Vector's health — and his quality of life — are tenuous, and his time with us will almost certainly be significantly shortened by his conditions. Already deep, our affection for Vector has a newfound urgency.

When discussing Vector's struggles with friends and family, my wife and I sense implicit second-guessing, the sort of tepid verbal tip-toeing loved ones perform when wading into controversial waters. One elephant-in-the-room question looms:

"Will you rescue another dog after Vector?" 

It's a reasonable inquiry — one I've admittedly asked myself. Searching for answers, the research surprised me.

Why? Because the question’s tacit assumption — that rescue dogs are more likely to suffer serious health issues — is a total myth.

rescue dog
Vector in his favorite spot | Christopher Dale

Assuming the worst

Like many rescues, Vector had it rough before joining our family. He survived for about three years as a stray in Puerto Rico, an island so notorious for dog abandonment that it has a place called Dead Dog Beach. Vector lost his tail, a chunk of his ear, a toe. The saints at The Sato Project pulled him from that hot, humid hellhole, transforming Vector’s story from a one-act tragedy to a multi-chapter saga of struggle and redemption.

Some of Vector’s ailments may stem from his hardscrabble history, which was extreme, but his health challenges are far from typical for a rescue dog. 

“In my experience, rescues and store-bought dogs are basically the same in terms of typical health,” Dr. Keith Samson, of Brookside Veterinary Clinic in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and Vector’s vet, said. “If anything, store-boughts tend to be a little more sickly when I first see them.”

Here are the facts.

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Vector going for a walk | Christopher Dale

Purebreds are prone to specific health problems

Many people are aware that some breeds of dogs have associated health risks. For example, it's widely known that pugs, bulldogs and other short-nosed breeds tend to have breathing issues — partial pathway obstructions collectively called brachycephalic airway syndrome.

However, breed-specific maladies are broader than most people realize, and often involve extremely serious illnesses. Cancer, joint problems, heart disorders and epilepsy are all seen frequently in purebreds, and inbreeding can lead to weakened immune systems and behavioral problems.

Ongoing demand for high-priced pedigrees also supports puppy mills, where dogs are just collateral to be converted ASAP into cash. A recent exposé of one Manhattan pet store revealed barbaric conditions, including instances of dogs kept in isolation rooms and left untreated for serious conditions such as pneumonia, bloody diarrhea and conjunctivitis so severe that one dog’s eyes were swollen shut.

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Vector begging for food at a barbecue | Christopher Dale

Rescues are LESS likely to need urgent medical care

Don't take that from me — take it from a source that, pun intended, has a dog in the fight: a pet insurance company. Analyses of customer claims submitted to Petplan Pet Insurance found that animals adopted from shelters or rescue organizations are actually 5 percent less likely to require an unexpected veterinary trip compared to store-bought pets.  

Additionally, rescue pets are more likely to come spayed or neutered as part of the adoption fee. Many rescues, including Vector, also come with microchip IDs — which may have proved vital had he not returned after running away the very first time we walked him.

Finally, shelters and rescue organizations are more likely to stress the "care" part of "healthcare." Staff at places like the Sato Project aren't doing this for the money; rather, they are deeply committed to giving every animal they rescue a new lease on life. As such, rescued animals typically receive necessary vaccinations and proper diets while awaiting forever homes.

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Vector with his baby brother, Nicholas | Christopher Dale

Adopters are "paying it forward" for the next rescue

Rescuing frees up shelter space and resources for the next rescue to receive the same passionate, painstaking care that yours did. Adoption also means one less animal a breeder will replace by bringing another dog into an already overcrowded world.

Of course, it's more than a numbers game. It’s hard to describe the satisfaction in seeing a once-hopeless being start to believe again.

That brings me back to Vector.

Upon joining my family, Vector’s post-traumatic stray disorder was severe. His first days were spent curled up, trembling and hand-fed, his eyes alternating between frightened, darting glances and a stupefied shell-shocked stare.

Gradually, as Vector began to believe he had finally found a forever family to protect and love him, his eyes started to sparkle. His metamorphosis into a frolicking, licking, nub-wagging companion is among the most remarkable, gratifying experiences of our lives. There's a spiritual side to health, and the carefree joy in Vector’s eyes — a luster that had either faded or, more likely, never before shone — is a vivid example. 

Even with his health issues — as we've learned, the exception rather than the rule — Vector has given us so much more than we’ve given him, and made us repeat rescuers for life.