Why adopt a pet from a rescue or shelter?
By adopting, pet owners save the life of a dog or cat that might otherwise be euthanized. If the adoption occurs at a no-kill shelter, a space becomes available for another unwanted animal.
At many rescues and shelters, there is an economic benefit because the adoption fee is less than the cost of the veterinary health screening, vaccines, and spaying or neutering that each pet receives before adoption.
Rescues and shelters often know the personalities of the animals, and will help prospective adopters find a pet that will be a good match for their families and lifestyles.
"For us, it's a no brainer," says Shannon Bishop, the ticket manager of the Penn State Downtown Theatre Center, and a local dance teacher. "I can't imagine buying an animal when there are animals in the shelter needing a home."
Bishop and her husband Eric adopted three adult cats from Centre County PAWS in State College. "One thing that we liked about PAWS is that we got to meet a lot of cats and spend time with them, and get to know their personalities. I think that's really important. The staff know the cats really well."
She says that the local rescues in State College all have great reputations and do good work. Her family picked PAWS because of her positive adoption experience with them as a college student. She has supported PAWS by holding two fundraiser belly dance shows that each raised over $1,000, and has named her dance school Black Cat Belly Dance after an adopted cat.
Lynn Cole, a dog adoption counselor at PAWS, says, "When people adopt a dog here, it's a good thing. They're getting a dog that they want, and they're helping the dog. It's the same with cats ... Just this week I read that every ten seconds a dog or cat is put down. That's because nobody wants them."
The Humane Society of the United States says on its website that three to four million dogs and cats are euthanized each year in America. This is a significant improvement from the 1970s, when twelve to twenty million pets were euthanized annually. The website states that greater progress will be made "by working together to strike at the roots of animal overpopulation."
To combat the overpopulation problem, most shelters and rescues spay and neuter pets prior to adoption. PAWS offers current pet owners a Spay/Neuter Assistance Clinic Program for dogs and cats that includes rabies and distemper vaccinations. The Pets Come First shelter in Centre Hall and the Hundred Cat Foundation have partnered to offer a Trap/Neuter/Return program to prevent feral cats from reproducing.
"Spay/neuter is a must," says Rolande Bartko, a cat adoption counselor at PAWS. "Cats can have two litters in a year. Up to six kittens per litter is not unusual." She says PAWS tells people not to let their cats outside because they could become infected with Feline Leukemia or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, which are readily transmitted between cats but don't effect humans.
Deb Warner, president of Pets Come First, says that before adoption, pets at her shelter receive medical care including vaccines, microchipping, and spaying or neutering. "Our goal is to have everything done for the owners."
She says Pets Come First has many volunteers who spend time with the animals to understand their temperaments and get a better idea of what living situation would be best for them, including whether they are good with children or other animals. They also try to get as much information from previous owners as possible.
Centre County PAWS offers similar programs. Lisa Bahr, Director of Operations for Centre County PAWS, says the dogs and cats are dewormed, spayed or neutered, brought up to date on age-appropriate vaccines, and receive any needed urgent medical care. Cats are tested for Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. Dogs are screened for heartworm, Lyme disease, and two other tick-borne illnesses.
Like Pets Come First, PAWS relies on observing the animals rather than focusing on formal temperament tests because the tests are administered when the animal is newly admitted and stressed. She says the staff and volunteers spend a tremendous amount of time getting to know the animals' personalities.
Bahr says the best way to determine the best home is to have a discussion with the prospective adopters to find out about their lifestyles, family composition, and expectations. A high-energy, active dog would be a poor match for a sedentary family.
PAWS has a Good Dog Fund for dogs that require additional training after adoption to ensure that the adoption is successful.
"When adopting, you are getting quite a lot of medical care that would cost you quite a bit," Bahr says. "You also save a life — you save two lives, because you make a space for a new animal."
PAWS has reduced their adult cat adoption fee to $5 as part of an ongoing program.
"We have found so far that adoption numbers are up, but returns have not increased. We've seen more people adopting more than one cat at a time," Bahr says.
Bahr says the average cost per cat has gone down significantly because the cats are less prone to stress-related illness if they stay in the shelter for a shorter time.
Although most local rescues and shelters focus primarily on dogs and cats, there are rescues that work with other types of animals. In Huntingdon County, the Cozee Valley Rescue and Sanctuary is a pony rescue, and the AB&C Shelter focuses on small animals of all types. The Pennsylvania Ferret Rescue of Centre County is based in Boalsburg, and the nearest pet bird rescue is Wings Over Williamsport Pet Bird Society & Rescue.
Breed rescues are an option for people who wish to adopt a pet and prefer a specific breed. Local examples include Nittany Greyhounds, Beagle 911 Refuge & Rescue, Nittany Beagle Rescue, and Golden Retriever Rescue of Central PA. There are many regional and national breed rescues. The adoption fee is lower than the cost of buying a pet from a breeder or pet shop.
"I'm a big believer in adopting and not buying animals," says Bishop. "Shelter animals are so full of love."
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