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Articles and Advice from our Pet Expert

5 Reasons to Adopt a Shelter Animal: Debunking Common Adoption Myths

When Christina Lee of Salem, Virginia, stopped by the Salem Animal Shelter in November 2010 to take photos of adoptable dogs to list on Facebook, she had no idea that this routine stop would lead her down a new road to where “Deaf Dogs Rock.” Christina was introduced to a ten week-old white Boxer puppy named “Nitro” and was asked by the Salem Animal Shelter Director to personally adopt this “special needs” puppy.

You see, Nitro was 100% deaf.

Christina and her husband Chris added Nitro to their family of three dogs and three horses because they had the time, resources and dedication to take on the challenge of raising a deaf dog. Little did they know that Nitro would inspire them to found, which you can visit for Nitro’s touching story. Christina and Chris now spend their time trying to educate the general public about deaf dogs, being a resource to deaf dog owners and helping deaf dogs in need find forever homes.

While this is a touching adoption story, it’s certainly not common – most adoptable pets do not have special needs. In fact, the majority of adoptable pets are free of behavior or health problems, and approximately 25 percent of them are purebreds!

In honor of Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month this October, I would like to dispel a few of the common misconceptions about adopting pets from shelters and rescues.

Myth #1 – Pets are in shelters because there’s something wrong with them and they won’t make good pets.

This is just plain false. According to a study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) and published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS), seven of the top reasons for relinquishment of both dogs and cats are the same and include, in no specific order:

  • Moving
  • Landlord not allowing pets
  • Too many animals in the household
  • Cost of pet maintenance
  • Owner having personal problems
  • Inadequate facilities
  • No homes available for litter mates

Myth #2: I don't know what I'm getting.

In fact, it’s just the opposite. There may be more information available about an adoptable pet than one from a breeder or pet store.

Many adoptable pets posted online (check out or through a specific breed rescue are in foster care. Foster parents live with their charges 24-7 and can often tell you, in detail, about the pet's personality and habits.

If the pet is at a shelter, the staff or volunteers may be able to tell you what he or she is like. At the very least, you can ask the staff if the pet was an owner-surrender (rather than a stray) and, if so, what the former owner said about him or her. You also can ask about the health and behavioral evaluations the pet has undergone since arriving at the shelter. In contrast, pet store owners rarely have an idea of what a pet will be like in a home.

Additionally, when you adopt an adult dog or cat, you can easily determine the pet’s full-grown size, coat type, personality and temperament. These are traits that aren’t immediately clear when you purchase a puppy or kitten from a pet store or breeder.

Myth #3: Shelter dogs are all mutts.

It’s a fact that you can find every breed, from lovable mutts to registered purebreds, at your local shelter. There also are breed-specific rescues for just about every breed, and most of them post their pets on Petfinder. (Petfinder can even e-mail you when a pet that fits your criteria is posted -- just click "Save this Search" at the top of your search results page.)

Some rescues and shelters keep a waiting list for prospective pet parents hoping to adopt a particular breed. If you want to bring a pet of a specific breed into your life, you also can call around and look for a shelter that maintains a purebred waiting list.

Myth #4: Shelter pets are more prone to behavior problems.

Some shelter pets may have behavior problems, but pets from breeders and pet stores may have issues too. Remember, all pets -- even eight-week old puppies and kittens -- have distinct personalities. Those personalities will either jive with your home and lifestyle or not. Some characteristics and personalities of certain breeds may work better for you than others, so be sure to work with a rescue group or shelter staff to find the right fit for you.

If you’re concerned about avoiding behavioral issues in your new pet, perhaps the best option is to look into adopting an adult animal. Look for a shelter that works primarily through foster care, so that you will be able to discuss an animal’s behavior with their foster parent. Most rescues are happy to fully disclose any known issues, because they’d rather lose an adoption today than have a pet returned next week. An older animal may even have had previous obedience training, be accustomed to flying solo during the day while owners are at work, and be used to kids and other pets.

Myth #5: I can get a free pet, so why pay an adoption fee?

According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, approximately 65 percent of pet parents in the U.S. get their pets for free or at low cost, and most pets are obtained from acquaintances or family members. The NCPPSP also reports that pets acquired from friends make up more than 30 percent of pets surrendered to shelters (read the article here).

While getting a "free" pet may seem like a bargain at first, you are then responsible for the initial veterinary costs that shelters and rescue groups usually cover, including spaying/neutering ($150-300), vaccinations ($70-120), flea/tick treatment ($50-$200), and microchipping ($50). Many shelters and rescues are able to purchase vaccinations in bulk and receive veterinary care at a reduced price, making the average adoption fee of $50 to $200 become considerably more appealing than the “do it yourself option.”

There are few experiences in life more satisfying and rewarding as saving an animal's life, and making them a valued member of the family. So when choosing your next four-legged, furry addition to the family—special needs or not—consider checking out the shelters and rescues in your area or throughout the country. Your next best friend will thank you for it.

If you’d like a little more inspiration to adopt, read these heartwarming stories recently posted as part of the BlogPaws blog carnival sponsored by BISSELL!

Who Rescued Who

Just A Nameless Street Stray

Kristen Buck60x60

Written by:
Kristen Levine

September 20, 2011

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