Disney left a life-long impression on me when, as a youngster, I viewed the dog pound scene in Lady and the Tramp. Mournful mutts howled out a pitiful rendition of "Home Sweet Home," which nobody but the most callous could sit through dry-eyed. The pound was portrayed as a cruel place manned by heartless dog-catchers. I vowed never to step foot in one, not even to save the life of one of the rejected creatures. Adopting a pet under such sad conditions would certainly place a cloud over the day. Could I ever leave completely happy with the dog I chose, knowing that dozens were left behind in misery?
My answer today is a resounding YES! From personal experience I have learned that animal shelters can indeed be the very best place to find your companion. As a volunteer in college I found that humane societies and animal shelters can be places of compassion, and the animals, while lonely, are happy, healthy, and not nearly as desperate as Disney made them out to be.
There are plenty of good reasons for bringing a dog home from "the pound." In this article I'll discuss just a few of them.
Typically, when a family decides to adopt a dog, they check the pet store, the newspaper, and maybe the neighborhood for a puppy. More often than not, this spells disaster. While unarguably cute, puppies are not for everyone. Puppies, no matter what breed, take lots of time, money, and patience. Unless you are prepared to deal with urine spots on the carpet, sleepless nights, and hundreds of dollars in pet-related equipment and veterinarian bills (not to mention replacing chewed up clothing), you are not prepared for a puppy! In fact, this is the very reason animal shelters are filled to capacity. Puppies grow up fast and their newness wears off, and all too many owners find themselves too frazzled to continue. Thus, Fido ends up behind bars for no fault of his own. The vast majority of dogs in shelters are there because people weren't thinking about the time, effort, and money involved in raising a dog. (Other common reasons are families relocating, owner's deaths, or divorces that leave a dog in the mix.)
Think twice before bringing home a pup. An older dog is calmer, will pick up housetraining (and other obedience training) faster, and have outgrown the frustrating chew stage. Perhaps the best thing of all is that they are more predictable; what you see is what you get. With adult dogs the size, shape, skills, and temperament have already been determined. Depending on the shelter, they may even have a pet history!
Another reason to avoid pet-finding in pet stores and newspapers is that these places are largely supplied by backyard breeders and puppy mills, notorious for breeding unhealthy animals in inhumane conditions. The best way to shut down these operations is to avoid supporting them. While they may boast purebreds for low prices, a mixed breed mutt has much lower incidence of health defects than poorly bred purebreds.
Cost is also another reason that shelter dogs come out on top. For a nominal fee, you bring home a dog that is up-to-date on vaccinations, has had a general health exam, and has been sterilized. Often the fee may include the cost of microchipping and licensing. Sometimes you even score coupons for free food and equipment on Adoption Days! Keep in mind that no dog is ever "free." You should always have a new pet checked by a veterinarian to avoid the spread of disease. Having your pet spayed or neutered is a pet-owner's responsibility not to be postponed. Heartworm treatments, chew toys, and other necessary equipment add up. It's hard to beat the all-inclusive fee offered by a shelter.
But perhaps the best reason to adopt a shelter dog is the values it teaches your children. Bring home an older dog, and you send the message that all creatures have intrinsic worth, not just the "cute babies." Giving a dog a second home teaches another fabulous lesson, and dogs who have suffered losses often bond faster to their new people, eager to belong again. Children appreciate knowing about second chances. Finally, when you bring home a shelter dog you save the life of a dog whose only alternative may be euthanasia. 60% of animals placed in shelters meet this fate. By including children in this important decision-making process, making careful choices, and being a responsible pet owner, you teach children the best lesson of all.
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