By Cathy Anderson
IF you welcome a new pet into your home and it isn’t a rescue animal, I am judging you.
I get that your French Bulldog is super cute, that you could spend hours canoodling the soft fluffy ears of your purebred Cavalier King Charles spaniel or your sphinx cat looks exactly like Hatshepsut. Pets make people happy, and happy people make the world a better place.
But here’s the thing. There are thousands of animals in pounds, shelters and in temporary homes of foster carers around the country who need a loving place in this world too — and one that isn’t a cage.
The most recent statistics from the RSPCA reveal 137,391 dogs, cats and other animals were received by the group across Australia over the 2016 financial year, and that doesn’t take into account private shelters or independent rescue groups whose volunteer members drive hundreds of kilometres each week rescuing animals on death row in pounds with a seven-day no-claim kill policy.
Rescue pets don’t cost the price of a second-hand car or need to be imported from New Zealand, and they get a bad rap. Some think they’re broken or at the very least damaged, dangerous around children, unpredictable around old people and could potentially steal your DVD player too. But it’s bullshit.
I have been on both sides of the fence. I’ve bought from a breeder, and have rescued, so I can refute those excuses for not adopting one.
This is a story of Monkey and Billy. Monkey was a purebred Staffy I bought from a breeder for $600 in 2007. Billy is our current dog. He’s a Blue Heeler who landed himself in a pound in Echuca and was saved from death row by a rescue group who took him into foster care. He came to us when he was about one. I’m going to use Monkey and Billy as case studies to blast through the top reasons against getting a rescue dog.
Rescue pets are aggressive, hate kids and are dangerous.
First up, we’re talking about animals, and just like humans, they can be unpredictable. The background of those which come through shelters are not always known and it’s true, they may have been mistreated resulting in some behavioural or socialisation issues. But that’s not always the story.
Monkey was raised around other people, socialised with other dogs and introduced to people of all ages from when he was eight weeks old. We took him to puppy school, obedience school and the local park. But Monkey always tried to dominate other dogs, and he terrorised small white fluffier to the point it became untenable to take him near other animals. If we put him within reach of a child, he’d try to eat its face off.
Billy loves other dogs SO MUCH, especially lady greyhounds. He was shy at first about meeting my partner’s niece and nephew, aged 11 and 7 at the time, but is now their BFF and one of his favourite things to do is lick the face of the slobber-loving three-year-old who lives next door.
Rescue pets cost a lot to ‘fix’.
We bought Billy for $400 from the rescue group, which included his desexing operation and initial immunisations, with some left over to help them help other dogs. We’ve had routine vet visits. As a Heeler he is incredibly intelligent, making him easy to train; after one lesson with a friend who is an animal behaviour specialist he was perfect walking on the leash (no harness or gentle leader required) and following all instructions. Monkey went to puppy school, obedience school and doggie daycare because he couldn’t be trusted at home on his own. Then we forked out more than $1500 for three doggie psychologists to help us understand and deal with his anxious, anti-social behaviour and irrational fear of the dishwasher, windy days, the vacuum cleaner, and camping. Plus, there’s the Prozac we were advised to give him for several years before he passed away.
Rescue pets are unwanted for a reason.
Many animals have been surrendered through no fault of their own. Their owners may have died, their families may have decided to move overseas or their circumstances have changed to the point they can’t afford a pet. Every animal is different. Billy wasn’t microchipped when he was picked up so we don’t know how or why he ended up in a pound, but frankly, we don’t care. He’s the best-natured, happiest and joyful animal we’ve ever had.
You can only get mutts, half-breeds and ferals.
Rescue organisations exist for the ‘must-have’ breeds too, so there’s no need to be so snooty. Everyone loves pugs, right? There are five pug rescue groups in Australia. Do some Googling. Rescue doesn’t have to mean compromise.
Rescue pets are always older dogs and I want a puppy.
Sigh. Puppies are cute, for sure, but they make a mess, they take a lot of time to train and I honestly believe people love puppies because they make cute Instagram posts. (By the way, @billytheblueheeler has 5500 Instagram followers — not bad for a damaged, unwanted mutt dog, eh?). And besides, plenty of rescue groups have puppies up for adoption too.
The other danger with being all goo-goo eyed over puppies is that, especially if you buy them from a pet store (still legal in some states) or from Gumtree, they are likely to have been born in horrendous conditions, or worse, a puppy farm. These hell holes imprison females to give birth multiple times. They’re used to literally pump out the pedigree pups. They never see grass or sunlight and have never experienced any positive human contact. That isn’t so cute, is it?
It’s too hard to get a dog from a pet rescue group.
It’s true, many pet rescue groups want a lot of information before they hand over one of their dogs. There will likely be a questionnaire to fill out. Some even want to inspect your yard. But that’s because they want to ensure that a pet that may already be confused or missing a previous owner isn’t going to be treated as an impulse purchase. Any dog lover has to approve of that.
Despite his dramas, Monkey was a brilliant dog in so many ways and I miss him. But our decision to adopt Billy was the best we’ve ever made and, if we want to get him a playmate in the future, we’ll do the rounds of the rescue groups again.
Before you welcome your next pet, have a good, hard think about it before you leave perhaps the best pet you’ll ever own to languish in a shelter in favour of your off-the-shelf, and expensive, option.