Author: Anna Swartz
So many dogs need homes in the U.S. ( about 3.9 million dogs enter shelters each year) that no one should ever have to buy a pup — there are plenty of rescue dogs to go around.
But many people still avoid shelters and rescues when they’re searching for a pet — maybe because they believe some of the widespread myths and misconceptions about shelter dogs. We enlisted the help of shelter staff to help us break down these stereotypes and expose the real truth about rescue dogs.
Myth #1: All shelter dogs are old.
“Not true at all!” Rob Halpin of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) told The Dodo. “Many of the thousands of dogs we take in and place into new homes every year are 1 year old or younger. You can even find puppies in your local animal shelter!”
“We, like most shelters, get a lot of ‘woopsy’ litters. Hence: puppies,” Finnegan Dowling, of the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, told The Dodo. “We also get a lot of folks who get puppies from somewhere else and are then overwhelmed by puppyhood … There is a puppy looking for a home near where you live. Trust us on this.”
Myth #2: They’re all “damaged goods.”
While some people believe all shelter dogs have experienced abuse or neglect, that’s not always the case, Dowling explained. “The most common reasons animals are brought into shelters involve lifestyle changes on the owner’s part, as opposed to problems the dog has,” she said. “Most dogs in shelters come from homes a lot like yours.”
Caroline Crane at the Humane Society of Broward County agreed. “Damaged goods? The majority of our animals are turned into the shelter because of human issues, not animal issues.”
Even when shelter dogs have experienced some tough times, it doesn’t mean they wouldn’t make great pets, Halpin pointed out. “We’re astounded every day at how dogs perceived to be ‘damaged’ evolve into loving and socially well-adjusted pets after they’re placed in a loving home and given the attention they deserve.”
Myth #3: Shelters will make me jump through “hoops” to take home a dog.
“It’s true that shelters want to identify the best possible homes for the dogs in their care,” Halpin said. “But consider this: Shelters do this because the staff working with these animals come to know and love them, just like adopters come to know and love their pets.”
Crane summed it up this way: “Our shelter wants to place animals in homes. That’s our goal … No hoops! If you are a good home, we will gladly adopt an animal to you.”
Shelter dogs are usually vaccinated, microchipped and spayed or neutered before they’re adopted, Halpin pointed out, so “most of the hoops have already been cleared — by the shelter team.”
“Also, remember different shelters and rescues have different screening processes,” Dowling said. “If you don’t like how you’re being treated, try a different shelter or rescue.”
Myth #4: If I go to a shelter, I can’t choose the breed/color/sex I want.
Sometimes adopters can’t find exactly what they think they want in a dog — but it turns out OK, Halpin explained. “It’s especially joyful to watch dog owners who came in with very specific expectations, only to leave with a new four-legged friend who looks nothing like their ‘dream dog’ but makes them feel ecstatic nonetheless,” he said.
Mixed-breed dogs can offer a compromise, Crane pointed out. “If you can’t decide between two breeds, adopt a [mixed-breed dog],” she said. “You’ll get the best of both worlds.”
But if you have your heart set on a black pug or a male Irish setter, there are plenty of breed-specific rescues to check out.
Myth #5: All shelter dogs are pit bulls.
“There are a lot of pit bulls in shelters,” Dowling said. “There are also a lot of other types of dogs.” The only way to find out is to visit your local shelter orsearch online for adoptable dogs in your area.
“We do receive many ‘blockhead’ breeds, which are bully breeds.” Crane said. About 30 percent of the dogs at her shelter are “blockheads,” which include pit bull and American Staffordshire terriers, but the other 70 percent represent a wide variety of different breeds.
If you do wind up falling in love with a pit bull and taking her home, way to go, because pitties are awesome.
Myth #6: A shelter dog is more likely to have health problems I’ll have to pay for.
“Not true,” Halpin said. “In fact, many shelter dogs are mixed-breed dogs with lots of genetic variety, and many veterinarians will say that actually helps shelter dogs stay healthier throughout their lives.” Mixed-breed dogs’ genetic diversity often means they are healthier than purebred dogs.
Adopting from a shelter often ensures the dog you’re taking home has already been seen by a veterinarian, Crane pointed out. “Our vet staff examines every animal to be sure they are healthy,” she said. “If any of our animals have any health issue, we will let you know ahead of time.”
“All dogs will eventually have a health problem that you’ll need to pay for, be it a thorn in the paw or a disease,” Dowling said.
So, what’s the takeaway?
Many rumors and misconceptions exist about shelter dogs — but most of them are just that: rumors and misconceptions.
The truth is that adopting a shelter dog saves a life and helps make room for another life to be saved. Adopting a new pet is always a big commitment, one that shouldn’t be taken lightly — but with the guidance of experienced shelter staff, every family has the chance to take home their perfect new family member.
If you’re ready to adopt a shelter dog, visit your local shelter or search for rescues on Adopt-a-Pet.com.