What you need to know about adopting a dog from overseas

Written by Napo HQ
14th Apr 2022
8 mins read
Adopting a pet from overseas can be a great thing to do, but owners should be well aware in advance of what’s involved, such as costs (usually up to £800), adoption processes including home checks, and the responsibility to help the pet adjust once it is in its new home.
When you adopt from overseas, you may be offering a forever home to an injured or neglected dog or a former street dog. It seems a great way to find a loving pet. But what’s the real shaggy dog story? What are the pros and cons of adopting from abroad, and how can you adopt a dog ethically and safely?
Our comprehensive guide explores everything you need to know about adopting a dog from overseas.

Why do some people choose to adopt from abroad?

One of the main reasons people adopt from abroad is the offer a dog a forever home.
Due to a lack of sterilisation, there are around 600 million dogs worldwide, and about 200 million of those are strays, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). 
Compared to UK stray and rescue centres, welfare conditions abroad are sometimes poor, so many organisations focus on enabling people to adopt from overseas. International Dog Rescue for example, is a not-for-profit organisation that re-homes dogs from Romania. The organisation was founded by Gill Williams, who owns Oakwood rescue centre in Hull.
“Gill went to Romania and saw the public, state-owned kill shelters where the dogs only have a certain number of days to live before the government puts them on this kill list and then decides that the shelter is full and then puts them to sleep,” said Kate Mariner, dog rescue adoption coordinator for International Dog Rescue.
Kate, studying to be a veterinary surgeon, added: “She [Gill] saw that dogs were dying from disease, fights, lack of food, and poor conditions and wanted to help. Our goal for every dog that we home is that it will become their forever home.” 
Similarly, Olivia Staves from the Wild at Heart Foundation says it’s about giving dogs with few options the chance of a good home. 
“The broad charity ethos is to play our small part. We do that by raising awareness, educational programs, sterilisation projects, and adoption,” said Olivia, Head of Adoption Operations. “Adoption is the cherry on top of the cake. Our adoption page is the most visited page on our website,” she said. “We work with dogs with no chance of a happy ending,” she added.
“These dogs from abroad have no chance of living at home, of being loved,” agrees Kate.

How to find a dog to adopt from abroad

For individuals, many fall in love with a dog they see online. That’s what happened to Olivia from the Wild at Heart Foundation, who adopted her dog via the charity before working there. “I’d started following the Foundation because a good friend adopted the previous year,” she said. “There was a picture of the two dogs remaining from a litter, and the others had already come to the UK. Nobody was interested in Reggie and Ray. I showed the picture to my partner, and I said, ‘Do you want to have this dog’ because I've fallen in love with him. We had met our friends’ dog from Romania through the Foundation the year before.”
After careful consideration, Olivia applied to adopt Reggie, who is now seven years old.  
Similarly, dog groomer, Donna, found dogs to adopt from abroad through the not-for-profit organisation Paws and Whiskers Sussex (P.A.W.S). When the dog Donna describes as her ‘soul dog’ died, she saw one that looked similar on P.A.W.S’ website. Donna’s partner persuaded her not to adopt it because it was too soon. 
Instead, Donna agreed to foster a dog who was “tubby and blind in one eye”. 
She said: “I thought, I’m not going to fall in love with that one, but maybe I can help. Within seven weeks, I fell head over heels with a one-eye, tubby, fat older dog.”

The pros and cons of adopting from abroad

Rescues from overseas can be very different dogs from those rehomed from UK Rescue centres or getting a new puppy from a breeder. Some overseas dogs may have lived in a shelter or rural area with little exposure to urban stimuli. “We've got to keep the best interest of every dog at the fore and make sure it is the best match based on the information from interested parties and our partners,” said Olivia.
However, there are many benefits to adopting from abroad. As Donna says of her adopted dog Frankie, “She came from Romania, and people might say they're vicious dogs. But she came out of her separate room from day three or four and came up to my hand.”
“Everyone who meets Frankie falls in love with her,” Donna added. 
She says Frankie also learned toilet training quickly and, later, some tricks. 
Kate agrees that seeing dogs progress is rewarding. “Within a few days to a few weeks, you see dogs realise that they're safe. And you see them progress from just this timid little animal to being loved and playing with toys or sleeping on the bed and understanding that human touch isn't such a scary thing.”
Still, adopting from abroad isn’t for everyone, says dog behaviourist Dr Kendal Shepherd. “Getting a dog from abroad may work out fine,” she said. “But many of these dogs were taken from the streets, and they have no concept of being ‘owned’ by a person or of how to live inside a house.”
Donna did experience some early challenges with Frankie. “At two weeks, there was a storm outside. And she was so scared. She wanted to be out in the storm. But we got over that [and] at six weeks she was going for walks outside,” said Donna. 
Some dogs, like Donna’s, may have health issues.
As a potential adopter, you should be able to read more about dogs available for adoption on the organisations’ website. Sites will include the dog’s vital statistics, including its size, weight, height, gender, and may also contain background information on the ‘dog’s tale’, including where it was found and the type of temperament.

