By Darlene Duggan
This is part two of a series exploring common shelter rumors and myths. Read part one (Is Black Dog Syndrome a Myth?) here.
Here’s a shocking statement: all animals from a shelter are imperfect. It’s true, don’t let anyone tell you differently. Now that we have that truth established, we can discuss the topic in a little more detail.
In 2011, Petsmart Charities conducted a national survey about pets and their guardians, and found that about 20% of pets were obtained from a shelter. With so many homeless animals in shelters and such a high euthanasia rate in some communities, it makes one wonder why more people don’t obtain their pets from shelters. It has long been the assumption from those in the animal welfare field that a possible explanation is the public views shelter animals as imperfect, flawed, or defective. In other words, they come with baggage; even the young puppies and kittens have some deficiency marring their personality.
After having been a part of the animal welfare community for more than 10 years, my rebuttal to this is: who among us is perfect? We all have a special need of some sort in our history (if you’re anything like me, probably multiple), and we should not think of our pets as any different.
While most shelter animals probably have not been abused or mistreated, the reality is that their world has been thrown upside down—the rug pulled out from underneath them. Let’s consider it from the surrendered animal’s perspective: last night they had a home, ample food and water, a nice warm bed or couch to sleep on, maybe even some kids to play with. Now, suddenly at the shelter they are in a small cage, it’s noisy and stinky. There are lots of other animals around, no warm or soft bed to lay on, and what happened to those kids? And then, in a few days, weeks, or months, when the animal is finally settling in to the shelter life, they are (hopefully) adopted, and the adjustment process begins all over again.
Even for the stray animal that did not have a family or home, the shelter environment is new and unfamiliar. We should certainly expect to have to see them through some unique hurdles as they adjust to the changing environment.
And, for pets that come with more permanent issues—whether medical or behavioral—shelters offer many resources for adopters to manage those special circumstances, with some shelters even beginning the rehabilitation while the animal is still in their care.
So, if you think a shelter animal might be imperfect, consider the path in which they came to you, and then remember that none of us are perfect. The arithmetic involved is elementary: if I’m not perfect, and the shelter animal is not perfect, then certainly together, we equal a perfect match!
Darlene Duggan worked for many years behind the scenes at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago––overseeing volunteer programs, problem solving shelter issues, and laboring tirelessly for the welfare of animals. Her bi-weekly column, The Shelter Voice, will explore the complex concepts surrounding animal rescue and welfare usually reserved for discussions amongst those at the very front lines of the industry. She hopes to broaden the understanding and education of shelter supporters so they can act as well-informed advocates for the cause and help spread the adoption and rescue message throughout their community.