Guest blog by ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker
With somewhere between 5 and 7 million homeless animals entering U.S. animal shelters, it’s unconscionable to suggest, as one writer did in the Washington Post, that adopting a pet from an animal shelter is a bad idea. (See a comprehensive refutation from Washington Humane Society’s Lisa Lafontaine.)
But as ridiculous as anti-shelter arguments are, they reveal destructive myths about shelter animals that need to be called out every time they arise. I’m sharing some of the most persistent ones below, and have enlisted help from ASPCA shelter science experts to help dispel them.
Myth: The major reasons dogs end up in shelters is because they were seized in criminal cases, or were too aggressive to own safely.
More than half of all dogs and cats in shelters were received as strays, but that doesn’t mean by any stretch they’re automatically aggressive, come from abusive environments, or have medical challenges. What’s much more important than an animal’s history is its current behavior and medical status. This information is typically well-known and shared by shelter staff who’ve been caring for the animal.
Myth: Shelter animals are not as clean as pet store animals.
Not only is this untrue, but the conditions of many breeding facilities or puppy mills (which supply pet stores that sell dogs) are nothing short of horrific. Puppy mill operators may fail to remove sick dogs from their breeding pools. As a result, puppies from puppy mills sometimes come with congenital and hereditary conditions including epilepsy, heart disease, kidney disease, and respiratory disorders.
Puppies born in puppy mills are usually removed from their mothers at just six weeks of age, denying them critical socialization, and housed in overcrowded and unsanitary wire-floored cages, without adequate veterinary care, food or water. Make no mistake: Anything purchased at a pet store that sells animals—even supplies—is keeping this vicious industry in business.
Myth: Older cats and dogs will not bond with new owners.
Again, simply untrue. Age is not a determining factor in an animal’s affection toward humans or its ability to bond with them. Just ask anyone who’s adopted an older pet, visit a shelter and ask to see their older animals, or simply look into the face of an older dog or cat. Organizations like Susie’s Senior Dogs are trying hard to connect more senior animals with loving homes. Believe me, they’re ready for you.
Myth: A shelter animal should never be given as a gift.
To the uninformed, this may makes sense, but data shows otherwise. A scientific study we published last October found that 96 percent of people who received pets as gifts reported it either increased or had no negative impact on their attachment to that pet. Also, 86 percent of the pets in the study are still in their homes, a percentage roughly equivalent to that in standard adoption.
The survey also showed no difference in attachment based on whether the gift was a surprise or known in advance. This is supported by previous studies conducted in the 1990s and 2000, which found that pets acquired as gifts are actually less likely to be relinquished than pets acquired directly by an individual owner.
This misconception is particularly harmful because it not only prevents shelter animals from going into loving homes, but may drive potential adopters toward pet stores that almost always get their inventory from puppy mills.
Myth: Adopting big or very strong dogs is a bad idea if you have little children.
There’s no evidence that big dogs are more likely than small dogs to harm children. Chances are, you already know some very sweet big dogs, and if you don’t, the ASPCA or your local shelter would be happy to introduce you to one.
There’s been some recent debate about the inherent natures of pit bulls in particular, but again, there’s no evidence to show that pit bulls are more likely to cause harm to humans than any other breed. A dog's—any dog’s—behavior is a function of many factors, including breeding, socialization, training, environment and treatment by owners.
Myth: Getting animals from breeders is safer because the breeders know the animal’s bloodline and family history.
First know that, as a result of their breeding, purebred dogs very often have genetic disorders and medical issue predispositions, certainly no less often than shelter dogs. Also, while bloodlines and histories are useful tools to assess an animal’s value, they are limited in terms of predicting behavior. On the other hand, shelters are motivated to save lives and make strong matches. Some use science and sophisticated tools to appropriately pair up animals and owners, and are happy to share everything they know about each animal.
Good breeders are focused not on profit, but on the health and welfare of the individual animals they handle, and we applaud that. But the plain truth is you’re helping to save and protect more lives if you make adoption your first option, so please match your open home and open heart with an open mind.
Chicken Scratch is an ASPCA Blog feature that highlights interesting news about farm animals and farm animal welfare.
Image courtesy of Compassion in World Farming
This makes us sick! The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new poultry inspection program will not require plants to test for Salmonella and Campylobacter. As reported in a Food Safety Newsopinion piece, the agency “will leave it up to the company to decide what organism to test and which pathogen to test for, leaving the public with no guarantee that poultry plants will test for the pathogens that actually make people sick.
Despite increasing interest in, and demand for, farm-to-table fare, many small-scale farmers aren’t making a living. In an op-ed in The New York Times, one young farmer writes that a whopping “93% of all farm households rely on multiple sources of income,” creating a constant source of financial and emotional stress for many in the field. The farmer also stresses the importance of shifting subsidies from factory farms to family farms to “ensure that growing good food also means making a good living.”
A new study sponsored by the USDA examined consumer safety behavior when shopping for poultry and the findings were flat out gross! Evidently, “most people do not use the plastic bags intended to carry raw meat products nor the sanitizing solution intended to mitigate the spread of harmful bacteria,” both of which are provided in stores. Poultry juices can contaminate anything, from your shopping cart to your kid! Unfortunately, retail raw chicken tends to have high pathogen rates, no surprise given the stressful and dirty conditions in which the birds are forced to live.
“A force with which to be reckoned” is how Politico recently characterized the possible trajectory of the ASPCA’s farm animal advocacy work! Reposted by the Organic Consumers Association, the piece features farm animal welfare campaign member Daisy Freund, and our CEO, Matt Bershadker, discussing our increased focus on farm animals, specifically our work on broiler chicken issues, and our commitment to maintaining “a balanced approach” to the farm animal welfare issue.
