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Mythology 101

To begin…two sweet endings to illustrate my thoughts about adopting a fur baby from a shelter or rescue organization. Coincidentally, both concern dogs; both pits or pit mixes.

As most of you who follow the doings at the Center know, Vinny was recently adopted by a kind and loving family. If Vinny could have chosen a forever home, this would have been his dream. Two loving humans, one loving fur sister (canine) and two kitties that are trying very hard to get used to the additional family member. Long walks, a soft bed, a couch, toys and bully sticks aplenty and, most importantly, the security of knowing that this is indeed forever! Vinny is beautiful—glossy black, good with dogs, kids, and cats, smart, funny and loving. Not too big to be indoors, not too small for an active household that enjoys long tramps over the meadow—in fact, just right! So, what took so long? Read on, patient friends, and you will see.

Flashback to Willow. Willow came to the large municipal shelter in California where I was a volunteer. She was just a mess—ears badly cropped, a large and permanent scar running down the center of her soft grey nose, thin and very scared. Turns out, she was being used by a dog fighting gang as a bait dog. She was three years old and who knows how long and how much abuse she had endured. After medical treatment, good food and a safe and warm bed to sleep in, Willow’s personality began to emerge. Because of her very large bone structure, she was probably bred to fight, but less of a fighting spirit you could never find. In fact, she was probably used as a bait dog precisely because she would not fight back. There was not an ounce of anger or aggression in her little body. All Willow wanted was to love and be loved and she won the heart of each and every volunteer and staff member at the shelter. For four long years she waited for someone to see beyond her broad shoulders, wedge shaped head and fighting scars. I know that every one of us, at one time or another, tried to think of some way of adopting her ourselves—but, as is so common with volunteers and staff in shelters—everyone’s household was full to bursting with other equally needy pets. The day finally came that Willow was adopted (by a new vet in town whose trained eye saw beyond the scars) and let me tell you, it was quite a scene. There was cake and ice cream for all—including Willow whose second love in life is food! The adoptive parents brought a vanload of supplies to help ease the boredom of life in cages: toys, bully sticks, blankets and quilts. As we cried and waved goodbye to the dog who had meant so much to all of us, we all knew that she had defied the odds. She was a victim from start to finish—born into a fighting culture, a pit bull with the heart and soul of a lamb. She was also a victim of what I call shelter mythology. So, just to remind us all, here are some common myths concerning shelter pets. As always, my thanks to many fine research sources, but primarily to UC Davis and their fine and compassionate staff.

Myth: Pets in shelters have behavioral issues—that’s why they are there in the first place.

Fact: Pets end up in shelters for a multitude of reasons, and in many, if not most, cases, through no fault of their own. A death in the family, divorce, job relocation or even the birth of a new baby may be the root cause of the surrender of the animal. Many people simply underestimate the time and financial commitment that owning a pet entails. The argument that shelter pets are somehow “broken” is just such a myth. There is no such thing as a perfect animal any more than a perfect human. But the large majority of shelter

pets are capable of loving and being trained—it just takes what is necessary for any pet—love, patience and time.

Myth: Only mutts find their way into shelters. I want a purebred animal!

Fact: about 25% of pets that end up in shelters are “purebred”. Many shelters pair with breed specific rescues that pull adoptable purebreds into foster homes instead of allowing them to take up valuable space in a shelter. There is a rescue for just about any breed of dog or cat imaginable as well as birds, reptiles, rats, and ferrets!

Myth: I won’t know what I am getting at a shelter.

Fact: While it is true that sometimes shelters don’t have a lot of information to offer about an animal in their care, especially strays, it is not always the case. Most shelters can give detailed information concerning specific breeds and breed mixes that help to identify universal traits. In addition, most shelters conduct behavior assessments that help to identify issues or concerns and many work with the animal to avert problems before the animal is put up for adoption. There are laws concerning full disclosure to the adopting person, and many rescues will allow you to bring a pet home on a trial basis to make sure they are a good fit for your family. No shelter wants to see a pet returned because of a mis-match and work hard to prevent it from happening.

Myth: I want a puppy or kitten. Shelters are full of old dogs and cats!

Fact: Shelters have puppies and kittens too! Just because you don’t see the very youngest on the shelter’s website does not mean that none are available. Often such young animals are placed in foster care until they are of an adoptable age. BUT…please don’t overlook an animal because of its age! Be sure you understand the needs and requirements of the very young puppy or kitten. Older dogs and cats are just as loving and even hold some advantages over their younger counterparts! One of the truly remarkable events of my life followed our adoption of an ailing 18-year-old calico cat named Matisse. She lived for three years and enriched our lives with the love and devotion she brought to our home.

Myth: Shelter animals have health issues.

Fact: In most shelters, a veterinarian is required to clear pets before they are put up for adoption. This ensures that treatable conditions such as worms, respiratory infections or skin parasites are caught early and allows the shelter to treat them before the animal goes home with you. But many animals from shelters or rescues are perfectly healthy. Most adoption fees cover spay/neuter surgery, necessary vaccines, a heartworm test, flea/tick treatment and a microchip. On average, a potential adopter could save between $300-$500, by adopting from a shelter. Of course, these numbers vary shelter to shelter and in many cases, such as at the Center, there is no adoption fee at all. So—I’d certainly consider an adopted by to be a “bargain” (as well as a blessing!).

Myth: Animal shelters are “sad” places that would upset me!

Fact: This depends upon how you view the situation. Some people go into an animal shelter and see confused faces looking back at them. But imagine these same faces out on the cold, harsh street with nothing to eat and no friends to take care of them. Most shelters have active volunteer programs that ensure that cats and dogs are given plenty of

love and attention, in addition to socialization time, and for dogs—the much anticipated walk. Many more sophisticated shelters, such as the Center, allow for communal dog/cat spaces so that animals are not confined to iron cages and concrete floors. In any case, as we used to say about our charges when I worked in California…they are safe with us, they are loved and cared for. They are better off with us than wherever they came from! These animals are being saved, and for us whose lives are caught up with theirs, the glass is definitely half full!

Now: The Top Ten Reasons To Adopt From a Shelter or Rescue…

1. You are saving a life

2. You are saving money

3. You are helping to eradicate puppy farms and pet shops

4. Adopting an animal can improve your health and make you happier

5. Children learn from your example and continue the cycle of compassion

6. Many of the animals are already housetrained

7. You will be rewarded with unconditional love and gratitude

8. You could get a pet you never expected

9. Older animals can prove to be the best companions

10. By adopting, you support spay and neuter programs

Perhaps, most importantly, by adopting you will change a homeless animal’s whole world. What better reward than this?

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