Adoption – the only option

Every year, hundreds of thousands of dogs and cats are stranded at shelters across Australia - many looking for that second chance in life

Five months ago, my partner and I adopted Jimmy – a three-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier Mix from Melbourne’s Lost Dogs Home. When we made the choice to get a dog, the idea of buying was never an option. We chose to give a dog that’s in desperate need of a second chance just that.

The reactions of friends and family to our choice to adopt have been mixed: most were delighted that we rescued a stray dog. But there was a minority who fear adopting animals. There’s an unspoken concern that an animal so mistreated, so neglected may turn on their new owner; that an animal who has faced rejection would make a second-rate pet. The truth is – and as much as I have loved all the other animals I’ve had as pets that have been bought – I have never had one love as generously as Jimmy.

When Jimmy arrived at the shelter as a stray, he was severely emaciated with skin disease and had hair loss around his eyes and feet. He weighed only seven kilograms, half the weight a dog his size, age and breed should be. After tests were carried out to diagnose and treat his ailments, Jimmy was put into foster care to become fit and healthy for adoption.

Now five months later, Jimmy is a dog with boundless energy, a fun, cheeky boy that brings so much happiness to everyone that crosses his path. It’s hard to believe that a dog that was completely mistreated six months before, is the best friend that we have today.

“It means a great deal to the animal,” says vet nurse Elena Calodoucas, from The Lost Dogs Home on the impact of adoption.

“You are giving them another opportunity at life and to go to a home where it will be well looked after and loved is the ideal outcome.”

Hundreds of thousands of abandoned animals are brought into shelters all over Australia each year. Last year, the Lost Dogs Home took in 25,551 cats and dogs across three shelters they have in Victoria and New South Wales.

In the North Melbourne shelter, over 58 per cent of strays were reclaimed by their owners, and 18 per cent were adopted. For the unlucky ones, their fate seems a little brighter since the government’s Code of Practice for the Management of Dogs and Cats in Shelters and Pounds was amended last year.

The new code abolished the mandatory euthanasia of animals that have stayed in a shelter longer than 28 days. This has enabled dogs like Jimmy to have a chance to recoup in foster care to become a loved and loving pet.

When an animal goes to a shelter, they are first held as strays for eight days, giving them a chance to reunite with their owners. If the owners are not found, the animal is then assessed for health and temperament. From there a decision is made whether or not to put the animal up for adoption or, the last resort, to put it to sleep.

An advocate for adoption, Elena says it really is about “rescuing the animal” as she has seen more than her fair share of neglected animals and unwanted pets in her three-and-a-half years working at the shelter and vet clinic.

“You see animals that have literally never been cared for. Their hair, their condition, they can barely walk because of their matting: animals that have old injuries, old wounds that have never been treated and become severely infected, nails have never been clipped, animals that have never been desexed…” says Elena with sadness in her voice.

When you adopt from a shelter, the animal comes with a full health check and has been desexed, microchipped, vaccinated and wormed. They also assess you to see if you are a responsible owner. They ensure that the pet you want to adopt will suit your lifestyle, your home, your family. All pet adopters receive a comprehensive consultation about their new pet and its specific requirements.

“We are trying to make people aware that the right way to go is adopting through a shelter or a registered breed owner,” says Elena. “If you buy from a pet store, online or from the Trading Post you are basically supporting backyard breeders who are doing things illegally, and really, it’s a neglect of the health of these animals being put in pet stores,” she says.

The existence of backyard breeders and illegal puppy farms should effect people’s thinking when it comes to deciding on how you are going to obtain your dog. These puppy farms are known to breed dogs under conditions that fail to meet the animal’s welfare. In Victoria last year, the premier Ted Baillieu announced the government’s commitment to crackdown on illegal puppy farms.

“Hundreds of dogs are abandoned or end up in shelters each year and I encourage Victorian’s to give these animals a second chance with a loving family,” said the premier on why people should adopt a pet.

“They’re kept in conditions that are quite inhumane to these animals,” says Elena of puppy farms.

“These animals have never been cared for, never been to a vet, they’ve been severely infected.”

Another benefit of adoption is most dogs and cats at animal shelters are mixed breeds and as a general rule, mixed breeds are healthier and live longer than their pure-breed counterparts. Probably the greatest advantage of adoption is the ongoing support you receive from the shelter: pre and post adoption training for the animal; the vet clinic and ongoing advice.

So if the pitter-patter of little canine or feline feet is on your mind, my advice is adopt – there really isn’t any other option.

For those wishing to adopt, and for more information, contact The Lost Dogs Home by calling (03) 9326 5293 or visit http://dogshome.com/