Dear Dr. Evans,
I read an article in the Washington Post that really bothered me. It was called, “Why I’d never adopt a shelter dog again.” It seems the author adopted three shelter dogs: one developed lymphoma a short while after adoption, a second turned out to be severely epileptic, and the original adoptee, whose life seemed pretty good, became senile in her later years. Her argument is that breeders know the temperament of the dog or cat since it has been present from birth, and they also know bloodlines, so they know if their line is likely to have problems. I’ve always adopted both cats and dogs from shelters. Going forward, should I rethink this?
—Friend of Recycled Pets
Oh, good heavens, no.
I think the writer of the article was pointing out that shelters are in a tough spot. They are often short-staffed and short of funds, without the personnel or time to screen every pet before it goes out the door. Moreover, the people who surrender pets don’t always disclose behavior or health problems. More than once, I’ve performed a free shelter exam and discovered that the newly-adopted pet has heartworm or diabetes. You can’t help but suspect that the previous owners took the cowards’ way out and dumped a sick dog at the nearest convenient rescue (there’s a name for such people, but this is a family newspaper).
But shelters vary in quality, just as breeders do. And we are lucky in Rhode Island to have some first-rate shelters, like the Providence Animal Rescue League, the Potter League, and the RISPCA. I wouldn’t hesitate to advise adopting from them. Also, there are a lot of irresponsible breeders out there, driven by the prospect of an easy buck and self-replicating merchandise. I’d adopt from a responsible shelter any day before adopting from someone who cares little for the health or integrity of a breed.
I myself am a good example of the breeder/shelter dilemma. I love Golden Retrievers, but all four of mine have been rescues (the first one from the Providence Animal Rescue League, the other three from the amazing, wonderful Yankee Golden Retriever Rescue. My first guy, Cody (the biggest goofball of dog I’ve ever seen) had to be euthanized at age twelve because of bone cancer. We then rescued Honey (Honey by name, Honey by nature) at age ten and lost her to a bleeding tumor twenty-one months later. Cayenne, the next, settled in beautifully until, two months later, he out of nowhere attacked and almost killed my eighteen-year-old kitty. We’re hoping for the best with Coyote, our current friend, but let’s face it: Goldens are genetically prone to cancer. All four were adopted from shelters, but really, would the outcome have been any different had we gotten any one of these pure-breds from a breeder? No. Sure, when you adopt from a rescue, there’s always a chance you’re adopting someone else’s problem, but adopting from a breeder is no guarantee of a problem-free pet.
Evaluate a shelter the way you would a breeder. Are the premises clean? Do the pets look well-fed and healthy? Are the caretakers familiar with them and aware of their individual personalities? Are they interested in promoting a good fit between you and your potential pet? Do they insist that your housing and family situation be acceptable for any given pet? Have the pets’ vaccination and deworming needs been attended to?
So please, Friend of Recycled Pets, go to your nearest shelter with your eyes wide open, and if it seems to meet the criteria above, adopt with confidence.
Dr. Lynn Anne Evans of the Barrington Veterinary Clinic has been practicing veterinary medicine for 26 years. Do you have a pet question for Dr. Evans? Please email email@example.com, with “Dr. Evans” in the subject line.