Give Me Shelter

Man's best friend needs a happy home

Beautiful eyes and furry paws cling to the bars of a cage as caregivers and prospective families walk by. Every so often, an animal yips and barks.

Each year, nearly 4 million dogs run out of luck and, through no fault of their own, wind up in animal shelters, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

October is National Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog month, and millions of dogs enter U.S. animal shelters each year. If statistics hold, more than 1 million of these canines will be euthanized this year. Living a stressful life of confinement after being abandoned, the dogs wait for the day their special human will walk through the door — many for years.

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We asked several shelter employees the same question: Can an old dog learn new tricks?

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“Absolutely,” said Don Lafoya, who works the kennels of Harbor Animal Care Center for the City of Los Angeles. “A dog, no matter what age — old, young — can learn anything. They just need time, consistent training, and patience.”

Each year, according to the ASPCA, nearly 4 million dogs run out of luck and, through no fault of their own, wind up in an animal shelter.

What is the No. 1 benefit of giving a forever home to a shelter dog?

“Most of them are already so well-socialized,” Lafoya said. “They have already learned how to do well with humans and multiple dogs through their time in a shelter.”

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Why are there so many dogs without homes in the U.S.?

Cesar Milan, known as “The Dog Whisperer,” offers these five reasons on his website: Lack of training for the dog, lifestyle changes in a family, a move, lack of time to devote to the dog, and the costs of dog ownership.

Milan’s reasons for surrender are borne out by a simple search of Craigslist.

Every day, hundreds of new listings for free dogs, or dogs for sale, pop up. Owners cite various reasons — a move, downsizing to an apartment that doesn’t take pets, or the family’s nose-diving economics — or none at all. Sudden allergies are also high up on the list for pet surrender.

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Anna Johnson, manager of Chicago Canine Rescue, told LifeZette, “There are a combination of factors that lead to dogs winding up here with us, but we have not seen any slowdown at all in the last five years. It’s sad.”

The first step that would reduce the number of shelter animals is often not taken.

“It is so important to spay and neuter a pet,” Johnson said. “People hear it all the time, and it seems like old information. But you’d be surprised how many don’t have their dog spayed or neutered.”

The Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society in Mississippi agreed. Results of their pet-owner surveys show that 34 percent of dog owners do not spay or neuter their pet.

Many forego shelter pets for custom-order purebreds, or even “designer dogs” — labradoodles and puggles are two — instead of considering a “mutt.”

Does Johnson think you can teach an old dog new tricks? “Without a doubt,” she said. “We do it every single day.”

“Prospective dog owners should remember there are challenges with puppies from breeders, too,” Johnson said. “People think they are getting more background on their dog, and that may be true. But how much can you really know — aside from what the breeder tells you — about the puppy’s early health and care? In some cases these designer dogs have physical issues, too — hip and leg issues, for example.”

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She added, “People today want guarantees on everything in life, and there are no guarantees — not with any dog. But there are so many wonderful dogs that are waiting for their second chance.”

Does Johnson think you can teach an old dog new tricks? “Without a doubt,” she said. “We do it here every single day.”

Check out these amazing facts and figures from the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society:

  • 70,000: number of cats and dogs born every day in the U.S. That’s nearly 3,000 every hour, or 50 born each minute.
  • 70 million: number of stray cats and dogs living in the U.S.
  • 30 million: number of animals in the U.S. that die each year from cruelty, neglect, and exploitation
  • $2 billion: yearly cost to U.S. taxpayers to impound, shelter, euthanize, and dispose of homeless animals
  • 90 percent: percentage of animals that are healthy and adoptable entering U.S. shelters
  • 18 percent: percentage of dogs that were adopted from an animal shelter
  • 30 percent: percentage of animals entering animal shelters that were surrendered by their owners
  • 70 percent: percentage of people who acquire animals and end up giving them away, abandoning them, or taking them to shelters
  • 10 percent: percentage of animals received by animal shelters that have been spayed or neutered

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