The Importance of Teaching Responsible Pet Adoption

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Published on October 5, 2017, at 5:26 p.m.
by Lexi McKenzie.

College is hard. Sure, the classes are challenging, but arguably the hardest thing about beginning college is the lifestyle change and the transition to living outside of a parent’s home. Many students struggle with being away from their childhood pets and not having an animal to comfort them anymore.

Because of this loss, it isn’t uncommon to see students adopt pets rashly without first considering if they truly have the means to take care of an animal.

Maddy Ard’s cat: Obi Wan Catnobi

The thought process behind adopting a pet
“People need to think about if they have the time and the funds and if they want this animal because they really want to take an animal in, or because they just want an animal right now,” said Maddy Ard, volunteer at West Alabama Humane Society and pet owner.

Seeking support and comfort is perfectly natural, especially when entering a new phase in life; but adopting an animal simply to fill this position without considering if the animal’s needs will be properly met is doing a disservice to the pet.

“I think a lot of people — when they are deciding to get an animal — think, ‘How will this decision will make me feel and look to other people,’” said Ard. “When in reality it should be, ‘How is this decision going to affect this animal, and I am going to give it a better life than the one it has right now?’”

The effects of irresponsible pet adoption
Adopting a pet without first considering if you would be a suitable owner is considered irresponsible pet adoption. In college towns especially, there is a major issue with irresponsible pet adoption. However, it extends well beyond college students to the community at large.

Irresponsible pet adoption can lead to animals being returned to the shelters, abandoned on the streets or even being abused. When all is said and done, the irresponsible pet owner can dispose of their unwanted pet and leave the situation unscathed, while the animal is submitted to trauma and uncertainty.

That is why the Humane Society of West Alabama and Canine Compassion Fund (CCF) have a thorough vetting process involved whenever they are considering an application for pet adoption.

“At CCF, our thorough pet adoption process helps us distinguish someone who might be willing to dispose of a family member, truly, when the timing is suddenly not so convenient for them,” said Laura Chism, CCF pet adoption coordinator.

CCF is very hesitant to allow college students to adopt because they are aware of how transitional the students’ lives are. Most students go home for holiday breaks and might not be able to take their pet with them, leading to an increase of abandoned dogs around campus during the Christmas and summer breaks.

During the adoption process, CCF staff members make an effort to discover potential issues ahead of time and through that, they are able to get to know the adoptive families and feel better about the adoptions.

“Unfortunately, shelters can’t be as thorough because they don’t have the resources to go out and do a home visit,” said Chism. “They have so much demand with dogs coming in and moving them through — they have to use their limited budgets in different ways.”

Irresponsible pet adoption can cause stress to the owner, the pet and also the city. For example, dog overpopulation is a serious issue that Tuscaloosa, Alabama, faces, and there is no doubt that irresponsible pet adoption is contributing to the problem.

The overpopulation problem
Part of responsible pet adoption is spaying or neutering your pet, so it can’t have unwanted litters and contribute to overpopulation. Chism said it’s a mentality issue above all; people look at their pets as a “means to an end and as money makers, when they should be looking at them as family members.”

Without major changes being made to the laws, regulating overpopulation is extremely challenging.

“In the North, they have much stricter laws. They have leash laws, rabies requirements; you have to pay a good bit more if your animal hasn’t been altered than if it has,” said Chism. “You get a financial break every year if you’ve spayed or neutered your animal, and you are required to have a breeder’s license to have litters.”

The importance of education
Teaching responsible pet adoption to community members of all ages is vital in reducing irresponsible pet adoption.

CCF recently built up its education programs in an effort to reduce the overpopulation issue in Tuscaloosa. Its staff presents to different age groups, from elementary students to senior citizens, with tailored information about the ways they can help with overpopulation. CCF also makes a strong presence in the community by attending and hosting events and educating people in those settings.

Another organization that attempts to educate against irresponsible pet adoption is The Humane Society of the United States  (HSUS). It does so by providing training and services to local shelters and rescue groups, supporting spay/neuter and adoption initiatives and offering tips on how to care for your pets to be passed along to pet owners.

Education campaigns are a strategy some shelters and rescue agencies are using to connect with their communities in an effort to inform them and combat irresponsible pet adoption. Ames Animal Shelter near Iowa State University organized a campaign to educate students on the responsibilities tied to adopting a pet and to consider waiting until after graduation to adopt, so they don’t have to balance the responsibilities of caring for a pet with their school responsibilities.

Educating the public and getting the message out in the community — whether through hosting events, giving presentations to different age groups, persuading people to petition for law reform or simply spreading the word among friends — are key in alleviating irresponsible pet adoption.

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