Working in the animal welfare realm is a wonderful, heartbreaking, terrific, and sometimes maddening experience. You get to help, in some form or another, so many animals in so many different ways. The adoption success stories are so joyful, with families becoming a little bigger with every rescue and seeing animals become healthy and happy is such a great experience. But working in animal welfare, and especially at an animal rescue, isn’t always glamorous or heartwarming. It can be difficult and challenging and emotional, particularly when the rescue or shelter is full of animals looking for their forever homes.
Note: not every pet store that has animals for sale/adoption is terrible nor is every shelter/rescue organization a flawless, shining beacon of goodness. This area is, unfortunately, grey and muddled. In my own experience, nonprofit rescues tend to be focused almost entirely on animal welfare and wellbeing and there are many individuals working at pet stores that care about the animals in the store. But corporations and other for-profit animal-related businesses care about the bottom line more than anything else, which is why substandard care and abuse can be so rampant.
July and December are by far the busiest months for many animal rescues and shelters, as Fourth of July and Christmas can both be particularly awful holidays for pets. During the Christmas season (and the weeks following it), there seems to be an uptick in animal surrenders to shelters or rescues when people finally realize the magnitude of what they got into. There are, of course, so many reasons why a person might be surrendering their pet. People are moving and their new housing won’t allow pets; owners pass away and family members aren’t able to care for the pets; financial and health situations change and people aren’t able to have an animal.
Sadly, there are a few other reasons why someone might be surrendering their pets and animal shelters always expect an increase in animal surrenders in December and January because animals were given as gifts for the winter holidays. Some of these situations are, sadly, people surrendering their older/senior pets to make room for a new puppy or kitten. Others surrender their animals because they realize after the holidays that caring for an animal is a lot of work. Because of these reasons (and many others), it’s important to not give pets as surprise Christmas gifts!
Adopting a pet from a rescue or shelter is often a much longer and more involved process and one that results in better situations for people and animals alike. But in the age of next-day packages, groceries straight to your door soon after ordering, and other immediate results, why wait for the right pet or slog through a lengthy adoption process when you could walk into some pet stores and walk out with an animal 10 minutes later? There are plenty of backyard breeders and corporate pet stores that allow for people to immediately buy and walk away with a pet, a practice that allows for people who maybe aren’t quite ready for an animal to have one and is propelled by society’s deep desire for instant gratification and convenience.
While many places around the United States have started requiring pet stores to work with rescue groups and stop selling cats and dogs, there are still so many other animals that don’t have those same protections and no two states have the same regulations. There are so many horror stories of abusive and neglectful care done to animals like rabbits and chinchillas that are raised or bred for large-scale purchases by some pet stores. With the passage of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) in 1966, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is in charge of regulating and licensing anyone who breeds certain warm-blooded animals. But the AWA and the work done by the USDA is limited, the USDA has been repeatedly accused of ignoring animal welfare violations in favor of business interests, and horrific treatment can still happen with breeders licensed by the department.
If you are planning on adding a new pet to your family, that is fantastic and wonderful! This post isn’t to discourage pet ownership but rather, it is advocating for responsible pet ownership. Animals like dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, goldfish, and others are a lifelong commitment and depending on the species, that can mean a few years to several decades. Each animal also has their own needs and requirements, like food, training, bedding, vet care, toys, and so much more. These things quickly add up and cost time, energy, and money! It can be utterly worth it, as having a pet is an enriching, loving experience. But if someone does not have the resources (be it time, space, finances, or more), being gifted an animal can be overwhelming.
Instead of giving a pet as a gift, consider giving the gift of adoption by covering the costs of adopting an animal for someone who is ready for an animal. Some shelters will even have adoption-related gift certificates but if that isn’t an option, consider making it an entire day! Involve the person who is getting the animal because at the end of the day, they are the ones responsible for the animal and are the ones ultimately committing to a lifetime of care.
Involving the person getting the animal is also a good idea to make sure the relationship between the animal and possible owner is the right one. Placing an animal into a forever home isn’t as simple as just handing one to the first person who walks in, as there’s a lot to consider! With dogs, for example, it’s important to keep in mind the breed(s) of the dog. While every individual dog will have their own personality, there are plenty of breed characteristics to keep in mind. If the adopter is wanting a small, couch potato dog, a Siberian Husky is definitely not for them!
It’s a similar deal with other animals, like guinea pigs or bunnies. These pets can be fun and very cute but many people may not realize just how much care and time all of these animals need. In addition to the daily care, behavioral or health problems in all pets can easily arise, stressful and expensive emergencies can happen at any moment, and the costs from all of these things can quickly add up. Being a pet owner is be amazing but it’s not 100% perfect all of the time. It does mean sometimes dealing with explosive diarrhea in the house, a pet rabbit digging in places not meant for digging, your new dog chewing up all your shoes, or a cat spraying/marking and making your living space smell like cat urine. If you’re not willing to deal with the bad parts of being a pet owner along with the good, you might want to seriously think about why you want a pet in the first place.
If you have an animal lover in your life who is unfortunately not able to have a pet in their life for whatever reason, consider sponsoring an animal in need in their name instead! The website PetFinder, for example, makes it relatively easy to sponsor some of the animals looking for forever homes on their site through their Sponsor A Pet Program. Many nonprofits, including animal rescues, local humane societies, and other animal-related groups, also have a way for you to donate or “adopt” an animal in someone’s name! The Alaska SeaLife Center, for example, has a few different animals you can symbolically adopt. While it might be too late for cards or packages to reach you or your recipient in time this year, this idea of sponsoring or symbolically adopting an animal could be fun for future holidays or events!
At the end of the day, getting a new pet is a serious commitment and investment of time, resources, and money. It’s important to remember that the animals in our lives are living, feeling creatures and not commodities to be given away freely and without thought or a serious conversation. Gifting an animal to someone you love is entirely possible but unlike what some posts and videos on social media will have you think, it’s not an immediate, one-time event. Going through the adoption process and finding the right animal can take time and while it can be disappointing to wait, doing so is actually better in the long run!
Do you have pets or have had animals in the past? What was it like getting them? Let me know in the comments!