I walk my dog, Pete, every day, and people are always stopping us to ask me, "Where did you get your dog?" Pete looks like a common breed, so I guess many people just assume that I bought him from a breeder. It's fun to see the surprise on their faces when I smile and say that Pete is a mutt and I adopted him from the local animal shelter.
October is "Adopt a Shelter Dog" Month, and for people who are ready to commit to caring for a canine companion, I can say from experience that there is no better place to find your new best friend than a shelter or rescue group. I wasn't sure what to expect when my husband and I adopted Pete almost eight years ago, but now I know that we will never look anywhere other than a shelter for our animal family members.
At shelters, you will find all kinds of dogs. We were thrilled when, on our very first visit, we found a dog who had all the qualities that we were hoping for in a canine companion: large size, long hair and lots of energy. Of course, if we had wanted a small, short-haired dog who loves to snuggle, the shelter had plenty of dogs who would have fit the bill. As we walked past cage after cage, dogs of all ages, personalities and sizes--mutts and purebreds alike--poked their noses through the bars, wagged their tails and watched us with pleading eyes, as if to say, "Please pick me!"
I would have taken every one of those sweet dogs home if I could have, but with the help of the shelter's adoption counselor, we were able to narrow down our decision. She walked us through each step of the process, asked us questions and told us about Pete's personality and background to help ensure that our lifestyle, activity level and experience would make us a good fit. Then she showed us to a private visiting room and gave us plenty of time to get to know our potential new family member one-on-one.
It didn't take long to fall in love with Pete, and after considering the decision for a day or two (adopting is a lifelong commitment, after all!) we signed the papers to make him a part of our family. For a nominal adoption fee--hundreds less than what breeders typically charge--our new addition came home neutered, vaccinated, dewormed and microchipped. The elated shelter staffers hugged and kissed Pete goodbye and offered us follow-up support and classes to ensure that his transition to a new home would be a success.
Pete has become such an important part of our life that it's difficult to think about what might have happened if we had not adopted him. Every year, open-admission shelters across the country are forced to euthanize up to 4 million dogs and cats. Breeders, pet stores and people who don't have their animals sterilized put shelter workers in this heartbreaking position because they bring more animals into a world that is already tragically short on good homes.
But you can help change that this October, by ensuring that your animal companions are sterilized and, if you are ready, opening your heart and home to one of the many lovable dogs waiting in a shelter. Just get ready to have lots of people ask you where you found that smart, sweet, one-of-a-kind dog of yours.
Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for The PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.