As compassionate pet parents, we all get a little sad thinking about the fact that there are pets living in shelters as we speak, waiting for forever homes, and wishing there was a way we could adopt them all.
The good news is that the general public’s awareness of the need for shelter animal adoption has increased significantly in recent years. Furthermore, the pet industry as a whole is taking action steps that would further encourage adoption.
The Shelter Animal Story by the Numbers
While there is no centralized database for statistics on shelter animals, there are national estimates. In 2017/2018, 68% of American households owned pets - an increase from 56% in 1988. For the dog lovers, you’d be happy to know that 89.7 million dogs lived in American households in 2017 – a healthy 32% increase from 68 million in 2000.
According to the ASPCA, 6.5 million pets enter animal shelters each year. The majority of animals is pretty evenly split between cats (3.2 million) and dogs (3.3 million). Some shelter pets actually have never been abandoned. Many are simply lost – as is reflected by the 720,000 animals that are returned to their owners, most of which are dogs (620,000).
A Brighter World for Shelter Animals
The worst part of the shelter story is that sadly, 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized each year. However, the silver lining here is that fewer animals are being euthanized each year. This is partly due to the fact that adoption is more popular than ever. Currently, there are 3.2 million pets being adopted each year, evenly divided between cats and dogs at 1.6 million each. That's 3.2 million happy endings to a shelter story.
Furthermore, there are efforts under way to encourage even more happy endings, such as a proposed bill in California that would not allow pet stores to sell dogs, cats or rabbits unless the animal had been acquired through a shelter. This is a business model that has already been successfully implemented by the country's largest pet retail chains Petco and PetSmart.
If you are thinking of adopting from a shelter, you likely know some of the obvious benefits, such as being able to save an animal's life and getting a friend for life. However, there are some other benefits that may not be as obvious for first-time or experienced pet parents.
Hidden Benefits of Adopting from a Shelter
Helping More than Just One Animal
When you adopt one pet from the shelter, it may seem that you are helping just one animal live a better life but the truth is that shelters often run out of room. Each animal that gets adopted creates space and a better living condition for the other pets awaiting their loving homes.
Help Deter the Puppy Mill Business
The more people who choose to adopt from shelters, the less business puppy mills get. Every business needs customers and profits to survive. Consumers have the power to end this inhumane practice.
Witness the Transformation
It feels fulfilling to provide any animal with a loving home that they deserve, but that sense of pride gets magnified with seeing a ‘troubled’ or timid pet come to life with some compassion, love, sense of safety and trust.
They Could Already be House Trained
As mentioned above, many shelter pets ended up there due to human issues, such as moving and divorce, rather than serious behavioral issues with the pet. That means they may already been house broken and know many of the basic commands. This may not be the case with every animal but the shelter should have basic behavioral information on each and can inform about the type of training needed.
A Pet that Is Eager To Bond With You
A 2016 study that analyzed problem solving in pet dogs in homes versus shelter dogs found that shelter dogs actually “seem to be more socially driven to gaze and interact with humans” when compared with pet dogs. According to the researchers, this is likely due to the shelter dogs' "generally limited and poor-quality contact with humans.” They also pointed out that with increased human exposure, the shelter dogs were trainable.
Helping Wild Animals and Disease Control
Feral dogs are one of the most common predators to local wildlife both in the city and countryside. They can also carry and spread diseases among wild animals. By keeping as many dogs as possible out of the environment and vaccinated, you are helping many other wild animals.
So when you are ready to invite a fur baby into your family, consider making adopting a shelter pet your first choice. You may not only end up with that perfect companion you’ve always longed for, but will also be doing the shelter animal and the world around us a great service.