October is national Adopt a Shelter Dog month.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the American Humane Association (AHA) have banded together to promote the idea of getting as many adoptable dogs in homes as possible…especially during the month of October.
Having trained and handled over 14,000 dogs I’d like to present my views on adopting pets from shelters.
Every dog of my childhood (heck, I was 27 years old before I purchased a purebred dog) was of mixed ancestry: Jeep, Taxi, Silver, and Chad, by name. All purchased by my dad from the city pound. Note: It is believed that the word “pound” came from the “animal pounds” where stray livestock would be “impounded” until claimed by their owners. Over time the word ‘shelter’ replaced the word ‘pound’ primarily because it sounded much more pleasant.
Today, there are approximately 14,000 government-supported and independently operated animal shelters in the US. All of which are attempting to provide shelter, promote adoption, and control the population through neuter and spaying programs for about 7.6 million animals annually, 3.9 million of which are dogs. About 1.2 million dogs are euthanized annually. However, the no-kill movement started about 20 years ago and is responsible for saving a significant number of dogs and cats.
Please excuse the statistics, but it’s the only way for me to get your attention and impress upon you this straight-forward plea: If you are considering a dog for your family, please consider adopting from a shelter as opposed to purchasing from a breeder.
When adopting from a shelter, here’s my thoughts:
Before visiting a shelter, know what you are looking for in a dog. Do you have a large or small family? Are you looking for a pup…who’s going to clean up behind him until he is housebroken and trained? Who will be responsible for feeding, exercising, and training? Are you looking for a dog who is older and housebroken? Older dogs are more difficult for shelters to find a home for…but if the dog is older (2 years or more) you will know if he is healthy, and (most importantly) you will know his temperament. The older feller might be just the mutt for you!
When you visit a shelter for the first time, observe how well the grounds are maintained: is the grass cut, are shrubs trimmed, and windows cleaned?
Generally, when you walk into an animal shelter, be prepared: pandemonium breaks out. That’s the nature of the beast and it’s ok. However, are cages and enclosures clean, are floors mopped, and are odors controlled. Do you get a “good feeling” about how the dogs are cared for?
Do not be overwhelmed by the number of dogs. Take your time. Look at each dog individually, as opposed to a sweeping glance. Do not necessarily pick the loudest dog or the one you think is vying for your attention more than any other. To a great degree, what you see in the shelter, is what you will see at home. If you are looking for an aggressive, outgoing, controlling dog…then the one bounding against the gate and barking like an idiot, might be just the dog for you. But, if you are looking for a quiet lap dog, maybe consider the guy sitting in the back of the cage. Look at the expression of the dog. Are his hackles up or down, is his tail wagging or held low to the ground, are his ears back or forward, does he pee when you approach, or does he seek a pat on the head? Are his eyes clean? Are his nails clipped?
Size matters. Looking at pup’s feet will not tell how big he is going to be. Fact is, there’s loads of big dogs with small feet. A pup mixed with German Shepherd and Beagle may grow to the size of a German Shepherd…or a Beagle. So, if you are looking for a dog of size, consider an older dog.
If you see a dog you like, take him for a walk, a ride in the car, or sit under a tree in the city park and see how he reacts to squirrels, other dogs, kids on bikes, runners and other commotions. You will learn loads about his disposition when distractions abound.
If he has not been neutered (spayed, altered) you will be asked to have that done as soon as possible. However, be sure that you get a reasonable period in which you can return him if he does not fit into your family. Generally, you will not get a refund but can choose another pet.
If you are purchasing from a no-kill shelter, be prepared to get the once-over. You may have to answer personal questions about your lifestyle and they may want to visit your home to assess how they feel the dog will fit into your living conditions. Can you shoulder the scrutiny?
Finally, never purchase a dog as a gift, unless you are positive the recipient will be overjoyed and accept the pup with open arms.
In closing, I want to assure you that I fully and wholeheartedly endorse acquiring a dog from a shelter. However, it’s at least a 10-year obligation…an obligation that should be entered with commitment, compassion, and consideration for all who will be involved with caring for your newest family member.
John Preston Smith is the author of nine novels, all are listed at jprestonsmith.com. Questions or comments: facebook.com/johnprestonsmith. Proceeds support Hoops Family Children’s Hospital in Huntington, W.Va.