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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

14 Things Animals in Shelters Wish You Knew

Over 7.6 million animals are put in shelters every year. If you’re looking to adopt a new furry friend, take this advice from the people who know these animals the best.

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We’re not here because there’s something wrong with us

“Typically, animals don’t end up in shelters or homeless because they have severe medical or behavioral issues. It’s something that changes in their person’s life that separates them. For example, their person may not be able to find rental housing that accepts them or that person has had a life change, maybe has ended up in the hospital or in jail or has some other reason that they have lost their stable home. … So all of those things can really put that bond between pet owner and pet at risk, but they’re not things that are directly attributable to something the pet has done. The overwhelming majority of pets in shelters are there because of people problems, not problems they themselves have.”—Inga Fricke, director of pet retention programs for the Humane Society of the United States (Don’t miss these 50 secrets your pet won’t tell you!)

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iStock/Bradley Hebdon

Adopting us could save our lives

“When you adopt from shelters, you also create space for another animal. When people purchase animals, they don’t realize if you get a dog from a pet store that most of the time those dogs come from puppy mills, commercial breeding operations where the emphasis is on profit rather than the welfare of the animal. Animals may be forced to breed and may be kept in terrible conditions and may not be provided with adequate care or any medical care.”—Joey Teixeira, senior manager of client relations and communications at the ASPCA Adoption Center (Convenience euthanasia is just one of many secrets your veterinarian won’t tell you.)

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Fewer animals are euthanized each year, but it still happens

“In the 1970s, we were up, estimates were somewhere around 13 to 15 million animals being euthanized a year, now we’re down to just a little over 3 million a year. That’s remarkable, but that still means that we have millions of animals losing their lives in shelters every year. So until we get to zero healthy, adoptable animals losing their lives each year, it is very important for people to consider adoption first.”—Inga Fricke. These are items that animal shelters desperately need. 

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Shelters work together to keep those numbers down

“When [shelters are] very overcrowded and otherwise would have to euthanize an animal, they’ll work with other shelters that are less crowded to give those animals a chance. Others use foster care. Others are actually importing animals because they typically euthanize few, if any, animals because they have good programs that are keeping animals with their people, avoiding those people problems, and they really don’t have that as a concern.”—Inga Fricke (Don’t miss these 23 animal myths you need to stop believing.)

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Sometimes we come in pairs

“If our behavior team deems animals can’t be separated, then they will live together. … A good example of that would be, you know, somebody who had two dogs or two cats that lived together for 10 years and then for whatever reason, they can no longer care for them and [need to] bring them to the shelter. If there is a bond between the animals—that if they are separated, they show stress and stop eating or cry or burp or whatever the case is—our behavior team may deem them as bonded which means they need to be adopted together.”—Joey Teixeira

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We don’t know how long we’ll stay in a shelter

“A lot of animals come in from a really desperate situation, and they may need grooming and medical attention. So cases like that, it may take a lot longer for them to even become available to the public for adoption. It might be the same day, two days, a week, it all depends on the situation, on that shelter and their policies, and the animal itself.”—Inga Fricke

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Yes, we’re scared

“Imagine taking yourself from the home you’re used to being at every day, and the people you are used to have around you everyday, and the sights and smells and things that are very comfortable for you, and all of a sudden, someone else has picked you up and moved you to a completely different place with all new people, all new animals, all new sights, all new smells, all new sounds… It can be very disorienting for animals.”—Inga Fricke (Here are 17 things your cat would love to tell you about their cat behavior.

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Our shelters do a lot to make us comfortable

“We have music that plays to calm the animals and create a soothing environment. We use our furniture and our walls have kind of muted colors because animals see colors differently. A plain white wall for an animal can look pretty florescent to an animal, which can be irritating. We have volunteers who come in to socialize with the animals and provide enrichment. Our dogs go out on three walks a day. Our cats get lots of toys to play with.”—Joey Teixeira

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We may be hiding our real personalities

“It’s very important to understand that the animal you see in a shelter most often will really blossom when they come out of the shelter. So, if there are wonderful and outgoing and friendly, they’re probably going to be even more so outside when they have routine and confidence and some sense of security. And then that animal that may look shy and nervous in the shelter, will chances are will become much more secure and comfortable when they are out and become acclimated to a calmer home environment.”—Inga Fricke (Look out for these  8 signs your dog trusts you!)

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iStock/Christopher Futcher

The staff knows best if we’ll be a good fit

“When you go to the shelters, you should really talk to the volunteers in the staff who really know the animal and their personality, because we really emphasize on making a good match. We believe the most important thing is finding an appropriate match for you, your home and your lifestyle.” —Joey Teixeira (In fact, your dog knows these 13 things about you.)

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Don’t judge us by our fur

“If the animal has a great personality and you have that connection, then maybe it shouldn’t matter what it looks like or if it’s the exact breed that you’re hoping for. It really is about that specific animal and that specific personality and whether it’s going to be good for your home.” —Inga Fricke

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Slow down there, partner

“When you are actually meeting the pet, you definitely want to listen to instructions from the staff and really just take your time and go with the flow. It’s like when you meet a new person, you don’t just wrap your arms around them and give them a kiss right on the lips. So you don’t want to do that with a shelter pet either.” —Joey Teixeira (Get to know your cat better with these 17 little-known facts you never knew about cats.)

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Don’t forget us older folk

“There’s no doubt that puppies and kittens are wonderful, but that stage is over very, very quickly and in many cases, it actually is better to take on an animal that’s a little bit older or even frankly a senior animal, because you know very quickly who that animal is, you’re past all of that destructive phase, and those are animals that need love and attention just as much as the younger ones that tend to get adopted much more quickly.” —Inga Fricke

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It may take us a while to warm up to our new home

“Every animal is going to be different and some animals adjust quickly and some don’t. A good way to tell if an animal is comfortable is if it is acting happy, eating, sleeping and just getting to know its body language. I think one thing one of our behavioral counselors suggests is introducing your new pet to other pets and other family members and friends at a more gradual level. Because meeting all these new people and animals can be really scary and so introducing them gradually allows them to adjust over time.” —Joey Teixeira (Don’t miss this incredibly sweet story about a cat who escaped an animal shelter to find his rescuer.)