10/26/2012 05:43 pm ET Updated Dec 26, 2012

Adopt a Shelter Dog, and Save a Life

Turn on the evening news tonight and there is a good chance that one of the top stories will be the latest presidential poll results. While polls may show that a large number of Americans remain undecided about their candidate of choice, there is no such indecision when it comes to our love for dogs.

According to the American Pet Products Association, about 62 percent of American households have pets, more than 78 million of which are dogs. Only 20 to 30 percent of these dogs were likely adopted from shelters or rescue groups, which is tragic when you consider that three to four million dogs die in animal shelters each year because they don't have homes. At the ASPCA, we love all dogs, whether they are rescued or purchased, but as long as homelessness is the leading cause of death for dogs we will strongly urge prospective pet parents to make adoption their first choice.

The ASPCA celebrates shelter dogs every day of the year, but since October is Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog month, you may be seeing more promotions focusing on homeless dogs in your area. But even if there aren't special events in your community celebrating dogs, you can participate virtually in the month's festivities through a one-hour ASPCA livestream event on The event will feature ASPCA veterinarians and behaviorists answering dog-related questions from viewers. In addition to dispensing helpful advice, there will be a costume contest, giveaways and we expect that the event will be a fun way for dog lovers to meet virtually. To participate, go to at 7 p.m. EST on October 30.

Saving a dog from the shelter is of course great for the dog, but research demonstrates that adopters also benefit by opting for adoption. For example, a recent poll conducted by Edge Research and commissioned by the ASPCA found that 74 percent of adopters of shelter dogs felt that the process through which they got their dogs was honest and transparent versus 40 percent of those who had purchased dogs from pet stores. Adopters are more likely than purchasers of dogs from pet stores to feel that they knew everything they needed to know about their dog's health when they brought him/her home. Purchasers of dogs from pet stores said that they experienced more unexpected problems with their dogs after bringing them home than did the adopters of shelter dogs.

Adopters of shelter dogs are twice as likely as purchasers of dogs from pet stores to say that they would happily recommend the place where they got their dog to their friends. This is not surprising given the psychological benefits of knowing you saved an animal's life, but it's more than that. Purchasers of dogs are likely to have higher veterinary expenses than adopters. For example, the Edge Research study found that more purchasers than adopters paid for visits to the veterinarian for spay/neuter surgeries, vaccinations and illnesses. Perhaps that's why more adopters than purchasers said they felt that bringing dogs into their homes had been a positive experience.

You can help homeless dogs in a myriad of ways, the most obvious of which is by adopting one from your local shelter or rescue group. Foster families are often needed to care for dogs who are not doing well in a shelter environment. If you aren't one of the more than 100,000 people who has already done so, please sign and share the ASPCA's "No Pet Store Puppies" pledge. Volunteer at your local shelter or rescue, and collect items, such as towels and bedding, that they may need. Share stories of homeless animals through social media to increase awareness and help find them homes. Shelter dogs everywhere will be grateful for your help.