Are Shelters a Good Place to get a Pet?
Recently, the Washington Post published a story, “Why I’d Never Adopt a Shelter Dog Again”. The author told a tale of woe about adopting three shelter dogs and encountering various health issues with them over the years. Mind you, one of the dogs lived to age nine and her complaints were about increased vet care for a senior dog. The article created a firestorm reaction to its negative spin on ‘shelter’ dogs.
The disturbing part of the story was the shortsightedness of the author in recognizing that health issues she attributed to her dogs being from shelters are issues than could befall ANY pet no matter their lineage or prior home. Cancer doesn’t discriminate and neither does old age. Many health issues arise from what you feed and how you care for your dog.
The following week, Good Morning America aired a piece on the risks of adopting a shelter dog as a follow-up to a story about an adopted dog that bit one of the children. The dog had a known history of aggression, but the family claims there was no warning provided by the shelter. That may be, but the family did not take responsibility on their own to seek advice or guidance on bringing an adult dog into a family with young children.
What’s disturbing about these stories is where they place the blame. In the first story, the blame was directed at the rescues for adopting out ‘sick’ dogs. In the GMA piece, the blame was spread between the dog (absurd) and the shelter. I can’t comment on the specifics of the adoption because I was not involved, but my experience with shelters and rescues is that they are as forthcoming as possible about known behavioral or health issues because it reduces the frequency of returned pets and prevents liability issues.
But this is missing the larger point: most rescue dogs make wonderful family additions and the age-related health problems or behavioral issues they might experience are the same ones that impact “purebred’ or purchased dogs.
When you bring a pet into your home, whether it’s a dog, a cat or a turtle, that animal is in your care and your responsibility. Certainly buying from a reputable breeder and knowing the dog’s lineage is beneficial in predicting the animal’s core nature and potential health issues. But the care, nutrition, training and overall environment you provide usually influences their behavior and longevity more than their breeding.
People should recognize that adult dogs, just like adult humans, have life experiences – both good and bad – and those life experiences shape their behavior and their health.
Case in point, our rescue, Jack was 25 lbs overweight and roughly 7 years old when we adopted him. He had been in the shelter for over a year, returned from adoptive families twice and was so hyper and anxious he was on Prozac. He was reactive to strangers and dogs and spent most of his day either digging or barking. Not an optimal adoption candidate.
Before we brought him home, we did our homework. We asked about his health and his behavior. We took him for several test outings, brought him to our home to meet our other dog and thought long and hard about adopting him and how we would integrate him into our household. Did we think he came with no health or behavior problems or they would magically disappear when he came through our door? Of course not, we knew it would be challenging and frustrating and we might want to give up at times.
We also knew the rewards of giving him a 2nd (or 3rd) chance would be great.
As responsible pet owners, the first thing we did was take him to the vet for a thorough check-up, then to the groomers for an overdue bath and then we called an experienced dog trainer to work with us and Jack to help us get him acclimated to our home and our rules. It’s the first thing anyone should do when bringing an adult pet into the home – get experienced help. And if you can’t find it or afford it, well, maybe you should rethink the adoption. You must be willing and ABLE to care for the pet properly
I’m not going to say it’s been easy, but three years later; Jack is a great dog, pet and family member. He dropped the need for Prozac & the extra weight within months with a healthy diet, steady exercise and lots of love. Jack is now the inspiration and spokes-dog for our company, SlimDoggy.com, a blog dedicated to the health, nutrition and wellness of your pets.
So, what’s my point?
My point is that no dog is perfect, whether from a breeder or from a shelter. It’s the owner that determines whether a dog becomes a successful family member. Adopting a shelter dog, especially ones with ‘issues’ like Jack, and watching them learn to just be a dog, can bring you immeasurable joy. Just knowing that we likely saved Jack from a lifetime in a shelter makes me happy and that in turn helps my health. Please, don’t discount dogs from shelters based on some ill-conceived notion.
Many people, like the ones in those stories, adopt dogs with no thought about integrating the dog into their family. They assume they bring the dog home and the dog loves everyone, is perfectly well-behaved and never gets sick. Unrealistic and unfair. Remember, there is no guarantee your purebred dog will behave better or be healthier. They need to be trained, well fed, exercised, loved and provided for the same as a shelter dog.
Don’t blame the dog, don’t blame the shelter. Look in the mirror and examine the effort you put into creating a safe, secure and nurturing environment for your pet. YOUR behavior is the most significant factor in your pet’s health, behavior and well-being.