Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Free to a Random Home of Questionable Quality

I know some of the topics I'm covering lately are on the controversial side, but I do feel they need to be discussed rather than shied away from. These are my feelings and opinions, based on my own knowledge and experiences. However, if you have thoughts, ideas, or opinions that you would like to share, I always welcome your respectful comments. 

Over and over and over again, I come across people who ask questions such as:

"With all of the homeless, needy animals out there, why do shelters charge a fee?"   
"Why don't they just give the animals away to anyone who shows an interest in taking one home?
"Wouldn't giving the animals away be better than having to kill so many?"

The obvious answer is that it costs money to care for animals and run a shelter. Even funds provided by a city or county for an animal control type of operation have limits which are surpassed by the number and needs of animals that are actually surrendered by the community. In my county, those funds do not even cover veterinary expenses. Keep in mind that the shelter's adoption fees also cover the animal's spay/neuter surgery, rabies vaccine, micro chipping, and sometimes more. If you paid for these things at the vet's office you would end up spending a lot more than the amount of that adoption fee.

That said, the issue goes far beyond shelters or rescues having a lack of funds. What if money wasn't an issue and our shelters really could afford to give away animals for free? Can someone really provide a great home even if they can't afford the animal's adoption fee?

One thing that I know without a doubt (because I grew up in poverty and am nowhere near wealthy now) is that you don't have to be rich to love or care for an animal. I've had animals all of my life and I always found ways to raise the money necessary for things like food, toys, and even basic veterinary care. Sometimes this meant giving up birthday money, going out to mow lawns or selling some of my own property but I didn't see any other option. I knew the value of an adoption fee and that I was saving a lot of money by not having to pay the vet for spaying/neutering directly. Having witnessed puppies born in my neighborhood and suffering from parvo with my own two eyes, I knew that vaccinations were never going to be an option and so I planned for them accordingly. I learned at an early age that there is no such thing as a free pet. Taking on an animal immediately meant considering whether or not I had the cash on hand to, at the very least, get it to the vet for routine care. This is not to say that I was a perfect pet owner (in other ways I was pretty ignorant) but I can say with confidence that I always did everything I could to the best of my knowledge and ability. My priorities were likely organized very differently from those of the average kid, or even the average adult.

Our newest foster dog, Sugar.
She has hypothyroidism which
was left untreated until she ended
up at the shelter as a stray
that no one came looking for. 
My point is that being able to pay an adoption fee means that you (hopefully) have at least a little extra money to devote to the care of an additional pet and family member. It means that even under the worst possible scenario, you have a little money to give that animal what it needs. Think about it this way: What happens if your pet gets hit by a car or suddenly becomes ill? Can you, at the very least, afford to take the animal to the vet and get a prognosis? Do you have a standing relationship with a vet who would work with you on payment arrangements if you can't afford expensive surgery or treatments? (Do not expect this to happen often, especially if you're not a regular client. Vet clinics are ultimately businesses that have to make a profit in order to stay afloat; they can't afford to always go out of their way for people who may or may not end up paying for services). In a worst-case scenario, can you at least afford to have your vet quickly and humanely end that animal's suffering or is it going to linger and suffer in pain while you try to figure out how to come up with the necessary funds? Is "Plan B" going to be to leave your miserably sick or injured pet right back on the shelter's door step; the very place you thought you had rescued it from?

An adoption fee is really all about being able to afford very basic care. This doesn't even address the very common situation of finding out that your pet has allergies/sensitivities and does poorly on cheap, lower-quality dog food (as many dogs do).  If the free dog you were given spends most of its life hairless and bloody from terrible skin allergies (or parasites) is it really better off? What if it starts having seizures and you can't afford to have that treated? No one thinks these things are going to happen to their pet, but they happen every day! We, out of nowhere, spent a couple of hundred dollars at the emergency vet just a few months ago because Cricket was showing terrible symptoms of bloat (look it up, not a good thing and can easily be fatal). Do you really want to be a in a situation where you and your family have to sit around and basically watch a dog suffer and die because you don't have the extra money to help your pet?

What about the issue of training? If you're a regular reader of my blog, you've probably come to realize that good trainers are often hard to find, and a little direction from a professional can go a long way. When your puppy gets older and begins to relentlessly jump on your kids is it going to end up right back at the shelter? What if the neighbor who you took free training tips from causes you to put so much fear (they may refer to it as "respect") into your dog that it becomes aggressive and impossible to handle? A training class might turn out to be absolutely necessary for you and your dog but  trainers don't usually work for free. While I have volunteered a great deal of my time it has to be acknowledged that certifications and continued education are not cheap.

