We know that pet overpopulation is a problem and that too many people are profiting from the suffering of animals born in puppy mills. Why then are so many good folks unwilling to adopt a dog from the shelter?
Unfortunately, it often comes down to belief in one or more common myths about animal shelters and the dogs that are in their care. Let’s take a closer look:
Myth: Dogs land in the shelter for a reason. The reason must be because they are “bad.”
There are many reasons why our canine companions land in the shelter system. Some had very good homes with owners that loved them very much, but economic hardship, health problems, and other life changes can force the hands of otherwise loving and fit owners. Such dogs likely already have basic housetraining and manors down pat. They are just waiting for their next loving family to find them.
Another reason dog’s find their way to the shelter is irresponsible breeding. Unwanted puppies are common in the shelter system. Not just from puppy mill raids, but also from families that simply lacked the resources to have their pet spayed or neutered and had a litter of puppies they could not afford to care for. These pups are just as ready to be “good” dogs as their purebred cousins. They just need a chance to show you how good they can be.
Finally, research has shown that even if a dog is surrendered for “behavioral problems,” the cause may have more to do with an ignorant owner who lacked the basic knowledge to train their dog to be appropriate in a human world. Many local shelters have started to include free and low-cost basic training programs to help those new to dog ownership learn basic training skills which has helped reduce recidivism in the shelter system.
Myth: Shelter staff are invested in pushing problem dogs on people.
In fact, this just isn’t true. Shelter staff are all too aware that placing dogs with behavioral problems with people unprepared to handle them is only going to land the dog back at the shelter with one more trauma under their belts. Likewise, dogs with special needs such as ongoing medical treatment or those on special diets could be an economic burden that a potential owner will not be able to afford.
As many as 56% of shelter dogs are euthanized in the shelter system. Staff do their best to make sure that the dogs selected for this tragic consequence of pet overpopulation are precisely those dogs with the least chance of long term long-term. Although this sometimes is a result of known aggression issues, it is just as likely to be because of expensive health problems, special needs, or advanced age.
Moreover, many shelters utilize behavioral testing as part of their screening process. If there are known issues, the staff will be upfront about that. Some folks are interested in helping otherwise unadoptable dogs and have the skillsets to do the rehab work that may be involved. Staff will help such folks find a candidate. However, the average dog owner will be directed to one of the many dogs that is already a good candidate for a family pet.
Myth: Adopting a dog from a shelter is too expensive.
It is true, adopting a dog from the shelter will cost you more than a “free” dog that you might find on Craigslist. However, the value that you get at a shelter is simply unmatchable. Shelter dogs come with vaccinations up to date, spay/neuter complete (or vouchers to get it done in the case of young puppies), and in some cases even microchips. They usually get special bulk pricing on veterinary services and pass the considerable savings on to you through the adoption fee. When you consider the value, adoption fees are dirt cheap.
Moreover, the rates of pet scams on online classifieds ads are very high. In some cases, puppy mills are kept in business through such sites. In other cases, stolen purebred dogs are “flipped” in the anonymous spaces that online trading sites enable. While there are also honest people doing their best to find a good home for their dog, you do need to do your homework to make sure you are not contributing to the profiteering of unscrupulous people.
Myth: With a purebred dog, you know what you are getting.
First, working with a shelter to find your next dog does not mean you cannot find a specific breed. In fact, as many as 25% of dogs in the shelter system are purebred dogs. Moreover, the staff at the shelter often work closely with breed rescue organizations and if they are not able to find a dog in their care that meets your breed requirements, chances are they can direct you to some volunteers that can.
Second, while responsible breeding practices can stabilize certain characteristics such as a strong drive to work or a tolerance for being poked by children, every single dog remains an individual shaped largely by their experiences and the training they receive. Every single breed can become aggressive if exposed to trauma—there is no magic DNA formula to ensure a balanced dog.
Adoption May Be Right for You
While pet adoption is not a good fit for everyone, we hope you have found this article helpful in terms of thinking through some of the myths surrounding animal shelters. These organizations play a critical role in helping second chance dogs find the forever home they deserve as well as combatting animal cruelty through advocacy and awareness programs.
Making the decision to adopt from a shelter is one that you can be proud of, knowing that you are doing your part to rescue your next best friend.