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by Meg McIntire | Magazine

Stop. Think. Adopt.

How misconceptions about rescue animals are part of the homeless pet problem in America. 

by Meg McIntire

An extra-large coffee, a new pair of shoes, a candy bar while in line at the grocery store...all of these are perfectly harmless impulse buys. A German Shepherd puppy from your local animal shelter? Not so much. 

These days, with shelters hosting free or low-cost adoption days, “My Dog’s a Rescue” bumper stickers plastered on cars and the heartbreaking TV ads showing a seemingly endless slideshow of shelter animals, it’s easy to feel like the only way to show you care is by immediately rushing to a shelter and taking home a furry friend. Sometimes it even seems as though adoption campaigns push the idea that rescuing an animal is like an easily attainable badge of honor – but instead of an iron-on patch or certificate, you get a brand new cat or dog. 

This is not to say that you shouldn’t go to a shelter if you’re considering getting a dog or cat—everyone should adopt their animals from rescue organizations. It’s just crucial to be prepared for the responsibility and lifelong commitment rescuing an animal entails and not to take the decision lightly. Then it can be one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have.

One of the major reasons there are so many homeless animals in America is because their previous owners realized they were not prepared financially to own a dog or cat. After realizing how costly it can be to have an animal in their lives, some owners decide the costs outweigh the benefits and get rid of the dog or cat  the same way they cancel a gym membership or stop buying take-out for dinner in an effort to save a few bucks. Abandoning an animal should never be an option when attempting to balance a budget, but according to a study done during the 2009 recession, 500,000 to one million cats and dogs were predicted to be given up by owners during the financial crisis. 

The price tag for owning a dog or cat adds up when considering the price of food, toys, vet visits, medical complications, treats, grooming – the list is endless. According to a study done in 2011, the cost of owning a dog averages about $20,000 during its lifetime and a cat can cost up to $17,000. These aren’t the numbers that get tossed around during “free adoption” day at shelters or in TV commercials, so often times new pet owners underestimate how having an animal will impact their finances. 

This also results in a misconception about how a shelter dog is like the Walmart version of a pet. As though only expensive “fancy, boutique dogs” will cost you a fortune, but shelter dogs are money savers.  The reality is that owning any type of cat or dog is a serious financial responsibility, especially considering they can live for up to 20 years, so you’re not getting a “deal” when adopting from a shelter. It’s true that the initial cost of purchasing the animal will be relatively inexpensive, but that is no indication of future costs. 

Many times, someone will purchase a dog or cat only to decide a short time later they can’t handle the responsibility and return it to a shelter, as though animals are “recyclable.” According to a study by Dog Time, every year, about 13 million American households adopt a dog or a puppy and within 12 months, half of them have been taken to a shelter. That number is indicative of the common attitude some have towards animals in this country— they’re easily attainable and just as easily discarded. 

When someone adopts a dog or cat on a whim without any real foresight only to give it up again, it takes away from valuable time that animal could have spent finding a real home and puts incredible stress on the animal. Occasionally, some overcrowded shelters also consider returns as a strike against the animal, and then they get bumped up on the euthanasia list. 

The pressure by rescue groups to adopt first, ask questions later is something that needs to be corrected if we truly want to make a difference in the lives of shelter animals and reduce the homeless pet population.

Stop and think before you adopt a dog or cat so recycling is no longer part of rescuing.

Meg McIntire

Act•ionLine Summer 2014

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