I was standing in front of the pet supply store during a pet adoption event when I heard a man ask a volunteer holding a quiet yellow dog on a leash, “Oh, is this one of those hoarding dogs?” The volunteer said, “No, she was a stray.” The man looked disappointed and moved onto the next volunteer and asked the same thing, only to receive a similar response. When he was told “no” a few more times, he shrugged and walked away, saying he would go look in the shelter.
I couldn’t help but wonder what the appeal was of adopting a dog who had lived in dirty, overcrowded conditions. Was it pure concern? A desire to help those most neglected? Or maybe just bragging rights?
One of the misperceptions shelters fight to overcome is that the animals in the facility are all “damaged goods.” In reality, most pets in a shelter have no great story of woe — they have never been abused, overbred, or fought, and yet each dog who ducks her head when a child runs by or has scars on his face is labeled a victim of some, often imagined, tragic past. This is most often seen when a high-profile abuse case makes it to the news and people are clamoring for the puppy found in a dumpster while thousands of other puppies, turned in for unremarkable reasons, sit in shelter kennels, homeless and ignored. Shelters and adopters are equally guilty of perpetuating this phenomenon, with shelters filling in the blanks of an animals’ history to try to draw more attention to otherwise “regular” dogs, and adopters thinking that every pet that ends up homeless must have traveled a rough road to get there.
But, the most wonderful thing about animals, including those with truly checkered pasts, is they live in the moment. Dogs aren’t spending days worrying that you will bring them back to a shadeless, dusty yard and put them on a chain where you believe they may have once lived. They are thinking about the squirrel outside the window, the sound of your car pulling into the driveway, and the emptiness of their food bowl for all but two moments each day. Human hang-ups, life changes, and ignorance may be the reason that animals end up in shelters, but it shouldn’t be a reason for them to stay there. Instead of adopting a pet because he has a scar on his nose or a fear of broomsticks, adopt him because he will be a great addition to your family.
We can all take a life lesson from our adopted pets by living in the moment and loving the regular Joes as much as we would the victims of, thankfully, less common abuse and neglect. In many parts of the country, many of the pets in shelters were not strays, but owned members of a caring family, and just because they don’t have a sad story behind them, doesn’t mean you can’t still be their happy ending.