A couple of years ago, my fiance and I decided we were ready to have children; so we followed the Nevada SPCA on Facebook and started the hunt for a cute adoptable pup. Rescuing a dog was always on my to-do list, and it seemed like the perfect time. The process was smooth as butter: we couldn’t agree on a single dog, ever. Not once. I wanted to find the oldest, ugliest dog, the one no one wanted, and bring it home. He wanted a puppy who still had both eyes and no chronic diseases. Understandable.

One day, he spotted a little black ball of fur. “That’s him,” he said. “That’s the one. Let’s go get him.” He was cute, alright; but I didn’t feel the spark. Regardless, we drove down and met little Romeo. He couldn’t have cared less about us. He was more interested in sniffing the turds in the backyard of the NSPCA. Still, the fiance had a gut feeling; so that day, we adopted our first dog. He didn’t feel like a Romeo, so we named him Neo, from The Matrix, obvi.

It was one of the best decisions we’ve ever made together. We enjoyed it so much, in fact, that we went back and rescued a little brother for Neo: Dood, AKA Dooder, AKA The Big Dooderino, AKA Doodie McDooderson.

Look at these ugly mugs.

my dogs

Dood + Neo, BFFs

While the process of adopting and raising two dogs who didn’t have the best beginnings (Neo was a stray, and Dood was either abused or severely neglected or both) was incredible, you should still be aware of what the experience is like, and consider whether it’s something you’re prepared for. Here are five important lessons I learned along the way.

Rescuing a Dog: 101

1. You Might Not Know the Specifics of Their History

While the shelter you adopt from will likely know at least a little bit about where this dog is coming from (and they should disclose every last detail to you), there are no promises or guarantees. When we adopted Dood, there truly were no signs of abuse. When we brought him home, however, he was so terrified of us, he hid and wouldn’t come out for days.

Even to this day, he’s scared of feet, loud noises, and sudden movements. Something happened to him with his previous owner, but we’ll probably never know what.

Don’t let this stop you from rescuing a dog. Just know they might be living with painful memories you’re not aware of. Patience is key.

toy terrier mix

“I woke up like this.” -Neo

2. They Might Not Be Socialized

Along similar lines, you might get a dog who is fine on his own but doesn’t know how to act around other dogs — or even other people, for that matter. And remember: when a dog gets scared, it can act out aggressively. This doesn’t mean they’re “bad” or “mean.” It means they’re scared. They’re protecting themselves. When I’m scared, I snarl at people too.

Again, patience is your best friend. Dogs take time to adjust to each other and to us. Dood wanted nothing to do with Neo at first. Now, they’re #squadgoals.

3. You Have to Move Fast

Dogs can be adopted in a matter of minutes. We learned pretty quickly that if the NSPCA posted a photo of a new dog, if you thought you even might be interested, you had to get down there ASAP and visit with the pooch before someone else grabbed him.

Once you’re there, it’s good to take your time with the dog and try to get a feel for its personality. Just don’t assume it’ll be there a week — or even a day — later. It’s a tough call, and yes, it’s risky; but this is how it is. Some shelters will allow you to place a hold on a dog; but even then, it’s typically not very long.

rescuing a dog from the NSPCA

Stop and smell the flowers.

4. Their Personalities Can Change Over Time — a Lot

This is so, so important. Don’t assume what you see at the shelter, or when you first bring a pup home, is what you’ll get in the long run. Dogs, like people, change over time.

I say this because in the beginning, a new dog might be scared, aggressive, or very poorly trained. But it’s only the beginning. Give ’em a chance. We were so troubled by Dood’s behavior at first, we were worried we might not be able to handle him. Now, he’s the cutest, most fun, silliest dog ever. The only solution was time. You have to give it time.

Neo was a lot easier. He just peed on the carpet a lot.

5. Rescuing a Dog is More Rewarding Than You’ll Ever Imagine

Rescuing a dog and giving it an amazing life is a feeling unlike any other. This isn’t to say you won’t experience happiness if you get a dog elsewhere. Here’s the thing, though: these pups were given up by their owners, deserted, or found roaming the streets, discarded like they didn’t matter. Maybe they’re not as self-aware as humans, but they still feel. Although they can’t talk to you, rest assured they’ll love you forever if you welcome them into your home.

When you rescue a dog and love him unconditionally, you do a really good deed.