7 Myths and Misconceptions About Rescue Animals—Debunked · The Wildest

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7 Myths About Rescue Animals—Debunked

For starters: No, they’re not all traumatized and yes, you can find a purebred puppy at a shelter.

by Jodi Helmer
Updated April 29, 2024
Girl sitting on couch hugging her playful dog with the window open to outside
Boris Jovanovic / Stocksy

Your social feeds are filled with “#AdoptDontShop” and “#RescuedIsMyFavoriteBreed,” but you may have heard some negative things about shelter animals that have left you feeling unsure about adopting a pet. To keep you from falling for misinformation, Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society, dispels seven common myths about shelter animals.

Myth 1: Shelters are full of animals with behavior issues.

Reality: Do some dogs jump up and bark when you walk through the kennels while some cats hide in the back corner of their cages? Of course. The shelter is an unfamiliar environment, and it can be overwhelming and scary for animals — but behavior issues are not the main reasons animals are surrendered. In fact, according to Dr. Weitzman, “Most animals end up at the shelter because their owners are moving or an owner passed away; some come in as strays and their owners never come.” In other words, it’s bad luck, not bad behavior, that lands animals behind bars.

Myth 2: Shelter animals have health issues.

Reality: Shelters do not place sick or injured animals up for adoption. Period. “Most pets who enter a shelter are healthy and can be placed for adoption very quickly,” says Dr. Weitzman. “Some have health issues, but shelters address and treat them [before making them available for adoption].”

In fact, Dr. Weitzman believes it can be better to adopt from a shelter than to purchase an animal that may come from a disreputable source. “Sadly, oftentimes puppies purchased from puppy mills or breeders have more health issues than shelter pets,” he says. “They have no access to regular vet care and the list of afflictions is long.”

Myth 3: Shelter animals are unsocialized.

Reality: Many animals surrendered to shelters have lived with families and had regular social interaction — but even animals who lacked attention and affection before arriving in a shelter benefit from loving interactions with volunteers and staff, participation in playgroups, “day-cation” outings in the community, or time in a foster home. These pets are well socialized and ready to join their new families.

Myth 4: Shelter animals have been abandoned once and aren’t likely to trust again.

Reality: Some adopters are concerned about abandonment issues, while others worry that an adult or senior pet won’t feel the same amount of loyalty that a pet they’ve had since birth would. But ask adopters whether their pets struggled to bond and the answer will likely be a resounding no. Animals are resilient. And smart. “There is nothing like bonding with a pet you have adopted,” Dr. Weitzman says. “It’s like they understand that you have given them a second chance and will love you for it.”

In all relationships, love and trust build over time. Shelters often talk about the 3-3-3 rule: It takes three days for an animal to decompress in their new home, three weeks to feel at ease and start settling into a routine, and three months to feel secure and start building a lifetime bond. Dr. Weitzman advocates patience and positive reinforcement to build a relationship. “They will become your best friend,” he says. “I promise.”

Myth 5: You can’t find a puppy or kitten at a shelter.

Reality: If you want to adopt a puppy or kitten, head straight to the shelter. “We have every age range from puppies, kittens, and baby bunnies, to young adults and seniors at our shelter — and that is the case for most shelters,” says Dr. Weitzman. There are many, many benefits to adopting an older animal, from knowing their mature size to skipping the chew-the-shoes stage, but if your heart is set on potty training, teaching basic obedience and, yes, convincing a puppy not to chew your shoes, you’ll find plenty of puppies and kittens available for adoption at the local shelter.

Myth 6: You never know what you’re getting because shelter animals have no papers or pedigree.

Reality: “Papers don’t make the pet,” Dr. Weitzman adds. “You can have all the pedigree in the world and still encounter problems. We also have a lot of ‘pedigree animals’ who end up in the shelter as their families go through life-changing circumstances that force them to give up their pets.” Plus, even shelter animals without pedigrees make amazing companions.

Myth 7: Shelters are full of mixed breeds.

Reality: Think you’ll never find a purebred Dachshund, Doberman, or Dalmatian at the shelter? Think again. Researchers used the Wisdom Panel Canine DNA Tests to test the breeds of shelter dogs and found that five percent were purebred. While that number might seem low, there are 3.1 million dogs in shelters, which means 155,000 purebred dogs are waiting to be adopted.

What a Corgi / Chihuahua / Poodle mix lacks in pedigree, they make up for in adorableness — and Dr. Weitzman stresses that adopters shouldn’t overlook mixed breed animals, adding: “Mixed breeds are absolutely wonderful [pets] and are generally healthier and tend to live longer due to a stronger genetic diversity than purebreds, but shelters are full of all kinds of breeds.”

Dr. Weitzman hopes that understanding the reasons animals end up in shelters, the lengths that shelters go through to find forever homes, and the number of amazing animals of all shapes, sizes, ages, and breeds waiting for an adopter to take them home will have you visiting the shelter when you’re ready to adopt a new best friend.

Jodi Helmer

Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina-based freelance writer who shares her home with an embarrassing number of rescue dogs and relies on four feral cats to patrol the barn. When she isn’t refilling food and water dishes, Jodi writes about animals for Scientific American, Sierra, WebMD, AKC Family Dog, Living the Country Life, and Out Here.

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