At the ASPCA, we LOVE black kitties—but the sad truth is that not everyone feels the same way. Due to outdated (and incorrect) myths and superstitions, black cats have a really hard time getting adopted. That’s why we were so glad to learn that this Sunday, August 17, is Black Cat Appreciation Day!
To celebrate this holiday, we put together just a few of the many reasons we appreciate these raven-coated kitties:
Black cats go with everything—and they’ll never go out of style!
You can tell your kids you adopted a miniature panther.
Their fur won’t show on your little black dress.
In most cultures, black cats are a sign of good luck.
Black cats are just as loving, sweet and wonderful as any other cat!
We hope you will join us in celebrating Black Cat Appreciation Day by heading to your local shelter and bringing home a black cat this weekend. If you’re in the New York City area, come meet some the black cats available at the ASPCA Adoption Center right now:
Salem Salem can be a bit shy with new people, but once he gets to know you, he’ll shower you with purrs, head-butts, and plenty of lap time. If properly introduced, this handsome 2-year-old can live in a home with another cat.
Pinky This sweet, soulful 4-year-old cat is ready for his forever home. He’s a bit nervous around other cats, so Pinky would do best in a home where he gets to be the only pet. He also has a soft spot for yummy treats!
Princess Princess is a sensitive kitty and can be timid around new people. Once she relaxes, though, she is very sweet and enjoys petting. She will do best in a home with an experienced cat adopter and respectful kids ages 14 and up.
JamesandGwendolyn James (4) and Gwendolyn (6) are another bonded pair. These sweeties like attention, but they also appreciate their solitude from time to time. Both are FIV positive and would do best in a stable home with an experienced adopter.
BernardandMinerva Bernard and Minerva are BFFs (Best Feline Friends), so they are looking for a home together. These four-month-old kitties would do best in a quiet home with respectful kids ages 12 and up.
Gary is a super friendly and affectionate pup. But they don’t call this curious goofball a busy body for nothing—he’s happiest when he’s on the move! He’d make the perfect companion to your afternoon stroll or run through the park.
Gary likes to play with other dogs and with proper introductions, he could make a few canine buddies. This lively guy would be happy to go home with an experienced adopter who will give him plenty of playtime and exercise. Gary would do best in a household with teens-and-up. Adopt Gary today!
Gary is available for adoption at the ASPCA Adoption Center. If you are interested in adopting, please call our Adoptions department in New York City at (212) 876-7700 ext. 4120. To learn more about Gary, please visit his profile page.
Victims of animal cruelty are often the hardest animals to place into a home. Shyness, fear and anxiety regularly plague these pets—and not all adopters feel up to the task.But those who do often discover that underneath the pain, there’s an animal that is eager to love and be loved. Such was the case with Escher, a 55-lb. Shepherd/Collie mix with a mysterious past who proved that sometimes, the greatest hardship leads to the greatest reward. Here is his Happy Tail.
As a photographer for the ASPCA, Stacey Axelrod spends most days meeting with and photographing dogs and cats at the ASPCA Adoption Center. Though she has worked with hundreds of animals, she knew from her very first encounter with Escher that he was special. In February, Escher and five other dogs were rescued from an abandoned van in Brooklyn, New York. Hungry and freezing, all six dogs were suffering from some form of vision impairment, ranging from Entropion (an eyelid disease) to total blindness. They were all incredibly shy and fearful, and though we were unsure of how long they had been in the van, it was clear that it would take a lot of work to restore their faith in humans.
After meeting Escher, Stacey began visiting him at the Adoption Center every day. “I knew I wanted a dog who might have some trouble finding a home,” she says, so she invited her fiancé Jon to come meet him, too. “At first, Escher would shy away when we tried to pet him,” says Stacey. “He was scared of everything and I could tell he just needed someone to give him confidence.” After spending some time with the timid pooch, she and Jon were sold. “I have no idea what he went through earlier in his life, but I just felt like he deserved the life I could give him.”
At home, Stacey and Jon discovered the full extent of Escher’s issues. “He was terrified of stairs and there are lots of stairs to get into my apartment building,” she says. “I spent hours with him just sitting there and trying to coax him one step further.” In addition to the stairs, Escher also exhibited an extreme fear of strangers, other dogs, and being left alone. Stacey did research on dog behavior and Positive Reinforcement Training, and slowly but surely, helped Escher become more comfortable.
“I remember the first time he laid down and rolled over next to me,” Stacey recalls. “It was the first of many milestones and the first time I saw him truly relax. I never really wanted to nap on my kitchen floor, but I couldn’t resist it that day. He allowed me to snuggle up next to him and everything changed after that. It was love at first belly rub.”
As time went on, Escher continued to show signs of improvement. He tackled his fear of stairs, and he even mastered some tricks like sit, down, paw, and high five. “He’s still learning typical dog behaviors,” says Stacey, “but at some point, he realized that he could trust us and that he was here to stay. It was like something clicked. We celebrated the tiniest of changes, and now I can’t believe how far he has come.”
Though working with Escher has been a roller coaster of emotions, Stacey never once doubted her decision. “When I get discouraged, I just play some games with him and remember how amazing and goofy he is despite his fears,” she says. “He’s the perfect dog.” And though she has spent a lot of time working with Escher, he has given her so much in return. “He has taught me so much about commitment, living in the present, and celebrating the small things. I never knew I could have such a strong mutual relationship with a dog until I got Escher.”
Admittedly, the timid Escher is still gaining confidence, but his progress is undeniable. And from the cold February morning in an abandoned van to the warmth and love of Stacey and Jon’s home, he has already come so far.
Three of the dogs rescued with Escher, Caitlyn, Dermott, and Brona, are still waiting for their forever homes. For more information about adopting these sweet dogs, please contact the ASPCA Adoption Center at (212) 876-7700 ext. 4120