Every year, about seven million animals go into shelters and rescues across the country. Dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, guinea pigs, parakeets, and other animals come in as stray, are abandoned, or given up for various reasons. Nearly half of those that enter shelters are killed.
October is National Adopt-a-Shelter Dog Month. The numerous rescue organizations, animal shelters, and humane societies across the country take in the stray and unwanted, and for people seeking to adopt, there's a plethora of animals from which to choose. And so there are questions: Which breed of dog? What type of pet? Dog? Cat? Rabbit? Lizard? Parakeet? Fish?
How do you choose?
First, consider your lifestyle. Are you home a lot or gone? Are you an active person or a couch potato? Do you want an animal that needs to be with you a lot or one that's independent? Do you have time to walk and play with a pet? Dogs especially crave the attention of their people; they are pack animals and mostly social, so getting a dog and then leaving it for hours on end, indoors or outdoors, and neglecting that desire to be with you can lead to destructive behaviors and abandonment anxiety.
Second, consider the allergy factor – does anyone in your family have allergies to pet hair/dander? Are you allergic to bird feathers? Even though many people with allergies have pets, it's also a big reason people turn animals into shelters and rescues. If you or someone in your house is severely allergic to animal hair/dander, then consider having a reptile, like a lizard or turtle, or a variety of fish for a beautiful aquarium.
Third, do you expect a life change in the near future, such as moving or having a baby? These are also main reasons people bring animals to the shelter. Keep in mind a pet is a major responsibility and should be a lifetime commitment. Dogs and cats in particular attach themselves to their human families, and it's very traumatic for them to go from living in a home to a shelter situation, behind bars, on cold concrete, amid other barking dogs and meowing cats. Therefore, don't think of a pet as a temporary resident, but as a member of the family, and if you think you'll be making a major life change in the near future, postpone getting a pet until your life is more settled.
Fourth, research the different breeds of dogs and cats and the other types of animals people have for pets. Understand that terriers dig, beagles bay, corgis herd, cats claw, and longhaired felines need regular grooming. Most dogs and cats shed and bird and hamster cages need regular cleaning. Know what you're in for BEFORE you add a pet to your home and learn about the personality traits and habits of different breeds. Also recognize the needs of the various types of animals before you adopt.
Lastly, don't adopt on a whim and don't “gift” an animal, no matter whether it's a dog, cat, kitten, puppy, hamster, rabbit, or other creature. Remember the previous tips about understanding the needs of the animal and the responsibilities of pet ownership. Don't surprise someone and don't get an animal for yourself or your family without the knowledge base of which pet best fits your life. If you want to “gift” a pet, offer to pay the adoption fee for someone and let them choose the pet themselves. If you're considering giving your children the “gift” of a pet, keep in mind mom and dad are ultimately responsible for the care and cost of the pet... and even a “free pet” costs money for vet care, food, and other supplies … and pets take time, especially dogs. As a family, research the various types of pets and the different breeds of dogs and cats, and spend time together at the shelters and rescues to find the right animal that fits your family's lifestyle and personalities. A good opportunity to do that comes during Christmas break, when you can visit the facilities frequently and spend time with the various animals available for adoption … and you have the time after the holiday with your new family member before it's left alone when the kids return to school and you return to work.
The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) provides a list of pros and cons to adding a pet to your home. They offer tips and guidelines for those considering adopting a dog, a cat, a hamster, a guinea pig, a rabbit, or having a fish. View these tips, and other important pet information, at the organization's website: https://www.aspca.org/adopt/adoption-tips/right-pet-you.
So, which pet is the right one? The one that is right for you!
Pet owners don’t need a special time to honor and celebrate their pets, but during the month of September the American Kennel Club and other organizations remind owners that dogs are a major responsibility and these groups honor dogs and dog owners in various ways.
National Dog Week is generally observed the last week of September; it's a time when dog owners and various organizations honor dogs. William Judy, who started Dog World Magazine during the 1920s, first set aside this special week as a way to celebrate those special creatures most consider “man’s best friend”.
The American Kennel Club (www.akw.org) honors both dogs and owners during Responsible Dog Ownership Days. The AKC is hosting a major event in North Carolina on September 19, and various AKC chapters will host activities highlighting the joy (and responsibility) of owning a dog throughout September. People and organizations can register the many activities they do with their dogs to impart responsibility. To learn more, visit http://www.akc.org/events/responsible-dog-ownership-days/.
Dogs are fun, dogs are loyal, and dogs are a major responsibility. Sadly, many people ignore that fact and treat their dog like a commodity instead of living, breathing being. That's why we have so many dogs in shelters, thousands of which are killed every day in those facilities. Pet ownership irresponsibility is also why there are so many animal rescue organizations that try to find new homes for abused, unloved, unwanted animals. People need to realize and recognize not everyone needs to, or is cut out to, have a pet. If you can't/won't take care of a dog or cat properly, which means providing it not just food, water and shelter, but also love, loyalty, and attention, then DON'T GET ONE! Get a plant or a pet rock instead.
I have had pets since I was seven years old. I didn't always understand the major responsibility it took to have a pet, but as an adult I learned that responsibility, and I love and appreciate the animals in my care. They bring me joy, companionship, and devotion; they lift my spirits, comfort me when I'm sick, and stick by me when I've felt alone and abandoned by human beings. I am thankful, so very thankful, for my pets!
I enjoy sharing the lessons dogs (and cats) can teach us, and I share many of those lessons (of life and faith) in the books I write and the presentations I give. Dogs and cats have served humankind for thousands of years, from rodent control to family and property protector. Native Americans and other cultures used dogs to transport loads (prior to tribes getting the horse). Still today, dogs serve people in a variety of ways: herding and protecting flocks; finding fowl in the field; guiding the blind; assisting wheel-chair bound individuals; rescuing lost children; and bringing smiles to those in hospital beds. And, still people mistreat, maim, and kill these precious living creatures out of evil, spike, and sometimes just a lack of knowledge. Education and empathy are keys to stopping the cruelty and neglect people still inflict upon dogs and cats, and other animals.
May those of us who cherish and appreciate dogs take time to do something to honor and celebrate canines this month. May we also take time to educate others, especially children, to be kinder to animals and to be responsible pet owners. Consider attending a special event near you for Dog Ownership Responsibility Day and take family members and friends. And may we all do our part to help animals in need by helping rescue groups and shelters in our communities. National Dog Week and Responsible Dog Ownership Days can be the catalyst for positive change in how our society views and treats animals.
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.