All of that said, I know firsthand how hard it is to see pictures of shelter animals that desperately need homes and those of us with big hearts immediately want to reach out and rescue them. Pet lovers have a nasty habit of becoming so emotional about the plight of an animal that we can forget there is a larger picture which absolutely must be looked at. Reality is that taking in a pet that you do not have the means to care for is not really going to help once that animal becomes ill, injured, or needs an expensive type of food. Reality is that there is no government program to provide food or medical care for animals (we have enough issues related to trying to find some balance in programs like this just for humans). And let's face it; even if we had endless monetary resources, we would run out of space. Too many people who can't afford (or are unwilling) to spay and neuter ensure that we have an endless supply of animals that will need care in the future. Giving them all away as they come into a shelter isn't going to solve the problem if people can't afford (or are unwilling) to keep them.

"Rudolph" urgently needed a place
to go. Thanks to a kind-hearted foster,
he got out of the shelter, into a warm
home, and then went on to
a great forever home!
Fortunately, aside from actually adopting a pet, there are other ways to help save a life. Many organizations will allow you to apply to be a foster home, where you take a needy animal home with you and care for it until a permanent home is found. Not only does this benefit the animal by getting it out of a shelter environment, but it can give you a much better idea about whether or not adding a pet on a permanent basis is really a good idea for you. When resources are available, and depending on the resources of the organization, there are even situations in which some or all of your foster pet's financial needs will be met by the rescue or shelter. This is an ideal situation for someone who wants to help animals but can't afford the upkeep.

Another way to help is simply by sharing information on adoptable animals with others, especially those animals located at shelters that have to euthanize for space. Our shelter recently avoided what could have been a tragic situation by doing just this! So many pets were surrendered just before Christmas that it seemed impossible to avoid having to put some to sleep in order to free up kennels. But thanks to the efforts of shelter staff, volunteers, and supporters, dozens of pets were instead adopted and no one had to lose their life.

Spread the word about spaying and neutering to prevent all of those "Free to a Good Home" puppies and kittens from ultimately ending up in the shelter when the cuteness wears off or the expense becomes too great. Forget about letting your dog have puppies to teach your children "the miracle of life." Why not teach them about the miracle that is saving a life by fostering or volunteering instead?

When it comes to doing right by our animals, we have to attain a careful balance between our head and our heart. The heart tends to call the shots impulsively, but it is just as important to remain realistic as it is to remain caring and compassionate. Ultimately, education is the answer. Imagine how many lives we could save if more people realized the damage caused by people who don't spay or neuter their pets (pure bred or not). How many lives would be saved if people didn't dive into pet ownership without considering the immense responsibility involved? Think about how those animals got to the shelter to begin with and we can really start to make an impact and solve the problem of having way more animals than we have suitable homes.


  1. I had to deal with. This problem over the weekend!! My cousin is a moron. I still love her and all.. But a couple of years ago she talked her dad into letter her get a dog. She loves pitbulls, and magically in the paper.. 'pitbull, free to good home'. The pitbulls name is 'Sexy' and it is almost never walked (I used to try to walk it when I lived there and took shadow walking. Since it's had no training and my cousin doesn't work with her on training, walking consisted of me wrapping some chain around my self and a very long stop & go walk session around the block. The dog tried to drag me everywere and I had to use different techniques to try and get to a good walking behavior. I tried to get my cousin to buy a head collar or to get her in a class.) the dog is not spayed and to my knowledge has never had her shots. She gets out of the yard all the time and is free to get knocked up, attack something, or try to 'play' with some unknown kid. Being a bully breed and all I can imagine what will happen the first time she jumps on some kid, playing or not. The dog is fed and walked occasionally. It's not the ideal home at all but shes not outright mistreated. Christmas eve, this same cousin shows up with a pitbull puppy. Cutest thing ever and I would take him from her if had the reasources to care for him myself. I saved him from a horrible name and he's probably stuck with 'sargent' but it could have been worse. Christmas or not the second she walked in the door with it, I promise you I yelled at her. She was like 'he was feee' and I started in with the 'neutering isn't free! Shots aren't free! What If he has parvo! You havent even fixed your first dog. How dare you get a second!' and she was like 'I don't want to fix him I'm going to breed him'. That got her a good long lecture about responsibility and Over population and all those poor babies at the shelter.... Sorry for that super long comment... This just kind of struck a nerve lol

  2. Arrrgh. Why do people feel the need to breed everything? I hope that somehow she comes to her senses. Make her volunteer at the shelter and see all the pit bulls that people wanted to breed that need homes. Tell her that most of the dogs being put down are pit bulls. If she loves the breed so much she should do something to save them. Starting by spaying and neutering her dogs!! Grr.

  3. They won't breed. I'll take the dog and send him to spay a stray myself if I have to. She got the dog 'for her dad' even though he doesn't like them, didn't want one, and doesnt like taking care of her dog already. Unfortunately he might be looking for a home before he gets that far. He could do better. I would take him if I could. I'm one of the ppl in the above post wanting to take all the ones theyre posting about and save all of them. But I would be an animal hoarder and we wouldn't have food lol. As much as they pull at my heart, we are full here. Wouldt be fair to my clan to take in anyone else. We saved some room for my birds when they get returned and that's going to be it.

  4. Cute doggies.. but it truly cost you so much...