Imperfect Pets for Imperfect People Editorial
By Rich Avanzino, 2006
I have a new canine companion named Max.
I wasn't looking for a dog. When a friend asked if I could take Max for a few months, I said yes. A week later, however, he informed me that his life was in chaos and he would no longer be able to care for Max.
Max is a 13-year-old dog with cat-like qualities. He wants to be in the same room with me, but when I get down on the floor to love him, he walks away. He rarely acts glad to see me. He doesn't come when he's called unless I have a treat. If food is on a table or counter top, he will either sit and bark at the food, or, if a chair is handy, climb on the chair and then up on the table or countertop. When he does get a hold of something tasty, he's food protective.
Yesterday I took Max to the veterinarian to see about his waxy ears. As the doctor handed me a bill for $175, he told me that he had pulled out a foxtail that had been there for months.
I love Max, in spite of his advanced age, behavior and medical problems. (Did I mention his arthritis?) Although he presents certain challenges, he's a welcome addition to my life. To me, his "issues" make him all the more lovable.
Which brings me to the point of my story: In many shelters today, puppies and small dogs are nearly non-existent. For numerous reasons, fewer animals are entering shelters, and this trend will likely continue. And, as agencies do a better job of adopting out the cutes and cuddlies, it won't be long until shelters are full of nothing but Maxes - it's starting to happen in some communities already.
Saving all of its healthy and treatable pets and boasting a live release rate of 93%, Tompkins County, New York is one of only two no-kill communities in the country. At any given time, 20% (or sometimes more) of the dog population may be pit bulls. Some shelter animals are big and ugly, some are victims of accidents or neglect, and some are missing limbs. The shelter has a marketing strategy to find animals homes: posters hang in businesses all over town depicting old, fat and disfigured animals with the tagline, You're Not Perfect, Don't Expect Your Pet To Be - Both Are Perfectly Lovable.
Unless shelters plan to get in the breeding business, it might be time to think about how to find homes for hard to place animals. I personally think we should jettison the marketing that says shelters are the place to find perfect pets and instead promote the notion that every life is important, every dog or cat is a loving creature worth saving. Instead of viewing troubled and hard to place pets as low priority in terms of lifesaving efforts, I believe it's our job as animal welfare leaders to figure out how to create a demand for these animals. A campaign like Imperfect Pets for Imperfect People is one way to start.