This week (November 3–9) marks National Animal Shelter and Rescue Appreciation Week. Only a week you ask? A closer look at the calendar reveals that the entire month of October was designated as Adopt a Shelter Dog Month—thus, where other important subjects (hunger and homelessness, mental health) can claim only one official week of recognition, shelter and rescue dogs now receive a full five weeks of being in the public spotlight. I mention this observation not in jest but because the topic of animal rescue may have reached a measure of critical mass. Adopting a shelter dog (or cat) has evolved from a marginal act of convenience for a few to a popular trend practiced by many carried out with a sense of pride and social activism. Today, celebrities send out press releases when they adopt from shelters and cultural observers (the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik, former NYT’s editor Jill Abramson) get skewered when they purchase dogs from pet stores or breeders. In some circles, the meaning of adoption has been appropriated to refer to all animals chosen as pets, as described on one food manufacturer’s packaging that states that “all dogs are adopted”—not true. Purchased dogs are not adopted.
If shelter dogs have not yet reached critical mass just yet, they are receiving some serious mass exposure. There are network television specials, reality shows, countless books, heartwarming commercials and constant news features (hugging dogs find permanent home!). But before we mistake good PR as a problem solved, anybody involved with shelters and adoptions will tell you that it's simply not enough. It is true that over the last decade the euthanization of unwanted pets has dropped from 25 million animals a year to about 3 million annually. Great progress indeed but there are still millions of animals who will be euthanized in US animal shelters, who will never find a forever home. Despite the upsurge in awareness, far too many shelters still struggle to meet their mission due to a lack of funds, support or education. A surprising number of future pet owners will deem adopting a shelter animal as too difficult, too risky or for somebody else. The business of dog breeding will continue to thrive.
That is why it is important to designate a week or an entire month to shelter animals and adoption. It offers an easy forum to remind people that there's much work still to do, deserving animals to save. It’s a gentle nudge to say your local shelter needs your support in so many ways. And that there remain many minds to convince of the benefits and rewards of animal adoption. Even if you are not a celebrity.
Learn how you can support your local animal shelter with these ten easy tips.