Clea Grady from Veganuary makes the case for adopting your next pet instead of buying…
I have lived with animals all my life. The first word out of my mouth was the name of our first dog, Emma – a gentle Airedale terrier my parents bought from a breeder. Our second family dog, Beau – a bear-like Briard – was also a pedigree and like a brother to me.
Our next dogs, Honey and Denny, were inherited when we moved house and were sweet little rescues. (But I never really made any connection, being so young.) And our fifth family dog, a Bichon called Dougie, came from a pet shop. We went into the shop on a whim and he was the only one there… We left with him in our arms about an hour later.
It was only when I started living on my own that I encountered the concept of rescuing animals. I’d always longed for a cat and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I walked into the RSPCA. So many cats! Big cats, pretty cats, terrified cats, territorial tom cats, poorly cats and tiny cats. Cats literally everywhere, and that’s when I started to question things…
How on earth were there so many here? How could I choose just one? But one was all I could manage at the time, so I chose a lonely looking tabby, who was scowling down at everyone like an owl. I called her Hoot; my first cat, my first rescue, and the animal who would lead me down the path to where I am now.
Adopting is the way
I’ve started with some background because I ‘get’ it. Just like I once ate meat and cheese and eggs and fish, I also once lived with companion animals who were purchased rather than rescued.
The love you feel for an animal is not dependent on his or her origin, and we can love an animal who was obtained from a breeder as fiercely as we might love one who has been ill-treated and abused, or dumped, or forgotten.
When I say I am passionate about rescuing animals and we should all be adopting rather than buying them, I am not condemning anyone. I am certainly not suggesting you shouldn’t love your current companion animal(s), or that they are in any way ‘lesser than’. But I am saying there is another way, and that way should be the only way, for many reasons.
It doesn’t take much digging to discover how many unwanted animals there are out there. The Stray Dog Survey confirmed that 47,596 dogs were left behind in council pounds and remained unclaimed by their owners in 2014-15.
Rescue centres up and down the country are bursting at the seams because people are dumping, abusing, or simply handing over their animals when a situation changes. And what happens when these shelters can take no more?
Well that’s when we learn about the victims of the kill lists… the doubly unwanted. Animals who are abandoned and not re-homed quickly enough are killed, even though they are healthy, friendly and perfectly suited to being companions.
The Dog Rescue Federation estimates that around 20,000 mutts are destroyed each year in the UK alone, simply because no one wants them and the demand for space never stops.
In 2016, the CEO of the much-loved Battersea Dogs and Cats Home admitted that “1,200 of the 5,000 dogs that came in we had to put to sleep”; a statistic that doesn’t make it into the TV show. These are ugly numbers for a nation of supposed dog lovers, and I haven’t even started talking about the poor cats.
Thousands of animals are being dumped and killed year-on-year, yet still we buy. Why? People I know and love have gone out and bought a puppy or kitten, because they want to ‘train them from scratch’ or somehow mould their personalities.
The irony is that rescue centres are overwhelmed with puppies and kittens, especially after Christmas and often with ‘designer breeds’. People buy a cute little thing thinking it’s all going to be sunshine and roses and then realise that an untrained, young animal is actually a lot of hard work. Another irony is that a slightly older animal, who is already house-trained, might have been a more suitable companion from the get-go.
I adopted both my dogs at about four years old and my two cats at about 18 months and – having had a puppy before – can confirm that settling these animals into our home was far easier than when my family bought Dougie.
Furthermore, too many people fail to get their animals spayed or neutered, so abandoned pups and cats are free to impregnate or get pregnant. Pregnant cats are especially common as females are fertile at a young age. Many of them end up in shelters with bulging bellies and their kittens are born into rescue. If you want a puppy or a kitten you will find plenty if you choose to adopt.
The other thing I know people worry about is that rescue animals are ‘difficult’. That they are so damaged that they’re effectively beyond repair and will be more of a nightmare than a companion. Let’s put a stop to that rumour right now.
Yes, it is true that there are some animals who have had so many devastating things done to them that they are broken, terrified and ill and, sometimes, aggressive. But what you may not be aware of is how many of these problems are addressed and worked through by the rescue centres, and usually before you even know the animals are available for adoption.
Rescues are run by passionate people who have often fallen into rescuing because of a love of animals and witnessing a need. The Founders of the Soi Dog Foundation, for example, moved to Thailand to retire, but when they saw the street dog situation for themselves, they felt compelled to act.
What began as a caring couple trying to help a few dogs is now a huge organisation rescuing animals from the dog meat trade, as well as the streets, sending dogs out for adoption all over the world, and carrying out comprehensive neutering and spaying programmes. Rescue people know the animals in their care through and through, and this is one of the things I love most.
