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Pet adoption myths DEBUNKED

Debunking FALSE myths about animal shelters

Whether you believe that purebred is best or you’re a die-hard advocate of ‘adopt, don’t shop’, everyone is entitled to their point of view and preference when it comes to adding a furry family member to their household. But when profits are prioritised over the welfare of animals, and untruths are created to swing public sentiment away from animal welfare organisations, it’s time to set the record straight.

Here we debunk the most common MYTHS about pet adoption from shelters.

(In this article, ‘shelters’ means SPCAs, animal welfare NPOs, and any organisations that rehome abandoned, stray and removed pets.)

Myth 1: Shelter animals are damaged goods

There is this long-held belief that all shelter animals have behavioural problems or have a troubled history of trauma and abuse. The implication is that when you adopt, you’ll have a dangerous/anxious/distrustful/snappy dog (or withdrawn or aggressive cat) on your hands, who will need many months of hard work to earn their trust and even intervention from an animal behaviourist to change their ‘negative’ traits.

There are two truths to counter this one falsehood:

  1. While this may be so in extreme cases, many animals that end up in shelters come from perfectly loving homes that have been hit by difficult circumstances.
  2. Most shelters are invested in the animals they rescue and, for the sake of their wellbeing and to ensure they find their forever homes, in many cases, shelter managers, volunteers, behaviourists and vets are all involved in preparing any difficult-to-home animals to be safely rehomed, or to find the most appropriate home for each individual animal.

All animals in shelters just need a loving home and a ‘family pack’ to feel loved again and to restore their self-esteem.

Myth 2: Shelter animals are dirty and/or sick

There are many images of sick, mangy, dirty and emaciated animals that do the rounds daily on social media. These are the before images – what shelters receive and the reason they do the work they do. What you won’t always see are the hours and hours of care and the expense that go into getting the dirty and sick animals clean and well again. No animal shelter worth its salt will put a sick animal up for adoption.

Myth 3: Shelter animals are not socialised

There are many reasons why animals are surrendered to a shelter. Aside from abandonment or abuse, an animal’s unpredictable behaviour and the former owner’s ignorance of the breed and the lack of time invested in the animal may be potential reasons for the animal’s surrender. It’s certainly not the case for ALL shelter animals!

No animal is born socialised. Puppies need to be socialised from an early age (and continuously so) for them to behave appropriately around other animals and people. Many people underestimate what it takes to properly socialise and train a pet, so when their dog ends up ‘uncontrollable’, they give up and think their only choice is to surrender their untrained pet to a shelter. This doesn’t mean the animal you want to adopt from the shelter will still be unsocialised: many shelters have knowledgeable volunteers and behaviourists who work with the animals to ensure they benefit from socialisation and can be safely and happily adopted out to multi-pet households.

Myth 4: You can only get purebred dogs from breeders

False! You’d be surprised at the number of purebred dogs that end up in shelters for the following reasons:

  • Unwanted gifts.
  • Strays that have escaped the yard and do not have a nametag or a microchip.
  • The innocent victims of their owners having passed away.
  • They have breed-related health problems the owners cannot afford to manage or don’t want to deal with.
  • Owners who wanted the ‘fashionable breed’ without realising the time and money required to meet the behavioural and health requirements of the breed. For example: popular TV series Game of Thrones drove up the demand for huskies and Alaskan Malamutes. Movies like Max and John Wick 3 brought Belgian Malinois into the limelight – a notoriously training-intensive breed that is known for their tough bite. Guess where you can find more huskies and Malinois lately?
  • Owners who need to relocate and cannot take their dogs with them.
  • And, more currently, owners who can no longer afford to look after their pets due to Covid-related job losses and company closures.

There are also many special rescue groups dedicated to rehoming specific breeds. You need only do a search on Facebook to find pages like Border Collie Rescue SA, Spaniel Rescue South Africa, Husky Rescue South Africa, Dachshunds in SA, German Shepherd Rescue & Networking Platform South Africa. These breed-specific pages are dedicated to finding suitable homes for purebred dogs in SPCAs, rescues and fosters around the country.

Myth 5: Your adopted pet will be set in their ways

First, the implication behind this myth is that it’s difficult to find puppies to adopt from shelters. This could not be further from the truth – all you need to do is GO to an SPCA or your local shelter and there, puppies you shall find! Second, adopting an adult dog from a shelter doesn’t mean the dog’s behaviour is set for life. Your newly adopted furry friend will adapt to their new environment and probably display totally different behaviour based on the amount of love, training and socialisation (and treats) they receive, which will boost their self-esteem and bring out their best. Also, adopting an adult pet means you will be saving a life, but you won’t have to put up with house-training and the ‘teething’ process all puppies need to go through.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that rescued/adopted pets know they are loved and accepted, and in turn, their behaviour is often attributed to a sense of gratitude. While there is no way to scientifically prove that pets express gratitude, many owners of adopted adult pets will share stories of how their pets appear to be relieved and grateful for their change in circumstances.

Myth 6: Adoption from a shelter is expensive

Animal lovers point and gasp at shelters’ adoption fees, which may vary from R600 to R1,200, depending on which shelter you adopt from and what their fees cover. This is seen as expensive, especially when people take the view that when they adopt from a shelter, they are doing the shelter a favour and should therefore get their desired animal for free.

Animal shelters have adoption fees to cover the various costs incurred to rescue and care for the animals. More often than not, the adoption fee hardly covers the costs of what the pet owner is getting, which includes the animal’s:

  • vaccination
  • deworming
  • sterilisation
  • any other health-related treatments to make the animal suitable for adoption

These treatments alone can run into the thousands of rands when paid for privately, so adoption is the cheapest route to bringing home a healthy and sterilised animal.

Myth 7: You don’t know what you’re getting in a mixed breed

It’s true that many shelters in South Africa are filled with mixed breed mutts from informal settlements (socio-economic causes aside). While it’s difficult to tell the origins of most of these individual animals, the benefit of a mixed breed furry friend is that their gene pool is wide and deep and their genes are hardy. They don’t suffer from the illnesses and deterioration typically associated with the narrow gene pools of purebred animals. A mixed breed may be a mystery, but it’s more of a lucky packet – you might not know what you’re going to get, but you know it will be a wonderful surprise!

Lastly, do not fall for hearsay spouted on social media or even from people you know. If you want to add a new pet to your furry family, give shelter animals a chance first. Visit your local animal shelters and you may just be surprised by the pure love and dedication these animal champions have towards their rescues. Bust these myths and you may just be rewarded with your new best friend!

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