I’ve always loved animals, but despite that, I’ve never been especially proactive about putting that passion into action outside of a cuddle with a cute kitty. I had a brief, one-month stint trying vegetarianism when I was in high school, but it didn’t stick. All of my childhood dogs were most-pure labs, although we did usually get them from families who couldn’t care for them anymore and not breeders. I did spend a summer volunteering full time at a wildlife rehabilitation center, but to be honest, it was mostly to work with baby raccoons and owls.
When I adopted my cat Panda seven years ago, I went to a rescue organization (because, seriously, who adopts a cat from a breeder?). I knew I wanted an adult cat and I also wanted her to be social, so going to a rescue who could tell me about her personality seemed the way to go.
And then I met Ru. I talked about this in one of the very first posts on this blog. I wasn’t even intended to adopt a dog, which, let’s be real, is not the way to bring home a pet. It started when I was considering fostering for the same rescue organization I adopted my cat from. I drove out to the shelter in the valley, one of those ones where there are 50+ dogs who are all barking, who never leave their cages, and are usually euthanized after a week or two. It was there I met Ru, docile and sweet as honey, who climbed up in my lap the moment we got in the room with her and wouldn’t leave. I looked at my friend and said, “Well, I guess I’m adopting a dog today.” It was, without question, the scariest and best and most life-changing decision I’ve ever made.
That was the moment I began thinking more about shelter animals. It was a huge realization for me, to know that this incredibly wonderful, perfect pet was only a day away from being euthanized. It was hard to not look at breeding and think that making more dogs was ridiculous when so many amazing dogs were being killed, all because we wanted a certain breed or a certain color or a certain puppy from Pinterest.
Ru is not the cutest dog in the world. She’s kind of weird looking… like, what two animals had sex to make this funny looking beast? But I honestly think that if I had gotten a puppy from a breeder, she would not have been a better dog. Ru is so smart, so eager-to-please. She’s a dream to train. She wants nothing more than to make me happy. She sleeps in in the morning. She only needs a trip to the dog park every couple of days. She loves other dogs and kitties and children alike. She’s happy lying on the couch or hiking all day. She’s easy to groom and loves a bath. She’s a rockstar cuddler.
This month, I began volunteering at the Berkeley animal shelter. I love working with Ru so much and training her and building her confidence that I want to work with other dogs to give them the same. Ru, who spent a month in the shelter, must have been miserable. I can only imagine what these other dogs must be like, who have spent many months there.
In our first day of orientation, we went over the statistics for California shelters, and it absolutely floored me. Of the hundred of thousands of dogs that wind up in animal shelters, 1/3 are euthanized. 70% of cats are euthanized. That’s thousands of puppies and kitties that people bred intentionally or by not fixing their pets. That’s thousands of puppies and kitties that people bought on whims because they were cute and dropped when they realized they required work to train.
I’m not here to shame people for getting into hard times and realizing they can’t afford to care for their pet. But what does horrify me is we’re killing all these perfectly wonderful dogs and cats while we continue to make more.
I know that new vegans sometimes go through a self-righteous period where they are incredibly passionate by their life decision and what they’ve learned about eating animal products, and they want to tell everyone. And I feel like I’m going through a similar period with animal adoption. I don’t want to be that annoying woman who shames friends for buying from a breeder. But I can’t help it. A friend just purchased a very, very adorable French Bulldog puppy, the cutest you can possibly imagine, but I honestly look at its face and think, “You represent the many other dogs getting killed in shelters right now because they’re 4 years old or a pit bull mix or just scared and withdrawn because of what they’ve been through.”
Once I start walking dogs more frequently for the shelter, I’m sure the feeling will increase for a while as I form connections to these unwanted pets. But I’m also betting that the feeling of horror will subside some with time, and I’ll be able to pet the cute, breeder-bought puppy without feeling a bit sick.
What I do know is that I will always, always, always adopt from a rescue or shelter for the rest of my life. And if you’re thinking of getting a dog, I will limit myself to saying just this: rescue organizations have puppies, they have purebred labs and spaniels and bull dogs and aussies, and they can help you find the perfect pet for your lifestyle.