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Myths can be fun in folklore, but they aren’t so fun when they prevent people from adopting a perfectly nice dog or cat from their local shelter.

So, what are some of the myths making the rounds today? And how can you feel more confident, in spite of the myths, about adopting your next pet from your local shelter? Let’s take a look.

Myth 1: Shelter pets are all sick
Ironically, animals in reputable shelters have something going for them that many household pets don’t: they are assured regular veterinarian attention so any medical issues they may have are addressed before they are placed for adoption.

Reputable shelters like Atlanta Humane provide all age-appropriate vaccinations, deworming, and regular flea, tick, and heartworm prevention to all animals while under their care. All pets are also spayed or neutered prior to adoption. And last but definitely not least, Atlanta Humane provides a healthy pet examination that includes a personalized medical assessment and treatment plan if needed before you take your new best friend home.

Myth 2: All shelter pets are old
Many times, you hear this one mentioned in the same breath as myth #1 and, frankly, it just isn’t so. According to the Shelter Animal Counts national database that is updated regularly by shelters throughout the US, of the roughly 1.3 million dog and cat adoptions they tracked in 2022, 41% were of animals classified as “youths” or aged 6 months and younger. So, if you have your heart set on adopting a puppy or kitten, be assured that shelters are viable resources.

And speaking of puppies and kittens…

Myth 3: Puppies and kittens are awesome!
OK, this one is pretty true! Puppies and kittens are cute, loveable, fun, and fabulous … except when they aren’t. They cry during the night, poop on your nice rug, tear up the expensive Nikes® your kids left out (again), and require lots and lots of attention to gently teach them not to do all of the above. Puppies and kittens can make a great addition to your family, but potential adopters should recognize that they require a time and energy commitment that an older dog or cat may not.

And what about those “older” dogs or cats?

Myth 4: Older pets cannot bond with new owners
Not true! While adult pets may take more time to warm up, given time, attention, and a regular schedule that meets their physical needs, an adult animal can become a wonderful loving addition to your family. They also often have the benefit of already being housebroken, litter box trained, and skilled in basic commands like “sit.”

Myth 5: All shelter pets have behavioral problems
This is probably the most common misconception out there. Many people believe that all shelter animals end up there because of something they did that is inherently wrong, bad, or unacceptable.

In reality, the data shows that 75% of the time, the most common reasons that pets end up in shelters have nothing to do with the pet themselves but rather other challenges that the owners are facing. These include having too many animals in the household (that batch of kittens you weren’t expecting), housing issues (landlord doesn’t allow pets), caretaker or family member health issues (allergies, new baby, death of owner), and financial challenges (lost job). And while it is true that some pets are surrendered due to personality or behavioral issues, many times these animals have had no training to help them understand how to co-exist with humans or the family selected a pet that was inappropriate for their lifestyle (a big, energetic dog in a small apartment).

Your best bet is to visit the shelter and spend time with the adoptable pets, even multiple times, to get a sense of their character and appropriateness for your family and lifestyle. Also, ask shelter employees and volunteers about the pet you are most interested in adopting. They spend time with the adoptable pets on a daily basis and get to know their quirks, likes, and dislikes.

Lastly, Atlanta Humane offers a Foster First Program. This program gives you the opportunity to take an animal home for up to 14 days prior to adoption. This means you get to see how your potential new pet will interact on your home turf before deciding if they are the perfect fit for you and your family. As an added bonus, you’ll have the full support of the Atlanta Humane Foster and Adoption Teams in case you have any questions along the way.

The bottom line is that each pet comes with their own unique personality and it takes time to get to know them, just like it would with a person.

Myth 6: Shelters only have mixed breeds
The predominant shelter pet is not going to be AKC-registered purebreds. And purebreds that do end up in shelters do not stay long. But Atlanta Humane makes it easier for you to find the breed of your dreams through the Pet Alert program. Just sign up and you will receive real-time notifications when dogs or cats who match your selection become available for adoption.

That being said, what’s so wrong with a mixed breed? Some argue that with a purebred animal, you know exactly what you are getting. But please reference myth #5! All pets come with their own unique personality. And while there are some general traits exhibited by certain breeds (goofy, fun-loving Golden Retrievers), a “golden mix” doesn’t necessarily lose these traits simply by being mixed with something else.

Myth 7: Adopting from a shelter is difficult
It is estimated that between 10% to 15% of pets adopted from shelters are later returned to the shelter. This is obviously difficult on everyone involved: the family making the hard decision to surrender their pet, the shelter staff, and the pet themselves. No one wants this to happen.

To ensure a good pet-to-family match and prevent as many returns as possible, shelters do have an application process. It’s not hard, but it does ask for some self-reflection and honesty.

For instance, while you may in theory think you would love a big, active dog, if work constraints prevent you from regularly walking and exercising that big, active dog, this could be a recipe for disaster that leads to undesired pet behavior as a result of excess energy. It can also lead to the return of an otherwise good pet.

The application process is designed to give you the chance to really think about the type of pet you want as well as the type of pet that will work for your individual lifestyle. You may be asked things like what is your desired activity level in a pet? Do you want a pet that can run a couple of miles with you daily? Or do you want one that is happiest snuggling on the couch with you? Does your potential pet need to be comfortable with little ones running or crawling about? Will they be the only pet in the household or need to be comfortable sharing your attention with other dogs or cats?

There will also be practical questions about your living situation. If you live in an apartment, do they allow pets or have restrictions that might impact the pet you can pick? And there will be questions about your commitment to the ongoing health of your new pet that will require regular maintenance vet visits and preventative medications or treatments.

The process and the questions are all geared towards making sure you find the best match not just for now, but also throughout the lifetime of your new best friend.

June 1, 2023