This spring, one of my friends said something that greatly changed my opinion of her. We were talking about our families, catching up after a week apart, and she casually broke the news that she’d given her cat up to a shelter. The cat had been scratching her younger brother, she said, and although it was unfortunate, it was the best thing for everyone.
It’s hard for me to express how deeply I disagree.
Let’s talk about no-kill shelters first. No-kill shelters are like the joyful blessings people who are tired of their pets can turn to for salvation. Now, let’s tune into reality: no-kill shelters are cement-floored, ear-shatteringly loud buildings packed with filthy cages, anxious animals and customers looking for puppies. They are so harmful to the psyche of animals that PETA seems to advocate for euthanasia, comparing that “peaceful death in a caring person’s arms” to the “sky-high rates of unassisted deaths in cages and kennels from illness or injury.”
Animals who survive no-kill shelters aren’t necessarily success stories, either. After years, or even just months, of sitting in a cold-floored cage in a shelter, animals become exponentially more aggressive and anxious. What used to be a pleasant family dog may deteriorate to the point of extreme aggression stemming solely from the terror and stress of shelter life. Even if these dogs are adopted, they’ll be returned in a matter of weeks for this behavior, creating a traumatizing Catch-22 effect that further ruins their chances of being returned to a loving home. People who give their animals to shelters may be turning happy, calm pets into unadoptable, dangerous animals — and for what? Because they’re a hassle?
There are a thousand and one suggested solutions to the shelter crisis, like the creation of laws requiring animals to be spayed or the shift toward keeping adoptable animals in foster homes. There are other solutions that I don’t agree with as much, like euthanizing more often to avoid the painful deterioration of shelter animals or refusing to give business to kill shelters so they don’t have the funds to operate. But no one seems to acknowledge the single solution that will decrease shelter population by almost 50 percent: not surrendering your pet to a shelter in the first place.
According to ASPCA’s National Rehoming Survey, families experiencing problems with their pets account for 47 percent of dogs and 42 percent of cats in shelters, with “problems” being defined as problematic or aggressive behaviors, animals growing “larger than expected” or animals experiencing health problems that the owner “couldn’t handle.”
It’s almost impossible for me to believe that people give up on their pets after a trend of bad behavior (or, even worse, after the pet grows to a size that could’ve been predicted with adequate research or experiences a health difficulty). They’re animals. They can be trained. They have to be trained. If your dog is nipping at your cat, there are thousands of online articles that can teach you how to train away that behavior. There are 37 dog training businesses within 30 minutes of the college, some of which offer deals like a 30 day money back guarantee or in-home dog training, both of which have specific sessions for training fear and aggression out of your pet. Behavior training for cats is harder to find, but still readily available in the area. Other options include declawing for cats who tend to scratch, or spray-bottle training for cats who jump onto shelves, cabinets and other dangerous areas.
My point is, there are options. Every single option listed above is better than giving your pet up to a shelter. And, if you can’t afford training, please look into more humane paths like giving your animal to a friend or even listing it on Petfinder, a site created specifically for people who want to surrender their animals to homes rather than shelters. If you’re thinking of giving up an animal, try to imagine your pet sitting on a concrete floor, blanketless, surrounded by the constant chaos of a shelter. Is that what you want for the companion you chose to add to your family?
And that brings me to my last point. Acquiring pets has a strange connotation. Parents get a dog to teach their child responsibility or buy a rabbit as a unique Easter gift. Pets are not gifts or lessons. Animals are real, living creatures who you promise to care for the moment you accept them into your home. Pets aren’t always fun or easy, but you should take the blinders off before you take on the responsibility of choosing to own an animal. You wouldn’t give up on a child for being violent with their siblings or obnoxious or needy. I’m not saying that the bond and importance of a child should be mirrored in a pet. I do think, however, that the unavoidable, life-long responsibility people acknowledge when they talk about having a child should also be considered when someone wants to adopt a pet. It isn’t just for fun. It’s a commitment, and you can’t just give up because you’re annoyed.
No matter what’s wrong with your pet, there are always options. Don’t take the easy way out and drop it off at the shelter. It may clear your mind, but it spells a potential life of suffering for the animal you promised a life of comfort and love.
Story by Samantha Joslin