By Tiana Nelson
You may know when you walk into an animal shelter that the dogs you’re looking at don’t always have much time left, but you may not know just how it works.
Let me start by noting that between 3 and 4 million dogs and cats die in shelters every year in the United States, which makes up 60% of dogs and 70% of cats in shelters.
People working in animal rescue have incredible hearts and do everything they can to save as many animals as they can, but they can’t do it alone.
Every time a person buys an animal from a breeder, we take a step back.
Every time a family decides that moving, their new baby, their hours at work or the fact that they’ve become bored at being a pet owner are good reasons to drop their one-time best friend off at the pound, we take a step back.
Every time someone decides not to spay or neuter their animal, we take a step back.
Every time someone decides they can’t find the pet they want in a shelter (25% of shelter animals are purebred, according to the ASPCA), we take a step back.
Behind the scenes of our nation’s shelter system are the aforementioned countless volunteers and rescues working to undo the harm done by all of those steps back in our society. These people take on the monetary strain and energy drain of trying to save as many animals as possible.
They rehabilitate abused and broken dogs and they nurse puppies back to health.
They foster dogs that run out of time in overcrowded shelters, or that are too old or sick to be in a cage and experience the stress of a shelter.
They work tirelessly to transport dogs from shelters where they would be killed for space to shelters or rescues that can spare them more time.
And they lose sleep at night trying to figure out what they can do to save more dogs…
So what’s the missing piece?
I’d argue that it is “you.”
You don’t have to rehabilitate dogs or nurse puppies back to health. You don’t have to foster or transport dogs. All you need to do is care.
I’d also argue that if you care, you could do three small things that would make a huge difference.
I really see no excuse for anything but rescuing an animal, if you feel you have a really valid reason that you really needed to buy your dog from a breeder or a pet store (aka. puppy mill storefront) please feel free to send it my way. However, please check out www.petfinder.com before you decide there is some designer-dog that you cannot find for adoption – and that you can justify the death of other animals – for you to have.
2. Spay and neuter.
This is the most simple of all. It is not cute when your animal has a litter; it is a death sentence to a half-dozen puppies already in the shelter system. Please spay and neuter your pets.
3. Treat your pet as your family member.
Pets are for life. You don’t drop your kids off at the local homeless shelter when they get sick, old, annoying, or when things in your life change, so don’t do it to your animals. While you might have a fairy tale in your head that they will be better off without you, please know that the reality is that they get depressed, they miss you, and they could very well be one of the 6/10 who don’t make it out alive. Puppies, purebreds, and good/sweet/adorable/cute dogs die in shelters every day, so don’t believe that yours would be any different.
Nothing will be different unless we all step up a little and chose to make a difference.
And it is as simple as that – you do have the power to save lives.
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.