With National Dog Day coming up on August 26, a lot of us at Petswelcome have been thinking about ways to celebrate. This includes ways that not only benefit our own dogs but also those less fortunate, such as dogs in animal shelters. Unfortunately, though, there are a lot of them as overpopulation in animal shelters becomes an increasingly large and challenging problem.
Part of the reason for this is that, since the 1990s, many shelters have adopted a “no kill” strategy, an approach that is obviously humane and honorable, but one that has surged the shelter population in this country. As The New York Times recently reported, the good news is that adoptions have increased as shelters have funneled their energies and priorities into moving dogs out and finding them homes. Also, rescues groups have stepped in to help with the burden of spaying and neutering, keeping the dogs healthy and groomed as well as assisting with finding them homes.
On the down side, though, this total focus on adoptions often becomes a shuffle that is more intent on moving the dogs out with “Adoption Day” type promotions rather than making sure the homes are stable and/or ready to care for them. This has led to a large scale abandonment of newly adopted dogs in many struggling communities as new owners realize, due to financial and other pressures, that they cannot properly care for the dogs. The animals, then, are often abandoned or returned to shelters, resulting in a stubborn continuity of overcrowded conditions that, ironically, often leads to a worse outcome for the very animals the shelters are trying to help.
The Times reports that there is progress on this front as some shelters are now putting more of an emphasis on trying to dissuade the surrender of dogs to shelters in the first place by offering owners financial assistance in the form of vet care vouchers and cash to pay for other needs. They are also putting more resources toward community education and awareness with regard to spaying and neutering, training and access to medical care. But even with these preemptive strategies, the reality is that animal shelter overpopulation is a very difficult problem.
So is there anything that you can do as an individual to help? Obviously, making a financial donation to a local shelter would be the most immediate and beneficial gesture. However, if that’s not feasible, then perhaps think about volunteering some of your time to help in whatever way you can. And it doesn’t have to be a huge commitment.
One way that appeals to us is volunteering to take shelter dogs for a walk. These animals need, crave and deserve human contact. And the simple act of walking a dog can make a profound difference, providing human contact, exposure to the outdoors, and exercise. It’s a transforming experience for both the walked and the walker, one that makes the plight of these animals a profoundly up-close and personal experience. And, best of all, if you were thinking of adopting a dog, getting to know it first by going out for walks makes the decision less impulsive and increases the likelihood of a long and happy future relationship for both of you.
If you plan on celebrating and honoring the spirit of National Dog Day, there is no better way than by turning your attention to the plight of a shelter dog. You’ll both be glad you did.