Nantucket Dog Walk

Walk. Walk your dog. Walk Nantucket.


Don’t Shop . . . Adopt

With the news of the Hyannis Debbie’s Pet Land store closing, the topic of adopting a dog is timely. People often want to do the right thing by adopting rather than buying a dog, but become frustrated by how hard it can be to find a dog nearby who would fit into their family. In New England especially, there can be a dearth of adoptable dogs. Because of the successful spay/neuter campaigns of the last decades, shelters tend to have plenty of adoptable pit bulls, but many people are ignorant of the breed and avoid them. When someone does find a dog to adopt, he or she is often excluded by strict adoption policies (for example, no fenced yard, a child under 5 years old, etc.).

So I understand that people have felt driven to buy a dog from a pet store or a breeder. However, with a little patience, a little knowledge, and your conscience egging you on, you CAN find a dog to adopt without contributing to the massive overpopulation of dogs that causes about a million of them to be euthanized every year.

First, do NOT support the puppy mills that stock such pet stores as Debbie’s Pet Land. If you want to find out why, go here and here. Be warned: it’s not pretty. As far as breeders are concerned, until we have found homes for all the dogs that currently exist, I am against breeding dogs, purebred or otherwise. As we used to darkly joke, if people want to witness the miracle of birth, they should first have to witness the miracle of euthanasia.

That leaves shelters, private adoptions, and breed rescue groups. For general information about what to do before you adopt, go here and here. For those looking to adopt a dog on Nantucket, read on:

Adopting from a “Shelter”

A quick scan of The Walkers page will show you that “shelter dogs” come in all colors, sizes, ages, breeds/mixes, and personalities. The reasons people leave their dogs at shelters are as varied as the dogs themselves. In Nantucket the number one reason for relinquishing a pet is the infamous “nantucket shuffle”: renters can’t always find pet-friendly housing. Other reasons include divorce, death of the owner, allergies, not enough time, and behavior problems. So as you can see, most of the dogs in shelters end up there through no fault of their own, and with a little polishing up (vaccines, sterilization, basic commands, etc.) they are ready to be re-homed within a week or so of arrival.

In Massachusetts, there are many shelters to choose from. Nantucket Safe Harbor for Animals often has adoptable dogs. Like any shelter, there are hoops through which you must jump. These are put in place to ensure the best possible home for the dog and the best possible dog for you. Usually, the hoops include an application and proof that you own your home or have your landlord’s permission to live with a dog. 

There are other shelters in our area. However, just as you may have to go off island to find your favorite underwear, you may have to do some traveling to find the dog of your dreams. The MSPCA has adoption centers in Centerville, Boston and Methuen. Here is a list of the other shelters in Massachusetts. is an on-line adoption service representing over 13,000 rescue groups. It allows you to enter your location, dog breed, and size preferences, and then gives you a list of adoptable dogs that fit your criteria. Again, travel may be necessary to meet/adopt these dogs.

Breed Rescue Groups

If you are looking to adopt a particular breed of dog, why not adopt one that already is here on earth with us? This way you are not contributing to the overpopulation of dogs by supporting a breeder who is going to make more dogs, which thereby bumps shelter dogs to the front of the euthanasia line. Just about any breed has a breed rescue group. Google [breed] Rescue NE and see what comes up. For example, I Googled “Great Dane Rescue New England” and came up with

Private Adoptions

Craigslist,, the I&M, Nantucket Reuse/Exchange all have listings for dogs needing new homes. Obviously, you want to be careful about adopting from strangers. In most cases, you will be adopting directly from the dog’s owners, so they should have pretty good information on the dog. On the other hand, they may be so desperate to find the dog a new home, their description of the dog could be slanted. Be sure to spend a lot of time with the dog, get all necessary medical information, and a return policy of some kind in writing.

The Underground Doggie Railroad: Many rescue groups—both formal and informal—work via a network of foster homes and use word-of-mouth to promote their adoptable animals. This can be a great way to adopt a dog on Nantucket. Aged from puppies to seniors, these dogs are often the best breed: Mutts. Be sure that you ask for all the dog’s medical records and get all the contact information and adoption policies in writing. You want to be sure you can return the dog if something goes wrong. In fact, the sign of a great rescue is that they INSIST you return the dog to them if there is a problem. Someone who can help you find a dog locally is Lori Smith:

The Cost of Adopting

Yes, it costs money to adopt a dog. No, it should not be “free” to save a dog’s life. Depending on the shelter, here is just some of what goes into that “free” dog:

    spay/neuter surgery

    veterinary exam

    fecal exam and worm medicine

    rabies, bordatella, and distemper vaccines

    heartworm test and preventative medicine

    flea control

    microchip or tattoo


Even with a high adoption fee (I’ve seen adoption fees from $150 to $600), no one is making a profit on your “rescue dog.” The cost of caring for, feeding, and transporting these dogs is immense. No one goes into dog rescue for the money. No one.


Valerie, Matt, Brewski and Louis adopt Tucker!

Rhoadie and Sawyer, with their adoptive mom, Lisa.

If you are ready to bring a dog into your life, please consider doing your part to save a life by adopting. But don’t adopt a dog for that reason alone. Adopt a dog because she made you laugh. Adopt a dog because he marches like a soldier or reminds you of Harpo Marx. Adopt a dog because she stole your heart and then gave it back to you one thousand-fold.

“My little dogs ... heartbeats at my feet.”
― Edith Wharton - One of the first founders of the ASPCA

After You Adopt,

Pet Proof Your Home!

I had a young reader request that I add this link, which offers tips on how to prepare your home for your new best friend. Thanks, Addison!