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B: What tips would you offer those who might be interested in a shelter dog?
KK: I think the best way to adopt is through a rescue that uses a network of foster homes. As previously mentioned, you’re far more likely to know what kind of dog you’re getting.
It’s also good to work with rescues that ask you a lot of questions. They should check your references. They should thoroughly interview you and maybe even do a home inspection before approving you. This isn’t about being suspicious but rather, a sign that they are trying to be professional—that they want what is best for the particular dog, instead of just giving you a dog who may or may not be right for your family or your lifestyle.

B: Any ideas on how to improve spay/neuter rates? Groups around the country have promoted low-cost, accessible services but still, many people won’t neuter their pets.
KK: This was the experts’ biggest frustration. In North Carolina, where Blue is from, you can have a dog neutered for $20 at a mobile clinic that comes to your town. In New York City, where I interviewed an ASPCA vice president about their mobile clinics, you can have your dog neutered and spayed for free if you meet the eligibility criteria. And still people don’t do it.

There are a number of reasons why. First and foremost is a lack of education. People don’t realize that they are contributing to a massive national shelter crisis when they allow their dogs to produce unwanted puppies. This can be overcome. Education takes time, but it does work. As the founder of Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Mass., told me, education has gotten through in the Northeast, where spay/neuter has become as routine as daily tooth-brushing—and where shelters typically have far lower kill rates than in some other parts of the country.

Another reason I’ve heard more than once has to do with religion. I’ve had people tell me that encouraging spay/neuter is akin to “playing God.” They feel that it’s just as immoral to spay or neuter a dog as it is for a human to take birth-control pills or have an abortion, because God and God alone should decide which puppies are born. This is much harder to address, and I don’t know that anything will ever change those opinions. It’s like trying to convince pro-life and pro-choice activists to see eye-to-eye. It’s just not likely to happen.
One thing I think will help going forward is the research being done right now into how spay/neuter rates affect intake levels at shelters. The ASPCA is doing some great work on this in New York City, for example. I hope that sometime soon, researchers will be able to tell shelter directors that if they invest X amount of their budget in local spay/neuter initiatives, it will bring down the number of dogs in their shelter by Y amount. That will make spay/neuter a budgetary and policy priority in places where personal attitudes or lack of education may be getting in the way of solving the problem.

B: Beyond spaying and neutering, what more can be done to control pet population in shelters?
KK: One thing that we see in rescue is people giving their dogs back after a year or two. It’s more common than you might think. Sometimes it’s because people never really wanted a dog in the first place, but instead thought of the animal as a fun accessory who later becomes an inconvenience in their life. They say something like, “I am moving and I don’t want to be limited to apartments that only take dogs, even though my dog is really great and loves my kids a lot.” I have no idea what to do about those people, except maybe to ask their mothers why they never taught them proper respect for dogs who are members of their families.

The other main reason that people give dogs back to rescues or shelters, is that they say the dogs “turned out” bad. This tends to happen when the dogs are two or three years old—and almost always a result of the human failing to train the dog when he was a puppy. If a dog doesn’t know how to sit or where to go to the bathroom after you’ve had him for two or three years, it’s because you failed to teach him. The dog isn’t bad. It’s a lousy dog owner. If more people took advantage of training classes, which are usually just one hour a week, then far fewer people would be complaining they had “bad dogs.”

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Anonymous | August 20 2012 |

"Numbers and expiration dates." That is disgusting. Communicating just this bit of information to people about shelter dogs could be enough to change hearts and minds.

Submitted by Lyn deMarrin | September 16 2012 |

As a long time weekly volunteer at an animal shelter I support Kavin's recommentations. However, I must strongly assert that getting an animal adopted must not be an end that justifies any means. Prospective adopters must be interviewed (and perhaps other strategies employed as well) to determins, as much as humanly possible, if they will be good owners. After years of witnessing the results of heinous behavior of bad owners, I have come to believe that there are much worse things for animal than euthanasia. Let's follow Kavin's recommendations while remembering that adoptions should not be about adoption numbers or about reduction of kill numbers, but about successful pairing with a loving home.

Submitted by Kim Kavin | September 21 2012 |

Hi Lyn,

I couldn't agree more. That's why "Little Boy Blue" talks about the five-page adoption application and home visit that Lulu's Rescue required before I was allowed to adopt Blue.

Hopefully you will read the book and see how it supports the very thing you are suggesting.

Kim Kavin

Submitted by Mary DiBlasi | September 17 2012 |

I read and enjoyed the book for the most part. But early in the book there was a comment about the price of rescue dogs and rescues making money. I volunteer with a rescue and have contacts with several others. Believe me, no one in a genuine rescue makes money. The adoption fees charged barely cover the cost of the care put into each dog and if it more than covers the care of one dog, it goes toward the care of another whose medical care or training expenses were exorbitant. Some of the puppies come in with parvovirus which is very expensive to treat, some of the older ones come in with heartworm, which is also very expensive to treat. Even just the basic round of shots and testing for parasites, etc. is expensive "up north" and microchipping is routine and not inexpensive. Now that you are more familiar with rescue I hope you see that the fees are not out of line, but I wish you had not exclaimed over paying $450 for a "shelter dog" who has since brought you so much joy and affection. Would a $1,000 purebred have brought you more?

Submitted by Kim Kavin | September 21 2012 |

Hi Mary,

I'm glad you enjoyed "Little Boy Blue." I'm guessing you skipped the chapter later in the book where I do indeed delve into the costs that rescues pay, and make clear to the reader that most rescues actually lose money on most dogs.

Most people who adopt do in fact question why a "free dog from a shelter" costs $400 or so when it gets to a rescue. "Little Boy Blue" makes very clear that I was just like these people, and then I educated myself to find out it's because reputable rescues are providing medical care and more.

Kim Kavin

Submitted by Mary Shepherd-Ennis | January 17 2013 |

Little Boy Blue is wonderful. It is well written and moves along so well. Hated reading about the gas chambers but since I have done cat rescue for over 40 years along with some dogs and varied wildlife, I read that early.

I ask this of you. Please research Dr. Melanie Joy. Please read her book Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows. Your rather casual comments about not being vegan loving and eating summer bbq's tells me that you are missing some very important emotional intelligence and emotional understanding of animals. In SKorea at a notorious market you can pick your live kitten, cat or dog and have it prepared any way you like...while it lives through being boiled fried or roasted....your choice. Pigs are known to be the 5th smartest animal, way above dogs. So how would you feel about someone taking Blue to cook alive? Those SK dogs are the same as Blue and when the cats and dogs are rescued they make the same wonderful pets as Blue.

It is actually more cruel to kill animals loving life, cared for and eating well than those who would love to die to end their suffering. Please read the above.

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