True dog lovers talk enthusiastically and endlessly about their dogs. They’re eager to share their dog stories, where they come from, what their habits are, and how wonderful they are with children.
Many of the world’s interesting conversations almost always involve a dog.
Let’s face it. Dogs are creatures that awake a sense of compassion and friendship – even in people who don’t own a dog. One curious aspect of “dog conversations” however, is that when you tell people that you’re looking to acquire a dog, they immediately say, “hope you’re going to get a dog from a shelter.”
Here’s the thing: I am not against adopting dogs from a shelter. My wife and I took that route twice, and we ended up with wonderful dogs. We feel we’ve done our share. All through our lives, we’ve had dogs. There was never a prolonged period of not sharing our home with a dog.
We are, to put it briefly, genuine dog lovers!
But before you judge me for not wanting to adopt a dog from a shelter, hear me out. After taking the shelter route, we feel we’re now emotionally ready to do things a little differently.
Before you judge…
While we’ve been fortunate with the two dogs we adopted from the shelter, most experienced dog owners are aware of the potential risks relating to shelter dogs. Knowing about these risks, we adopted them anyway and were prepared for the responsibility – indeed the unpredictability – of shelter dogs. Except for a few minor issues, we enjoyed their companionship immensely.
Saving a dog’s life is probably one of the greatest acts of human kindness. Welcoming “orphaned” dogs into our home gave our lives profound meaning, and they have helped nurture our mental and physical wellness.
A veterinarian once said, “a dog should never be an impulse buy.” When people walk around a shelter, feelings such as “his eyes are adorable” or “his coat is impressive” or “his demeanor is endearing” fill their hearts.
In the past, we were also taken in by appearances, not so much thinking about whether or not a dog was going to be a good fit. When we liked what we saw, our decision was more impulsive than one based on reason.
You might ask, since you had such a positive experience with the two dogs, why not do it again?
No. And don’t judge us. Like I said earlier, we did like many other dog lovers did – saved two dogs from the likelihood of death as they were senior dogs.
But this time we’re not going to grapple with the uncertainty and unpredictability of shelter dogs. Unpredictability, in fact, is one compelling reason why we’re not going down the same path as before. Too many “what ifs” loom large.
Shelter Dogs: why we said no
- Unpredictability – many people who adopted dogs from a shelter didn’t realize that some come with behavioral problems. Fear of the unknown is an unpleasant sentiment. What if the dog was abused or neglected by the former owners? What if the dog had health issues that required numerous visits to the vet? Why does the dog seem lethargic or indifferent?
- Shelters do their due diligence, but they could have missed something. They “prep” a dog for the new owners, and they can identify a dog’s problems. So what you see or notice in the shelter is not the complete picture, because you begin to notice the problems only after you bring the dog home, and he’s lived with you for weeks and months. Some mental or physical problems have a way of creeping up and taking people by surprise. And we’re not blaming shelter staff for this. There are just some behavior patterns that don’t manifest themselves in the short term. Shelter staff can’t possibly know it all.
- Do you think that like abandoned kids, dogs that change homes too frequently may suffer some type of depression? Dogs have been known to fall seriously ill or even die when their masters go away for long periods of time. Too many instances of separation anxiety can wreck havoc on a dog’s mind. It’s disruptive. It’s unsettling.
We read the story of a person who adopted a dog that had been returned by the owners because they were moving out of town. There were clear signs that the dog was depressed. It took the new owner a full year before he realized that the dog had been treated badly. Noises disturbed her, she flinched a lot, and did not want to be around people. The healing process lasted a year. It was obvious that the dog experienced severe trauma. The dog tried to adjust after being taken away from the shelter only to adjust again to shelter life because it was returned.
- Owners who drop their dogs in a shelter may not always want to reveal the real reasons for giving up their dogs. Was the dog displaying aggressive behavior at home, posing a threat to children? Was the dog a high maintenance pet in terms of health? Was the dog requiring a steady supply of antibiotics, does it have vision and hearing problems, and did the dog have major surgery or does it need a special diet?
- It is more difficult to find the exact breed of dog you want in a shelter.
- What if the shelter is not managed well? What if they’re short of staff or short of funds? Even if governments have budgets for animal shelters, some shelters are not receiving everything they need to run a viable organization. An article in the Toronto Pet Daily (February 2016) said that “Canadian rescued dogs are handled by volunteer organisations (Rescues & Shelters) across Canada and it’s estimated that these smaller rescues are responsible for more dogs than our larger Humane Societies and SPCA’s. These are non- profit non- salaried organisations existing solely by donations. All our shelters/rescues have a huge task and our numbers keep growing…
The article continues to say, “Judging by the number of petitions, there’s a lack of regulations, requirements, guidelines for the welfare of pets in Canada. Our dogs and cats seem to be governed by volunteers with good intentions. We’d like to see everyone involved with animal welfare, Vets (CVMA & Provincial VMA’s), CFIA & Humane Societies & Rescues, working together – there’s a disconnect & confusion resulting in complaints from both sides.”
- A shelter is not a home – not by a long stretch. Dogs that live a long time in a shelter before they are finally adopted are lonely dogs. They suffer from stress and frustration because life in the shelter is regimented, with little or no freedom. Even the best-run shelters can be noisy and unpleasant for some dogs. For active, energetic breeds, life in the shelter can be confining and restrictive. The harsh truth is that a shelter is never going to be an exact replica of a loving home and family.
- Age – as one writer said, “some dogs are at the shelter simply because they committed the cardinal sin of growing old. They can’t get around so well… They’re just no fun anymore.”
Our home is ready, and our next dog will receive the love and care of a pet-loving family. But this time, we’d like a dog that has no “emotional baggage”, no sad history of abuse and neglect.
In short, we’d like a dog that’s healthy, inside and out. Now that we have a daughter who is soon going to be a teenager, we want our home environment to be worry-free. We want to be there for our daughter who no doubt will have issues of her own as she transitions into adulthood, and this we can do better as parents if we didn’t have to deal with a problematic dog as well.
To conclude, this is my message: respect other people’s choices when it comes to adopting a dog. Yes, taking a shelter dog is a generous, compassionate gesture, but if friends and family won’t go to a shelter, they have good reasons. They don’t have to defend their choices. Not adopting a shelter dog doesn’t mean they’re selfish, elitist or incapable of seeing the true value of pet ownership.
Freedom of choice is a wonderful privilege. It applies to all aspects of our lives – religion, career, financial, marriage, travel, and yes, even to pet ownership!