When you adopt a dog from an animal shelter, you save a dog's life. Not only that, you support the humane cause of helping homeless animals rather than patronize the many pet shops and dog breeders that worsen the pet overpopulation crisis.
Millions of shelter animals are euthanized in the United States each year simply because there are not enough homes to adopt them, and that includes more than half of the dogs that end up in shelters. Dog breeders, no matter how well they may care for the animals, only contribute to this problem by adding yet more dogs to the pool of those already needing homes. For every dog that gets purchased from a breeder or pet store, there is a shelter dog who does not get a chance.
Some dog breeders are less than perfectly well-intentioned, too. Sadly, many of the puppies in pet shops come from dog-breeding factories called puppy mills where dogs live in small, lonely cages and are forced to give birth to one litter after another. When their reproductive capacity — and potential profitability — has been reached, the dogs are usually killed. Puppy mills frequently also turn out inbred dogs, which can suffer from associated genetic problems.
Animal shelters, on the other hand, exist purely to help animals without homes. Most dogs in shelters are perfectly wonderful animals; many were surrendered by previous owners who simply had unrealistic expectations. In fact, about 25 percent of the dogs in shelters are even purebred, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Best of all, virtually every good animal shelter takes pains to make a careful evaluation of the personality and needs of each adoptable dog so as to ensure the best chances of a good fit with a prospective home.
I Did This!
- Before you even start checking out the dogs at your local shelter, give some serious thought to what you want from a companion animal. Dog adoption should be a lifetime commitment — for all 10, 15 or even more years of the dog's life — so make sure you're ready. The Humane Society offers a good list of questions to ask yourself before adopting a dog. Bear in mind that having a pet takes time. If you're a full-time student, or if you travel frequently, for example, this might not be a good time to take on a dependent.
- Once you're ready to bring a dog into your life, think about whether you want a puppy or an adult dog; puppies are generally more sought-after, so adopting an adult dog is an even better deed. Do you want a a purebred or a mixed-breed? If you have the space and energy, you might even consider adopting two dogs instead of just one — a dog with a friend is much less likely to get lonely, anxious or bored. It's also a good idea to become acquainted with the different breeds and their associated traits. For example, if you live in an urban high-rise, you probably shouldn't even consider a large, active breed like a lab, which requires a great deal of exercise. But to find the right dog for you, you'll need a good sense not just of your current lifestyle but also a reasonable idea of what your future is likely to bring. If you think you might be starting a family during your dog's lifetime, for instance, you'd be wise to choose one who is likely to be good with children. Adoption counselors at the shelter can help you find a good match for your present and likely future needs.
- Find your local animal shelter, and start meeting the dogs! (To locate the closest shelter, visit the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)or you can enter your ZIP code at Petfinder or Pets 911.) There will be a lot of choices, and it may require visits on a few different occasions to find the right dog to adopt for you. Adopt-a-Pet offers a list of useful tips about dog adoption.
- Once you've met your match — or matches — start off your dog adoption on the right foot by making sure your dog is spayed or neutered (a good shelter will usually require this before the dog even goes home). The Humane Society offers additional tips and advice for adopting and bringing your new dog home.
- Enjoy your canine companion! There may be a period of adjustment, but your time and effort will be more than repaid — every day — by the gratitude and joy on the face of a dog who might not otherwise have had a chance.