It was love at first sight. When I went to my local animal shelter more than six years ago, I thought of it as a first step -- I was planning on researching carefully all of my options, visiting several shelters and rescues, and taking my time to find my new canine companion. Ten minutes later, I was on the phone with my husband, explaining why we had to bring home a 7-year-old Beagle-German Shepherdish-looking mutt with advanced cataracts named Charlie. He was found as a stray, so I had to wait a week until he was available for adoption in case his owner came to claim him. I visited him every day, leading up to the day he was available. I was super nervous and couldn't sleep the night before, worried that other people would want to adopt him, too. I had already become so attached!
When we went to the shelter the next morning (a half an hour before they opened, just in case), I remember worrying that everyone else at the shelter was also there to adopt Charlie. After all, he was the cutest dog ever.
Boy, was I naïve! Like so many things in life, you don't know until you know. It didn't really occur to me that older dogs at shelters are often the last ones to be adopted, if at all. I also didn't know that most animals don't make it out of shelters alive.
It turned out that nobody else had come to adopt Charlie, so he was mine (for all of $28.00, including a microchip and shots, and he was already neutered). That same morning, my husband fell in love with an 8-year-old adorable Beagle-Bassett named Simba. We left that shelter that day with two dogs, and it has been a love affair ever since!
The decision to be a pet guardian is an enormous one. There are many factors to consider when deciding what kind of pet to bring home -- large or small, young or old, dog, cat, or tortoise -- and especially where to find your new animal companion.
According to the ASPCA, there are between 5 and 7 million animals in shelters across the country. And of those, 3-4 million will be euthanized -- that's 60 percent of dogs and 70 percent of cats. Most of those animals are euthanized simply because there is no one to adopt them. And yet, despite this overwhelming need, 15-20 percent of new pets are purchased from breeders, while only around 10 percent are adopted from shelters.
And it's not just mutts who suffer. On Valentine's Day of 2012, a Pekingese was named Best in Show at Westminster -- which, sadly, will likely mean pain and suffering for thousands of Pekingese in years to come. Each year, Westminster contributes to Americans' desire for purebred puppies -- often bred in inhumane puppy mills. Then, sadder still, millions of these dogs end up housed in shelters after their novelty wears off, and are eventually put to sleep. Over a quarter of dogs euthanized in shelters are purebred.
This tremendous need may be the best reason to bring a rescue pet into your home -- but it's far from the only one. There have been literally hundreds of studies showing that pet companionship is good for humans -- from a physical level to a spiritual one. Recent studies have shown that pet owners have lower levels of risk factors for cardiovascular disease, spend less on health care, and have stronger immune systems. Beyond that, pet ownership contributes to physical fitness, sociability (so easy to talk to a stranger who is walking a dog), self-esteem -- and pure joy and bliss.
On a wider, societal level, rescued pets have been the catalyst of some profound healing of the hearts of those often marginalized. A great example is K9 Connection, a California-based group that came up with an innovative way to tackle two problems at once -- alongside the millions of dogs and cats euthanized each year, there are thousands of teenagers who take their lives each year. At K9 connection, at-risk teens train homeless shelter dogs. Dogs who were doomed for death are adopted into loving homes. The impact on the teens is profound as the healing power of the human-animal bond does its work.
The healing that takes place at prisons across the country which have programs pairing rescue dogs with inmates is extraordinary. Shelter dogs are saved from euthanasia and given training, and the prisoners benefit from the companionship, responsibility, and the satisfaction that they are helping to save the life of such a beautiful, vulnerable creature. Some prisoners report that they had never had the experience of unconditional love until they started training a rescue dog.
Some groups that facilitate these amazing programs include Project POOCH, Prison Tails, and Paws in Prison.
Nationally, rescued pets are becoming increasingly visible. Since the world's first viral video of a kitten doing something adorable was posted on YouTube, it's been well recognized that watching cute animal antics is perhaps second to none among our favorite activities. This year at the Super Bowl, Budweiser capitalized on that love, running a commercial with a tiny dog named Weego, trained to fetch beer. However, their interests were in more than just selling six-packs: Weego was a rescue dog, and the commercial raised more than a quarter of a million dollars for the Tony La Russa Animal Rescue Foundation. Moreover, it's done a great job drawing attention to how great rescue pets can be; Bud Light's Facebook page tells the story of Weego, and has gotten amazing engagement from tens of thousands of people, sharing stories about rescue pets.
To help increase that visibility, the HuffPost community of writers, editors, and bloggers shared their stories of rescue pet adoption:
Do you have a rescued pet? Submit your story and photo!
Note: If you are inspired to add an animal companion to your life, please make your decision carefully. Being a pet guardian is a long-term commitment. Please visit your local shelter or rescue group for assistance in choosing the right pet for your lifestyle. If you are interested in having an animal companion, but aren't sure you are ready for the commitment, please consider fostering or volunteering at your local animal shelter. Petfinder.com is a great website to find pets available for adoption.