Is a Rescued Westie Right for You?

Adopt don’t shop! We hear that phrase all the time, but is adopting the right move for you and your family? And what’s different about adopting a Westie versus buying one?

This article was contributed by Karen Errichetti of North Atlantic Westie Rescue, Inc. You may contact Karen at ksautter@gmail.com or by visiting nawestierescue.org.

The West Highland White Terrier is a tenacious, alert, and hardy terrier dog bred to find and kill vermin in the Scottish Highlands. It is generally known for its White haired coat, distinguishing the Westie from other terriers.  They are a compact dog of about 10 to 11 inches in height at the shoulder and are between 14 and 22 pounds in weight.  With their dark round eyes, carrot shaped tail, and pointed ears, they are quite simply stunning creatures. But it is their personality that makes them “the Westie” and attractive as pets. They are a very people-oriented breed with a liveliness that brings joy to their owners and the community around them. The Westie breed, however, is not suitable for every family situation. Below we present some general information about characteristics of the Westie that we encourage you to think about before adopting a Westie:

  • Westies and small children. Westies were bred to go underground and ferret out small creatures. As a result, Westies can mistake the play of a small child for an animal, leading to growling that may frighten your child or, in the worst case scenario, to an unfortunate bite. Westies in general are great family pets, but if you have a small child or infant and no previous Westie experience, you may wish to consider a different breed.
  • Westies and other animals. Westies were bred to kill small animals, and often will go after a cat or other small animal in your household. It is important to disclose to North Atlantic Westie Rescue whether you have a cat, bird, hamster, or other small animal before adopting. All interactions between Westies and small animals should be monitored closely.
  • The Houdini factor. Westies are the magicians of the terrier world in that they are excellent escape artists. Their DNA programs them to dig holes, so they can escape from fenced area if they are not supervised. Our organization will not adopt a Westie to anyone who will leave their dog unattended for any reason. Westies must be leashed with a secure collar when taken outside for a walk. And even then, hold on for dear life! As soon as a chipmunk appears, you’ll feel your Westie tug you toward its new prey.
  • Health conditions. Westies are prone to certain conditions requiring special attention. Like other dogs bred to a close standard, they are prone to chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer. But more commonly, they have food allergies and skin conditions. A Westie with rusty paws is typically one who is allergic to their food. It takes time to adjust their diet to ensure they are happy and healthy. Some Westies require medication for allergies.
  • Grooming. Westies require regular grooming to keep their coat clean, and in particular their ears as they are prone to ear infections.
  • Longevity. Westies can live between 15 and 20 years on average. One of our Directors knew of two Westies who reached the golden age of 21! You are adopting a family member when you get a rescued Westie, and it should be for life!

Why a Rescued Westie is Different

A rescued Westie may be very different than a Westie puppy or that Westie you grew up with. Rescues have very specific personalities. When they come into rescue, they are fostered to know what their needs are. One dog might be okay with a cat brother or sister, where another might not be. Another dog might be afraid of other dogs and need to be the only dog in the house. For this reason, it is North Atlantic Westie Rescue’s policy to disclose these circumstances to potential adopters and puts the needs of the Westie ahead of all other concerns. Below are some other characteristics of rescued Westies that you might want to give a second thought before applying to adopt:

  • Rescues may have special needs. A lot of the Westies we receive in rescue have medical or behavioral problems that caused them to be surrendered to North Atlantic Westie Rescue. Some of these medical conditions are quite extensive and require treatment throughout the life of the Westie. Other conditions require frequent bathing for many months or even years. If you adopt a Westie with special needs, be prepared to make a financial commitment for their care for life.
  • Rescues may have “behavioral baggage.” Yes, we get some Westies in our organization each year that come from situations of abuse or neglect. This baggage requires special attention to the dog to help it overcome the trauma of its former life. Some of our dogs have never walked on grass or worn a collar. Others are afraid of men or other animals. These dogs are a lot of work – and for the right owner, a real treasure. You will have to commit to training and reinforcing behavioral standards if you rescue a Westie.
  • Rescues are not “free.” Often, we are contacted by people wishing to adopt because they cannot afford the price of a pure-bred Westie. Rescues, however, are not cheap or free. We do require a financial contribution for adopting one of our dogs, and beyond that, the Westie requires medical/dental treatment and grooming that can amount to $1,000 or more each year. For the Westie with a behavioral need, trainers can be expensive (as much as $100 per session). Adding all this up means your rescue dog might actually cost you more than a purebred Westie puppy.

What If I Still Want a Westie, Just Not a Rescue?

The West Highland White Terrier Club of America maintains a Westie profiler that can help you make an informed choice about the suitability of the Westie breed for your family circumstance. If you still want to own a Westie, contact the West Highland White Terrier Club of America for a listing of responsible breeders in your area. We strongly encourage you not to purchase a Westie at a pet store, as pet stores get their “stock” from commercial breeders where breeding dogs live and die in the most horrific circumstances. To learn more about these commercial “puppy mills,” we recommend you visit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Remember, all Westies have their own personality and needs, and Westie Rescue takes the time to learn about each dog individually to make the best placement decision possible. If you are rescue-minded and patient, rescue may be a great option for you!