How does adopting a dog from overseas work?

Are you still thinking of adopting from abroad? If so, it’s essential to understand that not everyone who applies to adopt from overseas will gain instant approval. Understandably, organisations that are rehoming dogs from overseas have stringent policies and procedures in place – if they don’t, it should raise alarm bells about the organisation. 
Typically, you’ll need to submit a written application before being considered suitable to adopt a dog from abroad. Most will then arrange to call you, followed by a home check. 
“One of the most critical things an applicant can have is a secure garden because the rescue dogs have never walked on a lead before and never lived in a house. They are used to being in the streets freely. So, if a garden has any escape routes, the dogs will take that. We do an online video home check, which takes an hour,” said Kate from International Dog Rescue.
Once approved, there are a few routes to go down. You can opt to foster a dog from overseas, which helps to socialise it before it goes into its forever home, although some organisations will house dogs in UK Rescue Centres before rehoming them. 
International Dogs Rescue offers a foster to adopt option. “Dogs are fostered for three to four weeks, and then if everything's okay, and they [the dog] get along with the family, then people can pay the remaining adoption fee and then sign the adoption contracts,” said Kate.
For puppies, the choice is straight to adoption, once approved.

How do I ensure I adopt a dog ethically and safely?

Adopting a dog shouldn’t be too easy, and if it is, you should hear alarm bells. 
“If they don't want the best for their dog, I would be worried that they don't want the best for you. That it's a money thing,” said Donna. 
Reputable organisations will ensure that dogs have had all their vaccinations and are sterilised before bringing them to the UK. Many run a variety of health checks, too. International Dog Rescue, for example, runs tests for heartworm, and tick-borne disease, including anaplasmosis and Ehrlichia. Dogs are also treated for fleas and microchipped.
The adopter is given a pet passport with all these dates, said Kate.
Good rescue organisations provide good after-care support for you and your dog and check before adopting. This might include webinars, a handbook and the opportunity to connect with others who have adopted from abroad. 
“We have an extensive 25-page adoption guide that we send out. Pre-adoption, we also have a series of webinars with our aftercare advisor,” said Olivia.

How much does it cost to adopt a dog from abroad?

The cost of adopting varies depending on the charity. Still, most will expect you to cover the costs of relocating the dog to the UK, which can be between £400 and £800 and varies depending on where the dog is coming from. If the dog is being re-homed from within the UK after fostering or an unsuccessful adoption, it may cost less. 
You should also go to training classes and, potentially, also consider a dog behaviourist for dogs that have anxiety issues or are nervous or aggressive. 

Giving a dog a forever home

Not every adoption has a happy ending, as Olivia explained. “Sadly, sometimes it doesn't always work out. It can be family circumstances, or during the pandemic when sadly people's lives have been turned upside down, it hasn't been viable to keep their dog.”
In those circumstances, sometimes the dogs stay in their adoptive home until a suitable onward placement is found can foster or adopt.
However, many more dog stories end happily. Of the 50 dogs that International Dog Rescue has rehomed, none have been rehomed. Since launching in 2015, the Wild at Heart Foundation has homed 2,008 dogs, and some people come back for a second dog.
“It’s great to hear a heartwarming story about how or how a dog is settled or overcame adversity. I love when our adopters come back to us and want to adopt a second dog. We had a lovely, fabulous Bulgarian dog, and their adopters have gone on to adopt a second dog from Greece. It's, they're the most heartwarming things when people put the trust in us to adopt a second dog. That's one of my favourite successful moments.”
If you’ve just begun your search, we hope it leads you to the right dog soon.

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