Skip to main content

5 Myths About Adopting a Shelter Pet


April 30 is celebrated as National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day. Our family never needed to wait for such a holiday to add a new pet to our family. That's because of the four dogs we've owned, all have been adopted.

Many people don't feel comfortable adopting from a shelter or rescue because they don't want a mutt or mixed breed or because they don't think they can trust information about the animal's background. While author Kim Kavin gives a nod to this notion of marketing animals in her book The Dog Merchants, in my opinion, there's no reason not to consider a shelter or rescue pet.

In fact, in time for National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, I spoke with Jody Salbo, director of business management at ASPCA Adoption Center, about five common myths and misconceptions when it comes to adopting shelter pets.

MYTH: Shelter animals are damaged goods and come with behavior issues or medical challenges

FACT: Many people believe that shelter animals are damaged goods, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Animals often end up in shelters through no fault of their own—many animals enter shelters because an owner has had to give them up due to relocation, financial hardships or health problems.

Our current two dogs, Oscar and Sadie, were both surrendered to rescues—one because an owner died (Oscar) and one because the owner wanted rehome the dog because she (Sadie) didn't get along with her dogs. We later discovered that the owner never bothered to house train Sadie, which was likely the "real" problem. We took care of the "problem" with lots of love, positive reinforcement and treats.

Because many shelter animals are surrendered by their owners like my dogs were, they are already accustomed to being pets in a home environment. Although the majority of shelter populations are comprised of strays, rescues and surrenders, that doesn’t mean they’re automatically aggressive, come from abusive environments or have medical challenges. What’s much more important than an animal’s history is its current behavior and medical status. This information is typically well known and shared by shelter staff who’ve been caring for the animal.

(scroll to keep reading)

Related Stories

MYTH: All shelter animals are old and won’t bond with their adopter

FACT: Shelters often have a variety of animals of different breeds, sizes and ages. However, it’s also important to note that age is not a determining factor in an animal’s affection toward humans or its ability to bond with them. Just ask anyone who’s adopted an older pet.

Our first dog, Buffy, was four when he came to live with us. Oscar was three. Visit a shelter and ask to see their older animals. It will likely change your mind.

MYTH: Shelters mainly have mixed breeds and don't have purebred animals available for adoption

FACT: Animal populations differ from shelter to shelter. "At the ASPCA Adoption Center we see all sorts of dogs and cats—young, old, shy, playful, mixed-breed and pure-breed," says Salbo. "Our most recent data does show that nationwide, dogs labeled as pit bulls are continuing to enter shelters in higher numbers, followed by Chihuahuas, Labrador retrievers and German shepherd dogs."

MYTH: Getting animals from a breeder is safer because breeders know the animal’s bloodline and family history

FACT: As a result of their breeding, purebred dogs very often have genetic disorders and medical issue predispositions, certainly no less often than shelter dogs. Also, while bloodlines and histories are useful tools to assess an animal’s value, they are limited in terms of predicting behavior. But the plain truth is you’re helping to save and protect more lives if you make adoption your first option. You'll save the animal you adopt and make room in the shelter for another life to be saved.

MYTH: Adoption fees are too expensive and the adoption process is too difficult

FACT: Requirements, policies and procedures vary depending on the adoption center or rescue group you’re looking to adopt from. However, more shelters are participating in conversation-based or open adoptions—a system that does away with hard and fast policies and adoption applications and instead focuses on conversation-based adoptions designed to help anyone walking into a shelter feel respected and anyone walking out more educated.

That being said, with each of our four adopted dogs, I was happy to fill out the pages-long adoption application. It was tedious but it also showed that the rescue wanted to ensure that we were serious about adopting the animal—so much so that we would complete the application, provide references, open our home for an inspection and even install a new six-foot fence when we discovered Oscar was a jumper.

Hopefully, now that you've got the facts about some of these common myths and misconceptions about shelter and rescue pets, you'll reconsider visiting a shelter the next time you want to add a pet to your family. And you don't even have to wait for the next National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day to do it.

More Like This