Dispelling shelter dog myths: Myth #4

This is the fourth in a four-part series to run throughout February, which is also Spay & Neuter Awareness Month.

Shelter dog myth #4: “Animal shelters are too depressing.”

Of our four myths in this month’s series, this one can be the single greatest challenge for shelters and rescues to overcome to save homeless pets at risk for euthanasia.

But, for potential pet adopters, there are two ways to look at everything, including animal shelters. You can look at them from the human perspective: concrete and chain link kennels, steel bowls of kibble, and rows of hopeless pets and from the dog’s perspective: Clean place to stay? Yippee! Endless food supply? Hooray! Visitors who take you out and walk you? Awesome!

So, before you walk into a shelter, put yourself in the dog’s paws. The animals in shelters might be rather confused as to why they are there, but for the most part, dogs look at life one day at a time. They aren’t fretting about yesterday or pondering tomorrow, they are just thinking that today, they have everything they need, and going home on a new adventure would be the gravy on that endless bowl of kibble.

But maybe you still find the idea of rows of needy pets a bit daunting, and that’s okay. There are other ways to bring home a homeless pet without the emotional test of going to an animal shelter:

  1. Go to a pet adoption fair. These weekend events are often held at local pet-supply stores, farmers markets, and grocery stores. Sometimes there are many adoptable pets at a single event, and sometimes just a few, but these upbeat, low-pressure venues are often a bit easier on the emotions and a great option for those with children to allow interaction with the dogs in a more “real-life environment” than in a kennel.
  2. Work with a rescue that keeps their dogs in foster homes. Let the rescue know what you’re looking for in a pet, and they can arrange for you to meet the foster parents and the pet, either in a neutral setting like a park, or in the animal’s foster home. This is a great way to learn about the dog’s behavior inside of an actual home and if it is not a match for you, you can go home at night knowing the doggy who was not a match for you, has a warm, loving place to stay in until they find the right family.
  3. Surf the web. It might feel a bit like online dating, but by visiting popular pet-adoption sites, you can search dogs by breed (or best guess), size, gender, and proximity to your zip code. You can email rescues and shelters and ask questions about the pet you’re interested in and find out a bit about the animal — all before meeting them in person.
  4. Ask the shelter to bring out dogs for you. Instead of walking through the kennels yourself, ask to schedule a time with shelter staff where you can wait in a lobby or yard and have them bring out two or three dogs that meet your criteria for adopting a pet. Even if you walked through the kennels, you wouldn’t take out more than a few, so take it easy on your emotions and just meet a couple of dogs with the assistance of a staffperson who knows their personalities and can make a good recommendation for you.

Once you find a pet, you’ll have a bit of paperwork to do. This might seem excessive and inconvenient, but keep in mind the dog you’re looking to adopt was likely brought to the shelter, not because there was something wrong with him, but because his previous family or their circumstances (such as finances, and moving) were not a match for him. Questions about home ownership, fence height, children in the house, and other pets are all geared towards making sure the dog is a good fit for you. A good rescue or shelter will give clear details on everything they know about the dog — if the dog is a fence-climber, or perhaps not good with cats — they will clearly let you know if such problems would be a conflict for your household.

While you might feel overwhelmed with emotion over the decision to adopt a pet, know that your choice is saving two lives: The life of the dog that you are taking home and the life of the dog who now can seek safe haven in his emptied kennel.

Take this chance to look at adoption from a dog’s perspective: “Every morning, you get to look at the person who saved your life. Your love for them is unconditional. And you are going to do your best to make them as happy as they make you.”

Life doesn’t get any better than that. For dogs or people.

Other stories in this series:

Dispelling shelter dog myth #1: “Dogs at the shelter are there because something is wrong with them.”

Dispelling shelter dog myth #2: “It’s how they were raised.”

Dispelling shelter dog myth #3: “You aren’t going to find what you are looking for in a shelter.”