Each year millions of cats and dogs are euthanized around the world in shelters. To put it into perspective - in Australia alone, a country with a population of around 23 million, over 200,000 cats and dogs are euthanized annually in shelters. Now let us look at the USA – 7.6 million companion animals find their way to a shelter each year; of those around 35% are euthanized, 35% are rehomed and the remainder are reunited with their owners. That’s 2.6million animals that die needlessly in the USA each year! These percentages are simply unacceptable, and unfortunately it is not up the animal shelters to provide for these animals – it is up to us as the individuals to take responsibility for our pets and the pets we will own in the future.
So why should you adopt a pet from a shelter rather than buy the cute fluffy purebred from your local pet store? Well I am going to discuss MANY reasons for this, as well as some of the disadvantages of rescuing pets.
First of all let’s look at where your money is going. When you adopt a pet from a shelter you pay a fee – this fee includes your new cat or dogs vaccinations and desexing, and often flea treatments, worming and even some food! It also helps pay for ALL the other pets in that shelter to be kept just that little bit longer so they too may find a home. When you buy from a breeder or a pet store where does your money go? If you are buying from a reputable breeder it simply goes into their pockets –no harm done. But backyard breeders and puppy farms still supply many pet stores around the world and you are inadvertently encouraging these practices. The hard truth is for every ‘new puppy’ you adopt from these places a shelter dog loses a home and these ‘breeding businesses’ are encouraged to go about business as usual.
In terms of the cats and dogs being rescued – the difference you make to their lives is profound. Some may have been mistreated, unwanted or perhaps their owner passed away leaving them behind. Whatever the story it is rarely a good one and being able to change an animal’s life in this not only helps them but can provide a sense of achievement not matched elsewhere.
It can also save you money in the long run and you may end up with a much healthier pet! Studies show that dogs that are comprised of at least two different breeds have a longer life expectancy. An article written by The Institute of Canine Biology showed purebred dogs had a much higher chance of suffering from genetic disorders (which makes sense), but on the flip side mixed breed dogs were more likely to be hit by cars! Subjectively as a vet I wouldn’t own a purebred because I see the problems they suffer from – Boxers with haemangiosarcoma (cancer), West Highlands with skin disease, Retrievers with hip dysplasia, polycystic kidney disease in Persians and the list goes on.
Another factor rarely considered by the public is the emotional toll shelter workers and veterinarians face working with these animals. We all do it because we love them and want what is best for them, but unfortunately there are only so many pets a shelter can take. This inevitably means that kennel hands, trainers, nurses and veterinarians watch their ‘favourite’ shelter dog or cat euthanized because no home can be found. Why not adopt the pet themselves? Well they often do! I know a nurse who works at a shelter who has six dogs at any one time – but there has to be a limit, one person simply cannot own 10 dogs otherwise they become a shelter themselves!
So what are the disadvantages of adopting a shelter dog or cat? Well I can think of only one. You don’t know their past history. This may mean they have a hidden disease that you may not know about for years down the track. But more importantly you won’t know what cruelties they may have suffered in the past, which could leave you with some behavior problems. We have a few rescued dogs at the center here in China – puppies that were buried alive, drowned, sent to the meat market and one that was in an earth quake! As you can imagine they can be very timid with strangers, easily scared and not always trusting. But shelter workers will disclose any behavioral problems to you and help you work through them. The dogs here at the centre are just beautiful – the photo below demonstrates how loving they can be if they trust you. Richter was kept in the tiniest cage for the first 8 months of his life and was rescued during the 2008 Sichuan earth quake so had a pretty rough start but has grown into the loveliest dog.
So you already have a pet? You can still help make a difference. Firstly get them desexed! Can you believe 13% of cats in Australia have a litter before they are desexed? If we consider there are 3 million cats in Australia that means close to 400,000 cats are having kittens before desexing. Now think that each cat could have up to 8 kittens - that’s a lot of cats that need adopting! You can also ensure your pet is microchipped. The clinic I worked at in Australia recently reunited a family with their dog that had been missing for 8 months all because she was microchipped! If you ever have to surrender your pet due to moving, family changes or any other situation try your very best to keep them out of a shelter and rehome privately – this ensures they are not euthanized, leaves room in the shelter for other pets and means that they go to a good home.
I apologize for such a long blog post but I feel so strongly about these issues I could not help myself! Please feel free to leave any comments or questions below.
If you are considering adopting a pet visit your local shelter or adoption group to learn more.