I became immersed in the world of animal welfare a couple of years ago when I joined the Wild at Heart Foundation team. One of our goals is to tackle animal cruelty, and in doing so I’ve become very aware of how toxic the human race can be. Our main focus at present is improving the life of abandoned and abused dogs, a focus that has swallowed me whole but exposed me to just as many positive scenarios as negative ones.
I still struggle to comprehend the heart breaking reality that there are an estimated 600 million stray dogs in the world. I struggle even more so to comprehend the reasons behind why people believe it is acceptable to continue to breed dogs for a living given the statistics of those that roam the streets. I’ve heard it all before: you can trace back their ancestors, you can predict their character, and you have a healthier dog. Not necessarily true given that 1 in 3 puppies in the UK are unknowingly bought from a puppy farm and will often have been smuggled into the country without essential vaccinations. I feel that rescue dogs are often generalised by those who want to justify their decision to shop rather than adopt. They’re ‘volatile’, ‘prone to illnesses’ and ‘aggressive’. Or so I hear.
The amount of purebred dogs that end up in pounds and shelters across the world is much more than you would expect, often the result of an unwanted pregnancy or a puppy that ended up not meeting the required standards to become a show dog. Their unfortunate circumstances, all of which are ultimately human created, means they become the canine equivalent of wonky supermarket vegetables. I recently met a lady who had a beautiful Golden Retriever named Dudley, and she explained to me that he was a rescue dog that had ended up in a shelter after his breeders were told his tail wasn’t held well enough to allow him to become a successful show dog. Dudley ended up in a shelter merely because he wasn’t aesthetically pleasing.
Dudley is one of the lucky ones however. Although he was given up on, he wasn’t abused. A sickening number of dogs are subject to unthinkable physical trauma every year at the hands of people seemingly without souls. Yet despite their experiences so any of these dogs remain hopeful that someone will love them. Rescue centres are overrun with bouncy characters with furiously wagging tails waiting for someone to come and see their potential. Why would you continue to bring new little lives into the world when these dogs are stuck behind bars desperate for a home of their own? It’s a question that I genuinely don’t believe can be answered without a twinge of guilt.
Purebred dogs generally have an easier time finding a home, but the mongrels have a much more difficult experience. One ear sticking up, one flopping down, uneven patches of colour, a crooked tail. Do you see such traits as imperfections, or as character? All too often people claim they are attracted to a certain breed because of their personality and I do understand that. Going directly to a breeder is not the answer though. Why not sign up to a rescue centre specifically for that breed or check your local shelter? In fact, while you’re there why not tell the shelter staff that you’re looking for a child friendly dog that will enjoy an active lifestyle, not chase the cat, and be able to be left alone for a few hours per day? Most shelters offer you a trial period where you can take the dog home and see how well they settle in. All you have to do is invest a little more time to find a perfect match, and imagine the difference you’d be making to the life of that dog. You have nothing to lose, other than a thousand pounds or so if you buy a purebred. Give a shelter dog a chance.
I strongly believe that environment effects personality. However, rescue dogs are very forgiving and if you show them love, respect, consistency and patience you will gain a loyal companion. Some dogs have suffered almost beyond repair and require experienced owners, but this isn’t the case for every rescue dog. Having witnessed the difference an open mind can make to an abandoned animal I implore you to consider adopting. Shelters are waiting for your call, and their dogs are itching for your visit.