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Benefits to pet adoption

More than 11 years ago -- ready to become a pet parent -- I stepped into the local animal shelter and perused the cages to find a new companion animal. The shelter was filled to capacity, mostly with pit bulls and other large, abandoned dogs. In one cage I saw a mound of mismatched fur and realized I had found "the one."

It was difficult to describe the dog's appearance. He looked like a cross between an Ewok and Gizmo the gremlin. He was around 3 months old and had been found wandering the streets alone. His cage was marked "terrier mix," so there was no way to fully know the breed or how large the puppy would get.

Despite the way he started his early life, the dog wagged his tail and was very affectionate to me. I decided to take the plunge and adopt him. Eleven years later, my dog Happy is still a part of my family. I can say I've never met a more laid-back, well-behaved and relatively trouble-free dog -- and that comes with a history of many pet dogs growing up and my father even having owned a pet shop at one point. If I ever choose to welcome another dog into my home, I'm certain I'd go the adoption route.

Pets in shelters

According to the ASPCA, many of the shelters operating nationwide are independent organizations, and there is no reliable means of tabulating just how many dogs enter their shelters every year. It is estimated that anywhere between 5 to 7 million companion animals enter a shelter every year. Approximately 3 to 4 million are euthanized, and only 15 to 20 percent are returned to their owners due to microchip or tag identification. The National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy says most of the pets are destroyed simply because there is no one available to adopt them.

There are a number of reasons that dogs end up in shelters. Many times, a family moves and may not be allowed to have pets in their next residence. Sometimes older people can no longer take care of a dog, especially if they're moving into a nursing home. Some individuals simply misjudge the size or the responsibilities of having a dog and surrender the animal.

Dog adoption

Despite the vast numbers of available pets in shelters, there are many people who continue to think a better dog is one that comes from a pet store or private breeder, especially if a pure breed is desired. Keep in mind that 25 percent of dogs who enter local shelters are purebred, according to the NCPPSP. There are actually many benefits to choosing the adoption route.

* Save a life. There may be no better incentive to adoption than knowing you are saving the life of a dog that would probably be on its way to being destroyed. You are also saving the life of another animal that can then fit into the shelter and get a chance for a forever home. Even pets that are in no-kill shelters may not have the quality of life that they deserve. Often they are kept in cages, and some actually develop personality ticks due to the lack of exercise and confinement.

* Save money. Purchasing a pet can cost a substantial amount of money. Depending on the breed, some dogs can cost hundreds of dollars, or even thousands of dollars for designer breeds. When adopting a pet, fees help shelters mitigate the cost of feeding, housing and providing healthcare for shelter animals. Your adoption fee, in part, helps all of the animals in the shelter. Furthermore, the shelter often vaccinates and neuters the animals prior to adoption, helping to save you the cost of these procedures.

* Get a healthy dog. Some dogs at shelters do have special care requirements, but the majority of them are healthy pets. The shelter will have a veterinarian examine and treat the dogs, helping to ensure you start out your life together on a healthy note. This is not always the case with dogs purchased from a breeder. Some pet stores get their dogs from high-turnout puppy mill breeders, where overbreeding may result in genetic problems with puppies or illness from overcrowding.

* Get a dog that's already trained. Shelters house animals of all age groups; therefore, if a housetrained pet is desired, or one that has learned some commands, you may be in luck. Older dogs may not need the same amount of preliminary training that can make puppies frustrating. Older dogs may have outgrown boisterous behaviors, making them ideal for quiet households.

* Get a pet that is already socialized. Having spent some time in a shelter interacting with other animals and people may offer a measure of socialization to the pets. It may be easier to acclimate the dog to a new environment. He or she also may be very grateful for having been adopted and be especially devoted.

There are many advantages to adopting a pet from an animal shelter. To find area shelters, look in the classified section of your local newspaper. National Web sites, such as PetFinder.org, can also help men and women narrow down the list of available pets.