Rescue Love

Where do shelter dogs come from?

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Why do dogs end up in shelters, pounds, and rescue centers? Every day, dogs are taken in, and every day, others are adopted. But where do they come from? What series of events has to occur for a dog to end up without a home?

There are several reasons, of course. Some are practical, such as a family no longer being able to keep a dog, due to various reasons. They’ll surrender the dog, for someone else to adopt and take home. In some cases, it’s due to behavioral issues, or the family having a child. Other times, it can be that the dog’s owner has died, or the dog is a runaway. Natural disasters often lead to pets inadvertently being left behind, and they don’t always find their way back to their humans, or vice-versa.

There are sadder reasons too, of course. A dog may be seized and taken away from an abusive home, or dog fighting ring. They may be living on the streets, sometimes abandoned and sometimes even born there. Regardless of reasons, these dogs often end up in either a pound, shelter, or rescue center. And hopefully, they’ll find a new forever home through there.

Dogs surrendered to shelters

There are several reasons someone might give up their dog to a shelter, most of which cannot be affected by the owner. Some circumstances are just the way they are, and many people are utterly heartbroken that they have no choice but to surrender their dog. Sometimes, it can be due to lack of knowledge or motivation, however. Sometimes, a person just doesn’t want the dog, anymore.

Not raising the dog properly

A surprisingly ― and perhaps frustratingly ― common reason for surrendering a dog is that people simply aren’t prepared to have one. They don’t take into consideration that you need to actually raise a dog. This includes training, which requires a lot of consistency, patience, and knowledge. It’s not enough to just take your dog for a walk every now and then ― dogs should be walked several times a day, anyway. A puppy is a child, and needs boundaries and rules. Making sure a dog is socialized and well-trained is key in having a happy, well-adjusted dog.

In a house with more than one person, i.e. families, it’s particularly important to make sure everyone is on the same page. If one person is consistent and trains the dog every day, that’s great, but it won’t mean much if no one else does it. The dog becomes confused, stressed, and this can lead to a slew of behavioral issues. Eventually, it might become too much, and the family decides to get rid of the dog.

A dog can be a beloved family member, but sometimes circumstances change.

Moving, health, money, and kids

It could be a new roommate with allergies or a fear of dogs. It could be that you move, and your new place doesn’t allow them. Sometimes, your lifestyle simply changes, and you either don’t have the time for a dog anymore, or can’t afford to keep one. There are a lot of changes that don’t always accommodate a dog in your life.

Having children is pretty huge, and is a common reason why people may no longer have time for a dog. New parents sometimes choose to give up their dog to shelters, because they feel it’s being neglected, or for the sake of the child. Maybe the dog doesn’t get along well with children, or the parents are afraid the child will develop allergies. It’s not always a rational reason, but the effects are the same; the dog no longer fits into the family dynamic.

Money is also a huge factor. Vet bills, insurance, food, toys ― even without grooming services or boarding, the costs can pile on. Many underestimate how expensive dog ownership can get, especially with bigger dogs who eat a lot every day, or dogs with health issues. Dogs with such issues, or special needs, will cost more money and time to take care of in the way that they deserve. Some people therefore choose to give up the dog, if they’re unable, or simply don’t want to, provide these things.

The health of the owner also matters. Service dogs are an exception, but a person may simply be unable to care for a dog on their own. The elderly or chronically ill may feel that the dog would do better with someone else, if they themselves don’t have the support to deal with a dog on their own. This can be particularly heartbreaking for everyone involved.

Behavioral issues and biting

Biting is a common reason for dogs being sent to shelters. Often, it involves biting a family member or friend. This is certainly a big issue, as a dog can seriously injure without meaning to, but it’s a type of behavior that can be dealt with through the right training. Any type of aggression, accidental or otherwise, must be addressed immediately. A properly socialized and trained dog is much less likely to exhibit this kind of behavior, which might only get worse if ignored. Shelters may not have the time or resources to deal with this, to provide this care and training on their own. This can sadly lead to a dog being perceived as aggressive, and is therefore less likely to be adopted.

Other behavioral issues can include nervousness, stress, and anxiety. These can in turn present themselves through aggression, and must be addressed, as well. Sometimes, this stress can be due to too many animals living in the home, regardless of species. It’s easy to impulsively bring home more pets than a person can perhaps care for, and it might simply get too crowded. A dog might not get along with others. There might be constant fights between a dog and a cat. Regardless of the reasons, it can be tricky to give these conflicts the time and attention they need to be resolved.

