I have been involved in animal rescue activities for more than 20 years and have spent at least a few thousand hours volunteering at Leavenworth Animal Control.

I have been involved in animal rescue activities for more than 20 years and have spent at least a few thousand hours volunteering at Leavenworth Animal Control. This is hard, heart-rending and emotionally difficult work.

Our reward is the successful adoption of an animal that has been given up, abandoned or mistreated. A frustration we have is trying to overcome misconceptions that people have about the quality of these animals.

There is a stigma that these animals are damaged goods and would not make good pets…otherwise, their original owners would not have gotten rid of them. This is not so. There are many reasons why pets end up in shelters. They are simply unlucky rather than unlovable. They are there, not because of their own problems, but because of their owners' issues and failures.

Shelter animals arrive because their owners are not able to provide the proper care, perhaps due to financial hardship or death in the family. They are given up because irresponsible owners are not personally invested in having a pet and have not taken into consideration all the responsibilities of pet ownership. Families move, kids go off to college or lifestyles change and the pet becomes disposable through no fault of their own. Pets have been taken away from abusive owners. Pregnant dogs and cats end up at the shelter, abandoned by their owners when they are the most vulnerable and in need of human caring.

A prevailing myth deterring people from adopting is the assumption that a pet from an abusive setting or a home that essentially failed to nurture them cannot be satisfactory pets. Most of these animals make full emotional and physical recovery.
Shelter animals often bond more strongly to a new family because of their previous experiences. They thrive in a loving atmosphere and end up being more devoted and loyal…almost as if they are grateful for being saved. Their little quirks and behaviors that may be the result of permanent scarring from previous neglect or abuse become endearing traits and make you grateful to have participated in their rescue.

People worry that you never know what you are getting with shelter pets. Since they have been in the shelter for at least a week waiting for owners to reclaim them and shelter staff have observed and evaluated them, they know many of their basic behaviors. Relinquished pets come with background information about their traits. Shelter animals with significant behavioral troubles are not available for adoption to the public. (Some of these are saved by rescue groups, rehabilitated and eventually adopted to suitable homes.)

Most shelter pets are adults with easily discerned personalities. As the pet adjusts to your home, small problems are easily correctable by using common sense and appropriate training. A badly abused animal may take months to gradually bond with the family. It is a great joy to watch them bloom and thrive under your care and to know that you have saved a life.

One-fourth of shelter populations are purebred dogs and cats, so if your desire is to have a purebred pet, they may be at the shelter. You can leave your information with the staff so that they will inform you if a particular breed becomes available. Although you can expect certain characteristics from purebreds, it is not guaranteed. A mixed breed pet could be more desirable because they come from a mixed genetic background and generally live longer and are less prone to breed linked health problems.
The majority of adoptable animals are not sickly or unhealthy. Most shelters provide basic health care, treat intestinal parasites and give essential vaccinations. Shelters cannot guarantee an animal's long-term health, nor can breeders, for that matter. Animals with obvious illness or injury receive medical care and are not available for adoption until they are healthy. On the other hand, pet storeowners and a few irresponsible breeders who are only in it for the money, may not have provided essential care and are untruthful about the animal's history. When pet stores sell animals, unless they have rescue group adoptions, these usually have come from puppy mills where the living conditions are abominable and unhealthy. There are horror stories about pets purchased for more than $1,000 that have major health problems.

Adopting a pet should never be an impulsive decision. When you are ready and the idea is carefully thought out with all family members supporting it, consider a shelter animal. Choose thoughtfully and you will be richly rewarded.