This past week, dog breeders and owners came together in New York City to celebrate their definition of "best dog" in several categories at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. One of those categories, introduced in 2014, allows mixed-breed animals to compete amongst their pure-bred counterparts in an agility contest. This year, 15 mixed-breed dogs were among the 330 dogs competing in the agility category. It's a small but important step in the right direction.
In that direction, all dogs are celebrated, regardless of their lineage, circumstances, condition, or residence. This also means committing time and energy to animals with the fewest advantages -- not the most advantages -- including millions of homeless dogs across the country in desperate situations.
We've been traveling this path for nearly 150 years, and now it has its own "competition": Best in Shelter With Jill Rappaport, an NBC special airing on NBC-owned television stations and NECN on February 21. Our ASPCA Adoption Center in New York City is proudly participating.
Created and hosted by journalist and animal advocate Jill Rappaport, Best in Shelter With Jill Rappaport documents her year-long search for remarkable shelter dog contestants, focusing on hard-to-adopt animals such as pit pulls, older animals, and animals with disabilities. While the program ultimately declares "winners," all the selected animals find loving homes.
Several celebrities have signed up to lend a hand, including Betty White, Bernadette Peters, Bryant Gumbel, Lindsey Vonn, and Emmylou Harris. But the big goal of this project -- more than crowning a champion -- is spreading the idea that "best" dogs are everywhere... and waiting for you at your local shelter.
Many of these animals came to shelters as the result of family changes such as death, illness, divorce, or relocation. Some owners simply lost the financial means to care for their pets, while other owners abused them to such an extent that the animals had to be saved and seized by police.
Whatever their situation, these animals are innocent victims of human circumstance, and their rescue is in all of our hands. Let's double our efforts to adopt animals in need and urge others to do the same.
Matthew Bershadker is President and CEO of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).