9 Myths About Adopting a Pet From a Shelter

adopting a pet from a shelter

Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized. 1.5 MILLION! These animals are killed as a consequence of human actions. Overpopulation is completely preventable by spaying and neutering our animals (Bob Barker was not lying). It’s our responsibility to solve this problem we have created. We can do this by adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue organization.

But before you insert your, “But….” reason for not adopting a pet from a shelter, let’s do some myth busting! Here are 9 common myths about adopting a rescue animal. 

Myth 1: Rescues never have purebred dogs. 

In a recent study, researchers went into 12 animal shelters for one year to find out why owners surrender (give up) their dogs.

Spoiler alert: It had nothing to do with the breed.

The top reasons dogs were in shelters ranged from housing issues (moving, landlord not allowing pets, inadequate facilities), cost, personal reasons (no time for a pet, other personal circumstances), or concerns with the pet (illness, biting, etc.). 

The myth buster? Approximately 25-30% of dogs in local rescues are purebreds. 

Due to all the reasons above (and more), any kind of dog can end up in a shelter; even purebreds. Shelters are filled with “designer” dogs who have been spayed/neutered, microchipped, and are ready to be adopted.

As a foster dog-mom, I have seen many purebreds come through the foster list. Because purebreds are usually adopted quickly, it’s best to fill out an application for adoption prior to a dog arriving at a shelter. You also improve your chances of adopting a purebred if you are more flexible in your age/gender specifications.  

Myth 2: Shelter dogs all have behavior problems.

Dogs are given to shelters for a variety of reasons and it is rarely due to behavioral problems. Natalie Johnson-Metcalf, a veterinary technician with Casselton Veterinary Service and vice president of 4 Luv of Dog Rescue, states, “Most animals that come into rescues are wonderful, family pets that were surrendered through no fault of their own. Some dogs have training and behavioral issues because the first human owner didn’t properly work with them. Even from a breeder, you aren’t going to get a ‘perfect’ pet unless trained properly.” 

Myth 3: Adoption fees are so expensive.

Non-profit rescues spend a lot of money to house, feed, medicate, spay/neuter, and vaccinate unwanted dogs prior to adoption. This can easily add up to a $500 investment into a dog that is available for adoption at a cost of $200-$300. My family recently adopted the sweetest cat on earth. For $25, she was spayed and vaccinated and we are just lucky enough to enjoy her company. 

And your neighbor giving away free puppies from an unplanned litter? Beware of the term “free.” There is no such thing as a free dog, says Melissa Schlader, a local veterinarian with West Fargo Animal Hospital. There will be vet bills for treatments, medications, vaccinations, dog food, boarding, and more. When you adopt a pet from a shelter, many of these fees are covered. 

Myth 4: Purebred dogs are healthier.

Thanks to their mixed genes, many mixed breeds (a.k.a mutts) have a lower rate of health conditions compared to purebreds. Mutts are less likely to have received a high dose of any particular genes. Unless the owner has a specific need for the assets of a breed, the specific traits they are bred for (such as hunting, herding, or guarding) are problematic over time. People may not be ready for the work it takes to deal with certain characteristics and instincts as the animal matures.   

Myth 5: It’s difficult to bond with an older dog.

Age has nothing to do with a dog’s ability to bond. Seniors make exceptional pets and there is no mystery as to what their personality might be like. Potential parents are able to meet the dog prior to adopting a pet from a shelter and foster caregivers are able to describe the dog’s nature: if they like other dogs or cats or kids, if they are afraid of certain people, if they need tons of exercise, and so on.

Myth 6: It’s hard to find a puppy at a rescue.

Unfortunately, many people don’t figure the cost of spaying and neutering into having a dog. Unwanted litters of puppies occur much too often. If you want to rescue a puppy, it is best to fill out an application with a rescue prior to seeing puppies that you want to adopt. That way, when puppies come in that you are interested in, you will already be pre-approved and can move forward with adoption. 

Myth 7: I can’t get a rescue dog because I don’t have a fenced-in yard. 

Or some similar thought of, “I can’t rescue because…” Most rescues do require a home visit to ensure a good fit between the dog and potential adopter. Rescues want success for the dog, and for the people adopting the pet from a shelter. The home visit is not so much to judge every aspect of your house and personal life, but to assist adopters in getting a dog that will best fit their lifestyle and family.

Myth 8: Shelters are sad, depressing places. 

Mariah Jessen, an adoption advocate and foster with Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue, says she simply had a lack of education when she bought her first dog from a pet store. Mariah says, “In my ignorance, I thought rescue dogs consisted of super-sad ASPCA stories that would pop-up while I watched TV.” As an animal lover, Mariah wanted to think happy thoughts about animals, not sad thoughts. For many dogs and cats in loving foster homes, it’s not such a sad story. And referring back to the list of why animals arrive in shelters, they often came from loving environments prior to adoption.

Myth 9: If I don’t buy a pet store puppy, they’ll just end up in a shelter, too. 

I know what you’re thinking; those pet store puppies are so cuuuuuute. If we don’t buy them, won’t they end up in shelters, too? Remember when we all started buying the “good for you” mac and cheese and then the name brand had to stop using yellow dyes?

It’s all about supply and demand.

When you purchase an animal from a pet store, you are contributing to the demand and so the puppy mills keep producing supply. Ninety percent of puppies purchased from a pet store are from a puppy mill, directly funding abuse, cruelty and neglect. I toured a friend’s “puppy farm” in high school and remember asking, “When do the moms go outside?”

They don’t. The moms have puppies, they feed puppies, and they mate again. They never see the light of day.  

The same supply and demand theory can be applied for that $20 puppy being sold in the classifieds. The owner of the adult dog did not plan on paying for spaying or neutering their own dog, and are instead hoping to make a few bucks by selling some pups.  

Still unsure about adopting from a rescue shelter? 

Volunteer to be considered as a foster with a local rescue organization. We’ve got them all list in our Guide to Adopting a Pet In and Around Fargo. You’ll have the opportunity to help a dog or cat in need, as well as see how your family does with a rescue pet. You will not have to commit to caring for the animal forever upfront, but will be eligible to adopt if the pet works well with your family.

So there you have it: myths busted. Happy adopting! 

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Erika has worked in the educational setting as a physical therapist for 17 years, after attending UND and NDSU. After recognizing difficult behaviors in her third child, she became an advanced trainer of the Nurtured Heart Approach®. Professionally, Erika is also a mentor, course-captain, and clinical instructor, and has served students in the Autism magnet program for 10 years. She recently served on the Pediatric Advisory Board for Curriculum Development at UND, and on a task force with the Department of Instruction to create the first school-based PT/OT guidelines in the state. She also is a mentor with BioGirls, leads a group of teenage boys at confirmation, leads a Girl Scout troop, and has coached baseball. For the past two Mother’s Days, Erika has hosted a Neighborhood Chalk Party, an event designed to further build relationships in neighborhoods on the principle of “it takes a village to raise a child.” She was born and raised in Hankinson, ND, and has lived in the Fargo area for over 25 years with her husband (who you may know as the radio DJ on Bob 95 FM: "Chris, John and Cori in the Morning"). Together they have four children: girl-boy-boy-girl, ages 10-16. Erika is passionate about empowering kids, preventative health, hiking, and national parks.

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