“We might not be able to change the entire world, but we can change the entire world for one.” ~ Unknown
Today, April 30th, is National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day—a day created to highlight the animals who are relinquished by owners and then face a harrowingly lonely life in a shelter.
Every year, an estimated 3.9 million dogs and 3.4 million cats find themselves living in a shelter in the United States. Out of those figures, only 1.4 million dogs and 1.2 million cats are adopted; 649,000 strays are returned to their homes and the rest either spend their entire life in a shelter or sadly, they are euthanized.
According to figures, approximately 5,500 adoptable dogs and cats lose their lives in the U.S. shelter system every day.
Many organizations have special events today, with adoption fees waived, to encourage people to visit their local shelter in the hope that they are able to give one of these animals a home.
Although today is a reminder of the amount of animals who are waiting for someone to come along and offer them a home, it is also important to consider that cats and dogs are a commitment, and one that should be thought through responsibly.
All animals are unique, so it may take several visits to a variety of shelters before bonding with the cat or dog whose characteristics and personality resonate with yours.
Animals in shelters have also usually been spayed or neutered, micro-chipped, and had all their vaccinations, so although shelters often ask for a donation, this is purely to cover the costs of animal healthcare and housing.
Shelter owners and employees want animals to leave the shelter with as few issues as possible, so they do what they can to ensure the dog or cat’s health and behavior will not cause future issues for owner. This is mostly so the animal doesn’t have to endure the trauma and abandonment of being returned to the shelter.
For those who are unable to offer an animal a home, there are other options to help these animals in need. Many shelters are desperate for volunteers to help with the daily care of the animals, which includes feeding, walking, and generally spending time with them so that they know someone cares.
Another way to help is to donate food, blankets, towels, or money when you can, and to ask the shelter what they need.
Those who can’t house a dog or cat full-time can also choose to be foster parents instead. This offers a short-term commitment with less pressure, and is a wonderful way to spend time with an animal when it is most in need.
And for those who have already adopted a shelter animal, many have found that their emotional, mental, and physical health has improved thanks to having a furry friend around. Dogs need care and attention, however, they also provide infinite unconditional love and are always overjoyed to see you, whether you have been gone three minutes or three days.
If you decide to adopt a dog, here are a few suggestions to consider before making a commitment:
Ask the shelter for details about the dog’s history, if they have it. Information surrounding previous abuse, whether the dog is good with children or other animals, and whether they are house-trained will be beneficial when considering if the dog is suitable for your home.
Take the dog for a walk and get to know him/her beforehand. It is important that you are comfortable and not fearful around him/her.
Try to understand that how the dog behaves at the shelter is likely going to be different from how it behaves at home. It may feel anxious, stressed, or even highly excitable, so it can be difficult to gauge the personality of the dog just based on a short visit. Spend as much time as possible with the dog to gain more understanding.
Minimize your expectations of how the dog will behave when you get home. It will take time for the dog to settle into your household routine and feel at ease in its new surroundings, so have patience, as it is not the dog’s fault if he/she misbehaves or isn’t house trained. With time, dedication, and effective training, the dog can make a complete transformation and alleviate any issues that initially caused concern.
Don’t buy a dog as a surprise for someone, unless you are 100 percent sure that the person wants, and is ready for, that type of dog. Many people wish for things, but often the reality of their wish coming true is far from pleasurable.
Learn about the type of dog you are interested in re-homing. The more knowledge you have, the better prepared you will be. This will benefit both you and your pet and make for a much greater chance of peaceful co-existence.
Remember, it can be overwhelming and even a little upsetting to go to a shelter, especially if it is your first time there. However, try to persevere, and if needed, visit the shelter as many times as feels comfortable to avoid becoming overly-emotional and making a snap decision that you may later regret.
It is heart-rending to see all the animals looking out at you, pleading for you to take them home, and although it can be tempting to take them all, it is important to make the right decision as it could be distressing for both you and the animal if, for unforeseeable reasons, it doesn’t work out.
If, by chance, the re-homing doesn’t work out, try not to feel guilty about it. But before returning your new pet, try to cover all options: training, changing the diet, and forgiveness—as it is not the animal’s fault if he/she has issues.
Often dogs and cats in shelters have had some form of trauma in their past, and although this may cause them to deal with emotional issues, the love and gratitude they shower you with for sharing your home with them will far outweigh any negative points.
The greatest part about re-homing a shelter dog is that it means one less dog has been purchased from those who sell dogs bred in puppy mills. Puppy mills are horrendous places for any animal to live, so the more often people opt to rescue a dog from a shelter, the less puppy mills will be in demand.
Adding a cat or a dog to your family is a huge decision, but one that can quite literally be life saving, most certainly for the animal, and there’s a high chance it will be positively life-changing for you too.
Author: Alex Myles
Editor: Nicole Cameron