Paws to Consider: Best Friends Waiting for Homes
by Julie Peterson
Wade Breunig, of Buckeye, Arizona, had lost his marriage, his job and his house. To combat depression, he went to the local animal shelter to adopt the first cat that “talked” to him. As if on cue, a 2-year-old black cat yowled persistently. During the adoption, Breunig learned that “Bubba” had been scheduled to be euthanized. He was saving a life.
Fourteen years later, Bubba died, and Breunig knew he would miss the mischievous, playful companion that loved car rides more than most dogs. Crying, but surrounded by his second wife and kids, he realized, “I didn’t save Bubba’s life. He saved mine.”
Devoted and Practical
The benefits of the human/animal bond are manifold, supported by an army of studies that speak to pets’ ability to reduce stress, improve mood and even reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Research into animal-assisted therapy compiled by the University of California, Los Angeles, details the positive mental, emotional and physical effects of this natural modality.
Anyone looking to lower blood pressure, ease anxiety or secure companionship can find it all at their local shelter, where homeless dogs and cats are eager to oblige. Emily Bach, public relations and event coordinator at Bishop Animal Shelter, in Bradenton, Florida, has many inspiring stories about adopted shelter animals. “They are often the most devoted pets because they know they’ve been rescued,” she says.
The outdated myth that shelter pets are incorrigible, unlovable animals with behavioral issues no longer holds. Family circumstances—a change of job or residence, death, divorce or illness—can land a confused and well-loved dog or cat in a shelter. Others become accidental strays or are unceremoniously dumped by uncaring owners. Bishop, a no-kill shelter, places about 100 pets every month, showcasing them on social media, news outlets and at outreach events.
Shelters share success stories of animals that get a “forever home”. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands don’t and are euthanized. Best Friends Animal Society, in Kanab, Utah, is working to change this. By partnering with animal welfare organizations and shelters, Best Friends has a goal to “Save Them All” through an initiative to make all of the nation’s shelters “no-kill” by 2025—which means 90 percent of shelter animals might be saved. Euthanasia will be reserved for failed rehabilitation or when an animal has no chance of recovery from an illness or injury.
In 1984, when Best Friends was founded, about 17 million animals died in U.S. shelters annually. As of August 2019, that number is down to 733,000, a nationwide save rate of 76.6 percent.
Historically, no detailed data was kept on shelters. “For decades, we have worked in the dark to end shelter killing because we lacked accurate information about the problem we were trying to solve,” says Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends. The organization recently launched the community lifesaving dashboard, a database that anyone can access to help save shelter pets. “With a better understanding of where the trouble spots are and the profile of animals being killed in a community, we can better deploy our collective resources for the greatest lifesaving impact.”
Part of the success of the no-kill movement involves increased awareness that kindness toward all species is important. Bach points out that shelter animals are also the lower-cost option for people that want pets; most are vaccinated and neutered before they are adopted out and are often already trained.
Getting Ready to Adopt
Before jumping in to help save them all by adopting, potential pet parents should research breeds, crunch numbers and think ahead. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) suggests considering several issues:
Lifestyle: Dogs live 10 to 15 years, cats up to 20. Pets should fit the family now and in the future.
Money: Pets require training, food, toys, equipment, medical exams and treatment.
Breeds: Not all dogs and cats will be a good match for every home. Personality is key.
Safety: Pet-proofing a home includes removing potential dangers and preventing accidental escape through windows, doors or fences.
Not everyone can adopt, but anyone can help. Shelters accept donations and most have a wish list of items. Volunteers are a core need at shelters, and it’s work that can quench the thirst for spending time with animals without adopting any of them.
Julie Peterson writes from rural Wisconsin. Contact her at [email protected].
Pets Promote Health
Many studies document the positive influence of pets on our well-being.
Single people that live with a dog have a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Part of the reason for this is likely because dog owners tend to get more physical activity than those without dogs, which makes dog owners generally more fit.
The demands of life can take a toll on the body. Contact with animals is linked to lower heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol, anxiety and fear levels, and increased feelings of calmness. Lower levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, have been shown to help regulate inflammation, which helps the immune system fight off everything from colds to diseases.
In children with autism spectrum disorder, animals help them learn to connect better to others. One study using guinea pigs found that these kids talked and laughed more with peers. There are now therapy programs using dogs, horses and chickens.
Animals elicit smiles, which makes them great for deterring depression.
From lessening loneliness to lifting emotional well-being, children and adults undergoing cancer treatment seem to benefit from time with dogs.
Animals can soothe away some chronic pain and enable people to reduce use of pain medication.
Meet Your Match
Best Friends Animal Society has a quiz called Paws Like Me to match people with adoptable animals. Shelter workers can also help families select appropriate pets.