Another aspect of this is that owners sometimes don’t spay or neuter their pets, for whatever reason, and end up with unwanted and unplanned litters. Most don’t have the time, resources, or the will to raise these puppies themselves, which can be quite the undertaking. Aside from that, finding homes for puppies isn’t always the easiest thing to do. The difficulty of this may also be understated by the owner.

Natural disasters

Evacuation can be a traumatizing experience. During massive hurricanes and disasters, people often have to simply up and leave, sometimes losing everything but the clothes on their backs, in the process. And a sad fact is that pets are also left behind, a lot of the time. This can awfully enough be intentional, but usually it is not. It can be that the family dog ― or any other animal ― isn’t able to get to its family, or that they can’t be found when the family has to leave. In such cases, abandonment may be unavoidable.

Many organizations strive to save these animals, post-disaster. People will take risks and work day and night, often through muddy floods and snuffed-out fires, to find them. In some cases, this involves successfully reuniting them with their families, but that’s not always possible. If so, the pets will go to shelters, until they can be rehomed.

Sadly, however, it’s standard procedure for many such organizations to simply bring the animals in and send them to shelters, without attempting to find the owners. This can be due to lack of resources or lack of time, especially since volunteers are often involved. Regardless, these shelters may euthanize the animal after a certain grace period, which is sometimes particularly short. The high pressure of animals coming in during disaster situations can make it unsustainable. The euthanizing of these pets, however, can lead some to question what good saving the animals does, in the first place.

It’s easy for dogs to become separated from their owners during a natural disaster.

Abandoned animals

Sometimes, a person will simply abandon their dog. This can be impossible to understand for most of us, as abandoning a pet means not only rejecting responsibility, but puts the animal in harm’s way. Some dogs may even have been stolen. If you encounter a lost dog and want to help, there are certain ways to go about it.

First of all, try to safely capture and contain it. Dogs are naturally predisposed to trust humans, but some may be suspicious or even aggressive. If this is the case, don’t attempt to capture the dog yourself, but rather call the police, or an organization specialized in animal rescue.

Good methods of calming and coaxing an unfamiliar dog ― or any pet ― in are things like food and calm voices. Avoid sudden gestures, as well. If necessary, a slip or leash may be used to capture a dog, but should be avoided if possible, and only temporary if used. Once you are able to safely capture the dog, given that it’s safe to do so, check to see if it’s wearing an ID tag. In some cases, the owner’s information is right there, and you can contact them directly. If they don’t answer right away, it might be a good idea to file a “found” report with your local shelters, in case the owner goes looking for the dog there. It can be complicated to keep the dog in the meantime, and if you’re unable, contact a shelter or the police to pick the dog up.

If the dog has no ID tags, it might have a chip. Make sure to take the dog to a shelter and have them scan it; if the owner’s information is on the chip, they can contact them directly. And lastly, if finding the owner takes a while, posting “lost” flyers is always a good way to help the process along.

Prejudice when adopting

It’s a held belief that not just a dog’s breed and age are factors in being adopted, but coat color, as well. Despite some studies suggesting otherwise, people with years of experience working at shelters will insist that this is actually the case. Older dogs generally stay a lot longer at a shelter before being adopted, than a puppy would, which makes sense; everyone loves puppies. Even when it comes to coat color, puppies have a better chance of being adopted regardless of what they look like. Adult dogs, however, and older dogs, are a different story.

Adult black and dark-colored dogs consistently have more trouble getting adopted, experience says. Oftentimes, they’ll be passed over for lighter dogs, and shelters will try to place them as directly as possible in visitors’ line of sight. This is because they sometimes don’t even get noticed, at all. Even photos of dark-colored dogs on a shelter’s website may be taken in a way more flattering to the dog, or place the photos before all the others. Some shelters even discount the adoption fee for dark-colored dogs, since they seem harder to find homes for.

So while a study by the ASPCA, for instance, states that coat color doesn’t play a role at all, many shelter workers will disagree. Just like the dog breed will affect the dog’s adoption chances ― pit bull breeds, for instance ― so does color and age.

Keeping dogs out of shelters

The most straightforward way to keep dogs out of shelters is to simply take care of one’s dog. Make sure you know what you’re in for when getting a dog, if the breed presents any unique challenges, the age of the dog, its health, etc.. Consider if you have the time, money, and energy to care for a dog. Maybe think twice before giving in to a child’s insistence that they will take care of the dog if you get one. Only by giving a dog what it needs ― love, time, boundaries, attention ― can we stop the shelters from filling up. So many dogs need forever homes, and if you’re considering getting a dog of your own, check your local shelter to see if they have a dog there just for you.

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