Adopting behavior

By Erica Fatland

Over the weekend, I visited a local grocery store and, after struggling to get the not-so automatic door open, stumbled upon a wall full of pictures of animals waiting to be adopted from a local shelter.

I am almost positive that a million people (well, maybe not that many — it is a small town, after all) walked past all the photos of worthy dogs, cats and ferrets and didn’t think twice. But for some reason, that day I did. I live in an apartment in DeKalb and because of the non-pet-friendly rules, I can’t have anything but humans and amphibians residing at my place … relatively speaking, anyway.

I know that someday I probably will have a home similar to that of Ace Ventura’s — squirrel, monkey and all — but for now I have to work on keeping my dust bunnies alive.

But there are plenty of other people out there — yes, even you — who can go to a nearby shelter and adopt a furry, feathered or even scaly pet. Many don’t seem to realize how easy and very important it is to go to a shelter first before spending enormous amounts of money on a purebred pet. Everyone — well at least those who don’t have deadly allergies to dander or some sort of phobia — should take the time and go to a shelter, at least to look, but preferably to purchase a pet of their own.

Not only are pets good to have around the house just for sheer company, but studies have shown that having pets increases a human’s life span. Seriously.

Why choose an animal from a shelter? Why not buy a nice dalmatian for $300 from a nice breeder? The reasons are endless.

I am a big promoter of animal welfare and safety. Basically, I think all animals should get the same sort of treatment as any person should get. All animals feel pain, have feelings and deserve to be loved. Period. Many shelters are capped out at the number of animals they can have, so basically a dog or cat checks in only for a short period of time, sometimes weeks, and then, well, they check out — for good, if someone doesn’t take them.

Then there’s the $300 dalmatian. Not only is the dog an expensive one, but we all know it will get sold sooner or later, and the owner wouldn’t (or probably wouldn’t) dare waste all that time and effort in the breeding process to exterminate the dog. It’s just not feasible. Yes, some pet shelters do allow pets to stay there until they are sold, but some don’t. Not only is getting a pet from a shelter the humane way to go, it’s also the cheap way. I can guarantee that a cocker spaniel from a shelter costs about half as much as a full-priced one does, if anything at all.

Another reason why adopting from a shelter is so important is because many of these animals have been waiting for a worthy owner.

Now for a spin in the Way Back Machine…

When I was about 12, my parents saw an ad in the paper for a black great dane, my mother’s favorite kind of dog. The price was good enough and my family didn’t have a dog at the time, so my parents decided to check it out.

I went along with my father and younger brother to a small, shack-like house in a nearby town. The owner of the dog said he had to sell it because they were moving and they couldn’t take her with. Thank God they didn’t.

When the dog was let out of the dark garage — yes, she slept on the concrete next to the lawnmower — my eyes filled up with tears. This dog, who was once a show dog, now looked like it was on its last leg. Ebony was her name, and she came out limping and not only looked starved and head-shy, but had bald patches or brown hair where her black hair was supposed to be.

So immediately we took her and brought her home, shaking in the backseat of my father’s truck, terrified.

What a sad and happy day at the same time. I just made a new friend, but discovered what people can do to another living being.

It took a long time for Ebony to adjust to actually being fed more than table scraps and not being smacked around whenever she bumped into something, but she made it and ended up living a good five years of her 10-year life at my house.

Obviously, many of the pets that come in to shelters are either lost or unwanted. Some have been abused, some haven’t. My home was a shelter of sorts. Actually, I lived on a farm, so kittens in boxes on my front porch or an extra dog at the water dish wasn’t something unexpected. If we didn’t take these animals in, they would die. Basically, shelters do the same thing.

Not only is purchasing a pet good for you and your own life, but it’s good for the pet, too. Sharing happiness with someone or something else is one of the best gifts one can offer another being. Go to a shelter and find a new friend. After all, you can never have too many.