Every time we talk about the shelter crisis we hear Adopt Don’t Shop. It’s become sort of a mantra among those fighting for shelter pets. But I ponder the question, “Is this the answer?” I do not doubt that adopting animals from shelters is the right thing to do, but the question remains, “Is this THE answer.”
People adopt millions of pets from shelters every year. It is currently THE thing to do. Many will look down on those who own a purebred dog from a breeder and will chastise anyone who might consider getting their dog from a breeder. The reason they are so upset? Because millions of dogs are being killed in our nations shelters. This is the sad and true fact, that millions of healthy, vibrant dogs and cats loose their lives every year in our nations shelters. The reason? There aren’t enough good homes for all of them. There are a few that can never find homes, the old, the sick, the behaviorally challenged, yet these are not the only pets contributing to the overwhelming over-crowding in our nation’s shelters.
So, let me be clear here. I pose the question; “Is adopting from shelters THE answer that will end the killing in our shelters?” I’ve heard people say, “If everyone would adopt just one dog, all the dogs in the shelters would be adopted.” This is akin to suggesting that if everyone adopted one child, there would be no homeless children. The problem with this solution is that it’s not feasible. So what can be done? Basically, we are doing it. There is so much happening in the animal community and huge strides are being taken. Shelter killings are down, (usually) every year. But we need to look at a few things:
- Working together. It has always been my position that animal rescuers should work more hand in hand with breeders, trainers, kennel clubs and others in order to bridge the gap that divides us all. Rescue people generally regard breeders and kennel clubs with so much disdain that they shudder at their mere existence. The only ones who lose here are the animals. Working together with other animal lovers offers us the chance to better understand their side and help them to understand ours. I know many breeders who do more than their share in helping rescues. Isolating anyone divides us all and makes our work harder. If we can form a cohesive bond, we can gain insight on the dogs we are trying to help, and when certain breeders better understand the crisis in shelters, I’m certain they will offer more help.
- Make training available to anyone who adopts a dog and consider making basic training mandatory. Many dogs end up in shelters because of irresponsible owners, actually most all of the dogs in the shelters are there because of irresponsible people, but much of that can be helped. If people understand the basics of dog behavior and how to work with it, chances are there would be less recidivism. For people who choose not to partake in the training, perhaps they shouldn’t have a dog. Just winging it is not the answer. A basic dog training 101 class could be given to every new adopter at the shelter. This wouldn’t need to be more than a few hours teaching people the basics of basics.
- Make spay / neuter available in every neighborhood nationwide, in particular poorer / underserved ones. I would go as far as incentivizing spay neuter: coupons for restaurants, movies, cash, free dog food, anything. Get people to spay and neuter their dogs. The reason we need to focus on poorer / underserved areas is because this is where most of the problems come from. It’s not a black, white or Hispanic thing; it’s a socio-economic thing. Check the Indian reservations, trailer parks across the south and so on. Not black or Hispanic, but underserved. Most people don’t understand and need some help to understand. And the reason we must spay and neuter is because people are irresponsible with their dogs. Dogs don’t accidentally get other dogs pregnant, they are not kept by responsible owners inside, in yards or contained, therefore we have to spay and neuter dogs to prevent these “accidental pregnancies.”
- Make veterinary care available for underserved communities. This can be done through mobile vets and low cost clinics. The big $$ animal organizations can step up and fund a center and then with community support and donations open more and more. Most people don’t want to dump their sick dog at the shelters, but have no choice when it comes between feeding their kids and getting meds for their dog. This isn’t as fancy as other things that people want, but it’s a huge step toward keeping pets safe, healthy and prevent them from ending up in shelters.
- Make adopting a dog a bit more involved. At this point anyone with $75 can get a dog. The problem is it is often an impulse buy. “It’s only $75, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll get another one.” BAD IDEA. I’m not saying poor people shouldn’t have dogs, in fact I often say that homeless people make some of the best dog owners, I am saying there should be a little more of a procedure. Not having to jump through a million hoops like so many rescues do, but be realistic. The right dog in the right home will last a lot longer than an impulse buy of the cute dog (that will end up in the shelter when the thrill wears off). Educating may get less dogs adopted, but they will not be coming back to the shelter.
- Eliminate puppy mills – not breeders. For everything good that breeders to for dogs, ignorant puppy mills screw it up. Support those doing the right thing and punish the guilty. Mass breeding facilities do no good to the dogs, the breeds or the well being of any dog. Educate people on the difference so that people can make informed decisions. Often times purebred dogs don’t make the best pet, so let the buyer make their own decisions.
- Some dogs should be put down. So much of the time I see rescuers rallying around a dog that has attacked a child, killed another dog, has serious behavioral issues, is old, sick and a host of other things. It’s not that my heart doesn’t go out to them, but if we want to solve the problem, we need to be focused. So much time and money is spent on saving a dog with issues that often 5 or more easy adoptions could be saved with the same amount of money and effort. If shelters would work with rescues so that a humane and kind euthanasia could take place, these animals could leave this world with dignity. Do they deserve to die? NO! But the efforts to save one life should not cost 5 or 10. The greatest tragedy is that any dog is killed in the shelter, yet that tragedy is overshadowed when I see healthy, young, well-balanced dogs being overlooked and a dog with a host of problems is being rallied for. Often times these dogs will create more issues after adoption because they end up with an adopter who took the dog based on their heart, not their head. This is the hardest concept for people to wrap their heads around, but it is critical in trying to save the most lives / dogs. There are humane societies and rescues that are well funded that can save almost every dog, here even the troubled dogs can be saved, but in municipal shelters where it is often a Sophie’s Choice, we must opt to save the greatest number of dogs possible.
So, looking at all of the issues facing the shelter crisis and the animals at risk, I hope we can step outside of our box and think, act, and unite in order to save more lives.