Bowie didn't complain at all on the seven hour ride home. Wiley (in the back seat of the Land Rover)? Not so much.
Bowie didn't complain at all on the seven hour ride home. Wiley (in the back seat of the Land Rover)? Not so much.
Indefinitely Wild

How to Adopt the Dog of Your Dreams, for Free

If you exchange money for a dog, you’re doing it wrong


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Meet Bowie, like the knife. He’s an eight-week-old German shepherd-Siberian husky mix that my girlfriend and I just brought home yesterday. Like his older brother, Wiley, Bowie is a rescue. And also like his older brother, you won’t find a better dog anywhere, even if he comes with a pedigree. The only price it is ever appropriate to pay for a dog is $0.

We first saw Bowie on Instagram. The same friend who gave me Wiley posted a picture of an adorable little pup who needed a home. Virginia’s been wanting a dog to call her own as long as she can remember, and we’d been half-joking about the prospect of adopting a puppy together at some undetermined time in the future. The timing was far from right for either of us, but I sent her that picture, noted that their eyes were a match, and asked if she wanted him. I was expecting the practical answer—“We can’t do this right now,”—but she called my bluff.

Bowie’s back story is that his mom was going to be used to breed pomskies. Part husky and part pomeranian, those adorable little balls of fluff are designed to capture the look of the bigger dog, in a smaller, more manageable package that’s more appropriate for less committed owners who live in apartments, or other situations where providing huge amount of exercise either isn’t possible or desired. Getting the semen from a tiny male to impregnate a larger female is apparently a huge challenge, and one that doesn’t yet produce reliable results. So the breeders were delighted when Bowie’s mom got pregnant. It wasn’t until the puppies started growing that they realized the other half wasn’t a toy dog…

One night before the pregnancy became apparent, the mom had chewed through her kennel door, and spent an hour or two roaming free. The neighbors have unaltered German shepherd males, so putting two and two together, that’s the best theory for what happened. And, without a certain father, or papers for him, the resulting litter wasn’t marketable.

The breeders are dog lovers, so they resolved to place all of the pups in good homes. We had that mutual friend who connected us and vouched for me. They’re located in northern California, and we’re in Los Angeles, so with a trip to Europe looming, we set up a video call, and “met” Bowie for the first time. He appeared to be very focussed on people, and even at six weeks old, was already learning to come and sit. That, plus the recommendation from the same woman who gave me Wiley and those eyes were enough. We agreed to meet the pomsky breeders halfway and pick up our new dog.

That’s not the kind of tear-filled story you might associate with most dog rescues. Bowie wasn’t abandoned, wasn’t abused, and we didn’t save his life. Had we not been fortunate enough to dibs him, I’m sure he would have found just as good a home elsewhere.

But I’m not writing this story to guilt you into rescuing a dog, I’m writing it to show you how easy it can be and illustrate that you can still find exactly the dog you want, without having to purchase one.

Wiley is still pretty skeptical about this puppy business. I figure it'll take a week or two for him to come around, then the two will be best friends.
Wiley is still pretty skeptical about this puppy business. I figure it'll take a week or two for him to come around, then the two will be best friends. (Wes Siler)

Why shouldn’t you just make it easy on yourself and go shopping for a dog? Ethics and the health of your pet. Over three million dogs enter American pounds each year. Of those, about 670,000 are euthanized. Purchasing a dog does nothing to reduce those numbers.

And breeding dogs for profit is also notorious for producing unhealthy animals. That’s why German Shepherds have problems with hip dysplasia and huskies go blind. In contrast, mutts like ours benefit from natural selection, and are less likely to have genetic health problems as a result.

(I’ve written about all the benefits adopting a mutt can bring. You can find a more detailed discussion of ethics, health, and dog behavior there.)

Let’s get back to that financial argument. Owning, raising, and caring for a dog obviously comes with costs. Wiley eats about $100 a month in kibble, chicken livers, coconut oil, and occasionally brown rice and chicken breasts. Found in a storm drain, he didn’t have any shots or other medical care when I adopted him, so I had to pay for vaccines, deworming, and after a year, to have his balls cut off.

Bowie came to us with his first round of shots, and deworming already taken care of. So, we reimbursed his birth parents for those costs, and the gas it took them to meet us halfway. Most shelters require an adoption fee that covers similar stuff, and runs a couple hundred dollars. They’re costs you’ll have to cover at some point, and often doing so up front nets you a discount, since shelters typically get those services at cheaper rates than individuals.

With a shelter, you’re not paying for the dog, you’re paying for those necessities—shots, food, vet visits, de-worming—and likely at a heavily discounted rate. The dog, itself, remains free.

Regardless, the money it costs to bring a “free” dog home pales in comparison to that of a pedigree breed purchased from a breeder. One of those pomskies, for instance, runs up to $4,500.

Bowie, at brunch in Palo Alto. He slept through it.
Bowie, at brunch in Palo Alto. He slept through it. (Wes Siler)

So, how do you find the right free dog for you? You can visit your local pound, of course. Doing so will be a case of saving an animal’s life, particularly if you live in an area with a high kill rate for shelter animals, like Los Angeles. There’s also a huge number of rescue organizations, and no kill shelters, that do the saving for you, then work to place their animals in the best possible homes. These range from well funded shelters and large rescue organizations like Best Friends Animal Society, to private individuals who help out the occasional dog on the side, finding homes for them by word of mouth or social media. The latter is your best option for finding a puppy in-need. If you’re in the market, just network with your area’s dog community.

But what if you have something specific in mind, like, say, a Tibetan mastiff? Then there are rescue organizations that specifically service pretty much any breed. Those are also a great source of information about a breed’s specific personality, foibles, and care requirements. They can help determine if a specific dog is really right for you.

Adopting also gives you the option of bringing home an adult dog. That can be a great option if the thought of training a puppy sounds overwhelming, or if you like getting a full night’s sleep. That’s definitely not something that’s currently happening in our house.

For us, we’re less concerned with our dogs’ breeds, and more worried about finding ones that are intelligent, caring, and who can keep up on our outdoor adventures. A shepherd-husky mix should have no problem doing that, but neither does the akita, pit bull, jindo, shepherd, or god knows what’s in Wiley. We prioritize the individual over the breed, and have been happy with the funky-looking results.

Right now, Bowie’s asleep on my feet. I’m jealous. Friday, we flew home from Paris, dropped off our bags, crashed for a couple of hours, then hopped on another flight to San Francisco. There, we picked up Wiley and my truck from the friend who was caring for both, then met Bowie for the first time and drove back to LA the next day.

We haven’t quite had him 48 hours yet, but he already feels like a member of the family. So far he’s sat quietly through brunch, didn’t complain or have a single accident on a seven-hour drive, and has fallen up and down, and on and off, every set of stairs, and every item of furniture he’s encountered. He’s not quite making it through the nights without needing to go out yet, but he has started waking us up before going to the bathroom. This weekend, we’re going to take him on his first camping trip. I’m so tired I can’t see straight. Maybe it’s the exhaustion, but Bowie feels like pretty good value for money. Wouldn’t you agree?