For most people concerned about animal welfare, adopting pets from an animal shelter or rescue organization is unquestionably the right thing to do - both for the pets brought into loving homes as well as to create more room and resources for animals left behind. And as we observe "Adopt a Shelter Dog Month" this month, it's easy to assume the general public understands this imperative.
But when you drive by a family-filled pet store selling dogs as if they were toasters, or learn about horrific puppy mills still profiting from cruelty, you begin to realize the adoption message is still not getting out strongly or widely enough.
Many people who purchase pets may feel a certain breed best fits their family needs, or subscribe to misinformation about shelters and shelter animals. But if these pet lovers were given an opportunity to learn the full range of adoption benefits - including decreasing the homeless animal population, creating more space at shelters and rescue organizations, and reducing demand that supports puppy mills - it might be enough to change their minds, save more lives, and transform their communities and community shelters.
With that in mind, I encourage anyone who's ever rescued an animal to reach out to a potential pet owner - it could be a neighbor, a colleague, or even a family member - and make the case for adoption. Here are some key points to share.
You're saving more than one life.
Of the approximately 7.6 million companion animals entering animal shelters nationwide every year, approximately 2.7 million are euthanized. Adoption not only moves an animal from vulnerability to safety, but creates space at the shelter, and moves more resources and attention to the remaining animals. Across the country, many shelters are crowded, challenged, and stretched for resources, so every free cage, every available supply, and every extra moment of care makes a difference.
You'll make a match.
An animal shelter is invested in the well-being of its animals, and many are committed to creating matches that take animal temperament, home environments, and special needs into account. At a pet store - as with any for-profit business - the prime objective is earning financial profit from the production and sale of their "merchandise," not serving the best interest of pets, owners, or communities.
You'll find a great pet.
Few people need to be sold on the value of having pets, but harmful myths and misperceptions about shelter pets persist. The truth is this: the only difference between homeless animals and other animals is that the first group doesn't have homes. No matter where they live, where they come from, or where you find them, every dog - even dogs within a specific breed - are individual animals, with individual personalities and dispositions.
You're fighting puppy mills.
Most pet store puppies come from puppy mills, and everyone should know what happens there. Puppies born in puppy mills are usually removed from their mothers at six weeks of age, denying them critical socialization with their mothers and litter mates. The mothers, meanwhile, have little to no recovery time between bearing litters.
Breeding dogs typically spend their entire lives in tiny, wire-bottom cages barely bigger than the dogs themselves. They often do not receive adequate veterinary care or socialization. When these dogs can no longer produce puppies or when their breed becomes unpopular, they're often abandoned, shot, or sometimes starved to death.
Because puppy mill operators sometimes fail to remove sick dogs from their breeding pools, puppies from puppy mills can also have congenital and hereditary conditions including epilepsy, heart disease, kidney disease, and musculoskeletal problems like hip dysplasia. Purchasing anything at a pet store that sells animals - even pet supplies - keeps this deplorable industry in business.
You're sending a message.
When you proudly tell others you chose to rescue an animal, you're sending a message that individuals can take effective action to save lives, fight cruelty, and end suffering. The movement starts with one, but can expand to a family, then to a community, then to many communities.
In nearly 100 US cities and localities - including NYC - that message has influenced the passing of local ordinances and state bills that regulate where pet stores can get the puppies they sell. In many cases, these laws prohibit pet stores from selling non-shelter dogs entirely.
What these communities have in common is a commitment to the idea that animals deserve our love, our homes, and - just as importantly - our protection. Please share that message with potential pet owners you know. They may be just one suggestion away from knowing how vitally important adoption truly is.