By Tiana Nelson
Today I saw a woman give up her dog.
At first I didn’t know what was happening, as she sat at a small table at the MaxFund with another volunteer. I was bringing a dog back from a walk and noticed that she was crying and holding the leash of a beautiful basset hound. It wasn’t quite what I expected it would all look like, but it was fairly quick and after about 10 minutes she was turning over the leash of the family dog, Bellow.
I was brushing one of the shelter dogs in an empty room when Bellow came in. She walked around for a couple minutes smelling the few items in the room, all the while a shelter volunteer was bringing in the dog’s plush bed, a new crate and a few other items from Bellow’s now former home.
After a couple minutes there was nothing left to smell, and Bellow realized she was alone in a room with no one she knew. She looked confused and maybe a little sad, but I thought to myself that it was nice she had a little time before she went to her cage in the back … the one that would be her new home until she got adopted.
Shelters receive about half of the 5 to 7 million companion animals in their shelters from pets relinquished by their owners, with the other half being animals picked up by animal control or brought in by Good Samaritans. Once in a shelter, about 60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats are euthanized each year, according to the ASPCA.
I’m not writing this blog to judge, and I can’t pretend that I understand or that I know all of the circumstances, as I’m sure sometimes people feel like they don’t have a choice in relinquishing their animal. The National Humane Education Society reports a variety of reasons for people giving up their family pet, ranging from moving to cost of the animal, to not having time for the pet to the animal having an illness.
Still, with the statistics the way they are, it seems like giving up your animal, in many cases, is almost like signing their death certificate — like asking someone to put them down, so you don’t have to.
I’ve seen the sad eyes of too many caged animals that had homes and no longer do, to have much sympathy for their humans.
Although there are no doubt cases where people honestly can no longer care for their animals — where the pet’s chances at a shelter are better than their life at home — it is hard to imagine that number being around 2.5 to 3.5 million a year. On the contrary, I’m guessing a lot of the relinquishments just made the person’s life a little easier.
So while my opinion of relinquishment is likely not much of a secret at this point, I think there is a bigger idea at play here. As a society, we need to value animals, we need to consider pet ownership as a permanent, lifelong commitment, rather than only keep an animal when it is cute and cuddly and causes us no difficulty.
Think of your animal as your child, because that is what they are — they need you, they love you for who you are, they need love and affection and they need you to be their parent forever. A pet isn’t a commitment for a couple years — it is a commitment for a lifetime — and with half of all dogs and cats in shelters being given up, just imagine what a dent we could make in the lives of animals if families didn’t see their pets as disposable.
I think how many more animals could be saved if I could fill half the cages at MaxFund — a no-kill shelter, with dogs and cats that truly needed homes — not animals that someone figured life would be more convenient without.
People may think it’s just one animal they are giving up, but honestly when someone gets rid of their family pet, they are not only taking a chance that their animal may be put down, but that another may not get a place in the shelter. Our consumerist society, our instant gratification … our selfishness is literally killing animals.
Maybe someday when people think they want a cute puppy, they will buy a stuffed dog rather than the real thing. That way when they get tired of it and give it up, the stuffed animal can just go in a storage box in the garage, rather than the real dog having to go to the nearest shelter and wait to see if it gets to live another day.
Tiana Nelson is from Denver, Colo., and started the Doggie Avenger Blog with the goal of educating people and changing their perceptions about animals. When she began volunteering at a local animal shelter, it struck her that so many people were not actively aware of animal overpopulation. She hopes to change the lives of animals one-by-one through increasing awareness and encouraging people to always adopt — never buy from a breeder or pet store, to always spay and neuter their pets, to understand the depth of animal issues and to know why all of that is important. Tiana currently works in higher education, and in her free time enjoys traveling, running, volunteering with animals, spending time with her two pugs, and her family and friends.
Want to help a shelter dog?
DogVacay wants to help make sure no dogs go hungry, so for ever new sign up made at dogvac.com/share meals in October, DogVacay will donate a meal to a shelter dog.