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3 Sustainability Reasons to Adopt Your Next Pet From a Shelter

Cue Sarah McLachlan.

by Emma Loewe
November 14, 2022
woman holding beautiful cat
Illustration: Studio Grand-Père

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

As anyone who has ever cried along to Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA commercials can confirm, there are plenty of reasons to adopt a shelter animal. Beyond helping you become the literal “arms of an angel” to a dog or cat in need, rescuing costs less money than going to a breeder and allows you to find an animal (or bonded pair) with an incredible story. If serendipity isn’t enough to convince you, here’s yet another reason to adopt before you shop: Rescuing tends to be the more sustainable option in a few key ways.

It reduces the resources needed to put more dogs and cats into the world.

Of course, dogs and cats are so much more than the resources that go into creating them. But when you consider the fact that making new living things always has an environmental impact (be it the food needed to feed them or shelter needed to house them), you start to see the value of adopting an animal who’s already roaming the world versus paying a specialty breeder to create one. 

“Getting a dog that already exists and is homeless is always the more sustainable solution,” says Dr. Erin Redmad, an assistant professor of Educational Sustainability at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, who has fostered around 60 dogs in her lifetime. 

To really understand why, Redman says to consider the downfalls of fast fashion and fashion trend culture. When certain styles are dubbed trendier than others in media and pop culture, we’re bound to constantly gravitate toward the hot new thing and do away with the old. We’ve seen what this throwaway mentality has done to our planet as far as the fashion industry is concerned, and it has a similar impact in the pet space

The ASPCA estimates that despite recent progress, 1.5 million neglected animals are still killed in U.S. shelters every year — and this could be set to increase in 2022. By adopting, we not only save these abandoned animals, but we save the resources that go into breeding, too.

It cuts down on unnecessary transportation.

Another significant sustainability perk of adopting a shelter animal: They typically don’t need to go as far to get to you. “I think that the greatest difference is the distance traveled by that animal,” Brad Shear, the CEO of the Potter League for Animals — the largest animal welfare agency in Rhode Island, and the first to receive a LEED Gold certification — says of rescuing versus buying from a breeder or pet shop.

While it depends on the facility, Shear notes that many pet shelters, including Potter League, are established to house local animals who come from the surrounding area. Pets from breeders, on the other hand, can be shipped in from across the country — or even across the world in some cases — which contributes to some major emissions. (Just consider the fact that air travel is consistently rated as one of the most carbon-intensive things humans do.)

Redman notes that in time, even those who are looking for a certain type of animal might be able to find them in a shelter one day — so it’s worth having a little patience before flying in that precious cargo.

It’s a vote for the future you want to see.

A sustainable world is also a diverse one — filled with living beings of all kinds coming together to support each other. By spending our money on rescue pets, instead of creating large-scale facilities for narrow breeding, we ultimately vote for this kind of world.

“Conscious consumerism is really important and you do vote for the future you want through your consumptive patterns,” Redman says. “And ultimately, if you don’t want animals to be treated like livestock, rescuing is good.” 

You can continue to vote with your dollar once you choose your rescue, pay the fees, and bring them home. Be an eco-conscious pet parent by sourcing sustainable food, seeking out low-waste solutions for their — you know — waste, opting for eco-friendly toys and grooming supplies, and only buying new items when you have to. You can even ask the shelter for a head start here; some will be able to provide a collar, leash, and/or blanket from your pet’s past life as they start a new one with you.

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emma loewe

Emma Loewe

Emma is a writer, editor, and environmentalist based in New York City. She is the senior sustainability editor at mindbodygreen, the author of Return To Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us (April 2022), and the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self-Care. While she doesn’t have any pets of her own, she is a loving dog aunt to Pip the pup.