We adopted two of our three cats before we had either of our dogs. When my husband fell in love with greyhounds, we were told it would take a long time to find a suitable dog, as these animals are bred to chase small furries. But, as we didn’t care about anything else other than the dog being ‘cat friendly’, we found ourselves adopting Cosmo about a fortnight after submitting our application.
Cosmo is a lurcher; part greyhound, part collie and definitely part human. He’d had about five or six homes by the time he came to us; moved from pillar-to-post through no fault of his own (marriage break-ups and relocation).
He’s the most affectionate and reliable dog with bags of personality and everybody (and I mean everybody) loves him. The organisation we adopted him from knew his history and personality, and his foster mum confirmed he had no problem living with cats. This sort of insight into an animal is something very specific to rescue and one of the huge advantages in my opinion.
A breeder knows nothing of an animal’s personality and quirks when they hand you a tiny puppy or kitten. In contrast, a good rescue will know everything, or everything they can possibly know. What’s more, reputable rescues only put animals up for adoption when they are ready to be re-homed, not when it suits the owner or when an animal is worth the most money.
So your potential dog or cat will have been neutered/spayed, had all his/her relevant injections, been taken through all sorts of behavioural checks and had any illnesses treated.
One of my favourite dog rescues, Greyhound Gap, says they will find the dog who is right for your family (and vice versa), and they will not re-home a dog unless they are absolutely confident of a match. This is a big selling point in my opinion – you will find the best animal for you and your situation. It’s actually far less of a ‘lottery’ than buying from a breeder!
Growing with your pet
Currently, I live with three cats and two dogs. Often people say things like “Oh , are they rescues? Well done you”, which always leaves me feeling slightly bemused. It’s as though I’ve done something special or selfless in choosing to rescue them, but it honestly doesn’t feel that way, because they give me so much in return.
Our greyhound, Rosie, is a rescued ex-racing hound and had an awful first four years on this planet. She’s missing half her tail and couldn’t even walk up and down stairs when we first adopted her (a racer’s only life experience is concrete pen, to van, to track and back again).
She was fearful of people (especially men), quick movements, loud noises and had no idea how to play. Watching her learn to trust has been a joy. Three years on, she is a happy and fun companion and I honestly feel like I have grown as a person because of her. She’s experienced the worst of people, yet loves us fiercely. Animals constantly amaze me in their capacity to forgive.
I’ve really only begun to scratch the surface on the subject of animal adoption. I’ve quoted some shocking statistics, but these don’t include, for example, the beagles rescued from animal testing labs or the 9,000+ greyhounds who go unaccounted for every year – those who don’t make it into the rescue records at all, because they’re either shot or dumped and left to die, often with their ears cut off so they can’t be identified by their tattoos.
I’ve not yet talked about cats, and the figures are astounding and saddening. Abandoned, stray and feral cats are a huge and ever-growing problem, and more often than not the existing rescue centres exclaim that they ‘can take no more’.
Cats also seem to be regarded as even more disposable than dogs, with many people dumping family cats on shelters whenever their situation changes (instead of looking to re-home them themselves). And every spring the annual call goes out to discourage people from buying bunnies. There’s a huge spike in dumped rabbits post-Easter, as people realise their little cottontail is an animal with needs and not just a cuddly toy.
In short, rescue animals need us. They are trapped in a situation that is not of their doing and, in choosing to buy, we condemn another animal to death. I believe it is our duty to help if we can and the rewards really are boundless. Please adopt, don’t shop.
A few things to consider…
- Learn about animals – they are a lifelong commitment and you should know what you’re letting yourself in for. Most organisations and shelters welcome volunteers and dog walkers – a great opportunity to enhance your knowledge and help out at the same time.
- Don’t regard home checks as a test – good rescues will perform home checks as part of the adoption process. Your home and lifestyle need to be right for the animal and these checks are designed to make re-homing as stress-free as possible (for everyone).
- Do your homework – social media is great, as most organisations and shelters have groups and pages on Facebook. You can interact with people who’ve adopted animals, ask questions, learn about the organisation’s ethos and read some wonderful anecdotes!
- Don’t rush – finding the right animal for you may take time and this is a good thing. Companion animals are a privilege, not a right.
- Be honest – with yourself and the rescue centre about what you can handle. Don’t commit to anything you’re not 100% confident of.
- Ask questions – ask as many as you need. If in doubt, ask more!
- Make sure you get pet insurance – this is really important and could save you a huge amount of money in the long-run.