By Dr. Becker
A couple of years ago, Petfinder conducted a survey to learn which types of pets are least likely to be adopted from animal shelters across the U.S.
Of the shelters and rescue organizations surveyed, almost all had pets they were having a very hard time finding homes for.
About a third of these facilities housed pets who had been waiting for homes for one to two years, and over a quarter had animals who had been waiting over two years.
By far the pets least likely to find new homes are older pets.
Next are pets with medical problems, dogs suffering from breed prejudice (primarily pit bulls), shy pets, and dogs or cats who need to be the only pet in the home.
Large dogs, black dogs, and pets with special needs also tend to languish in shelters much longer – and are euthanized more often -- than animals considered more desirable by adoptive families.
This is perhaps the most heartbreaking situation of all.
Older pets who have lived their whole lives with their owner or family are relinquished to shelters for any number of reasons – ill health, incontinence or another condition of old age, or perhaps the pet's owner has passed away and the family doesn't want to care for the dog or cat left behind.
Adoptive parents tend to shy away from older pets.
They're not as cute as puppies or kittens.
They may develop serious, expensive health problems.
Sitting in their cages, they don't seem as perky or eager to please as younger animals.
Also, many people who come to shelters looking for a new pet have recently lost one, and the thought of losing another beloved companion to old age within a few years is just too much to bear.
Tragically, many older pets live out the remainder of their lives in shelters, or are euthanized to make room for more adoptable animals. This is no way for a once cherished pet to live, or to die.
If you're thinking about adopting a shelter pet, an older dog or cat just might be exactly what you're looking for, so I encourage you to keep an open mind.
The ASPCA lists their Top 10 Reasons to Adopt an Older Dog, including the fact that seniors tend to settle in quickly, have fewer accidents, and usually don't require round-the-clock supervision like many younger dogs do.
And of course all that goes double for older kitties.
Pets with Medical Problems or Special Needs
I can't think of a more selfless thing to do than to offer a forever home to a debilitated or abused dog or cat – a pet who will never be entirely 'perfect' or 'normal.'
There are angels among us, and many of them are caring for an adopted pet (or often, more than one) who requires special knowledge and extra special care.
This breed accounts for an estimated 70 percent of pets who wind up in shelters in urban areas.
Pit bulls have a bad reputation, thanks in large part to careless breeding, dog fighting, and years of wholesale abuse and neglect of these dogs.
Fortunately, there are animal welfare organizations like The Humane Society of the United States and rescue groups like Out of the Pits. These groups and others like them are doing wonderful work in educating people about the breed, and helping pit bulls reach their potential as therapy and law enforcement dogs, agility competitors, and family pets.
If you'd like to know more about this misunderstood breed, Best Friends is also a good resource. This organization took in 22 of Michael Vick's dogs, now called the Vicktory Dogs. It's fascinating and uplifting to learn about the progress these animals have made over the years since their rescue.
I live in a multi-pittie household and know firsthand how lovable these dogs can be.
Shelter and rescue pets with black coats suffer from what is known as 'black dog syndrome.'
These animals are very hard to adopt out. They stay in shelters longer than pets with lighter coats, and are euthanized more often. Sadly, if a black pet also happens to be a large breed dog, he's doubly unlucky.
Shelter professionals have several theories on why the anti-black pet phenomenon exists:
- Some believe it's a result of superstition. The myth that black cats bring bad luck has spilled over to black dogs as well, making them less desirable as pets.
- And then there's the fact that black dogs are frequently used as symbols of evil in books and movies. There is also discrimination against large breed dogs like the mostly black Rottweiler and Doberman pinscher.
- Some shelter workers feel black dogs don't have a look that attracts the attention of potential adopters. They can appear older than their years if they have a bit of white or gray around the muzzle or eyes.
- It can also be difficult to see a black dog well under shelter lighting, especially her facial expressions. Lighter coated pets often appear to have more expressions simply because it is easier to see subtle movement in their faces than it is with a black coated dog or cat.
- Since some people actually give up their black pets to shelters because they don't want black fur on their new furniture, it's safe to assume a percentage of potential adoptive owners pass those animals by for the same reason.
- Often visitors to shelters will see several kennels in a row with black dogs. It's possible some assume there must be a problem with those particular dogs since they're all kept in the same area of the facility.
Fortunately, shelters and animal welfare organizations are taking steps to extinguish 'black dog syndrome.'
Shelter volunteers recognize housing black pets throughout the facility rather than in 'clumps' is helpful. They are also doing things like putting brightly colored blankets and toys in the kennels of black pets, and using colorful neckwear to catch the eye of visitors.
And they've discovered photos of black pets should be taken in well-lit areas of the shelter – preferably outdoors on bright, sunny days.
There are also ongoing efforts to encourage prospective adopters to consider a black pet. Last year Best Friends partnered with shelters across the country for a Back in Black event which offered half-price adoptions on all black animals.
Would You Consider Opening Your Home and Heart to a Less Adoptable Pet?
Done right, it requires research, planning, preparation, and an honest assessment of what kind of pet would thrive in the environment you provide for it.
And while I would love to see every hard-to-adopt pet in every shelter across the world find a home, what's most important is matching the right owner with the right animal. Too many new homes become temporary stopovers for pets who wind up back at shelters, or meet an even worse fate.
Each time a dog or cat is returned to a shelter, the odds that pet will find a forever home get much worse.
So if you're considering adopting a pet who is older … or one with a health condition or other special need … or an animal who has been abused … or a big, powerful breed … I hope you'll make sure ahead of time this is the right decision for you and your family.
For people with the resources to do so, there are few things as rewarding in life as providing a forever home for a less desirable pet – one who would normally be passed by day after day, for months or even years, by most visitors to the shelter.
Once adopted, many of these pets require a significant investment of time, energy, patience, money, and love.
But the return on that investment is the unconditional love and loyalty of a pet who often seems to understand you were his last best hope for a loving home.