Early next week, the dogs of the 136th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show charge into Madison Square Garden and onto a television screen near you. Because so many things about dogs are fun, entertaining and joyful, watching the dog show is something I do every year. I even went once, though I will say it’s one of the few events that I found to be better televised, perhaps for the on-air commentary alone.
By all means, watch and cheer for your favorite dogs. But as you do, keep in mind that these dogs are the pampered supermodels of the dog world and not everyone needs to be a supermodel. Some of the very best things about dogs, like their vast capacity for unconditional love, have nothing to do with how closely they conform to the standards of a particular breed.
So, if you’re looking to add a dog to your family this year, and I hope you are, here are five reasons to adopt from an animal shelter or rescue.
- Four million. Four million. That’s how many pets are put down in U.S. animal shelters every year, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Every pet counts and all it takes is a little bit of research and preparation on your part and a trip to the shelter and that number gets one life smaller, a life that is not only saved but will add immeasurably to the quality of yours.
- Save money while you save a life. In the midst of an economy that can at best be described as struggling, there’s no need to be faced with the four-figure bill that many breeders will charge for a “show quality” purebred dog. When you rescue a dog, the cost is usually limited to a processing fee (which in many cases is less than $150). Additionally, some shelters provide ongoing medical care for their animals at significantly reduced costs, leaving all the more spare cash for chew toys and treats.
- The gift that keeps on giving. Adoption fees also help to cover the care and feeding for other animals at the shelter, as well as spay and neuter programs and community outreach. When you adopt, you’re helping not only the dog you rescue but the ones left behind (though hopefully not for long).
Healthier, smarter pets. In many cases, shelter dogs are not the product of a breeding effort to achieve certain traits; as a result, many of the mixed breed dogs found at a shelter are at less risk for certain diseases. And as people who live with mixed breeds will tell you, they can very often be smarter than their purebred counterparts. I personally spent my childhood with a total of 12 different dogs and our Sheepdog-Wolfhound-something-else mix, Max, was one of the most intelligent beings I have ever known.
- If you still want a pure-bred dog, that’s OK, too. I get it. There’s nothing wrong with purebreds and if you’re so inclined to certain traits and features, by all means, be inclined. I’m completely devoted to my Westie. (Due to her peculiar bow-legged gait, she was deemed unfit for the show world. That peculiar gait is one of the best things that ever happened to me.) Shelters often have purebreds for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with the dogs’ lack of wonderfulness, so call around and see. Additionally, almost every dog breed under the sun has a rescue group that works to save abused or homeless members of that breed and then find them homes. Many of these rescue groups are remarkable organizations that can provide you not only with the breed of your choice, but also with the opportunity to help others of that breed.