By Brooke Wrisley
While Mickey is on vacation, Shelter Assistant Brooke Wrisley is filling in.
By now we all know (I hope!) the benefits of adopting over breeder buys. We know that we’re providing a home to a pet that already exists and is in need, and many of us know enough about the world to assume that whatever the circumstances were to put that pet in a shelter, they were likely not kind ones – either by intention or ignorance. While we’d love to know the story behind any potential new family member, most of the time we have very little information – if any – about their life before being rescued. Whether we like it or not, the fact remains that when we adopt a pet from a shelter or any other rescue situation we’re also adopting a mystery.
Often times at the shelter we have potential adopters walk through and ask very relevant (if not entirely unanswerable) questions, such as: “Are they housebroken?” “Are they good with kids/dogs/cats?”, etc. The reality is that in most cases shelter staff can only give information based on what we’ve witnessed since the animal has been with us. A dog that seems to hold it overnight at the shelter may not know how to ask to go out to potty once you bring it home. A cat that seems fine in a room with our cats may respond differently to the cat you already own once outside the shelter. A dog that gets along with one or two other shelter dogs may have a particular trigger in dogs of a certain size, or in humans of a certain size for that matter. I’ve seen rescue dogs triggered by bags and brooms, dogs that didn’t know how to use stairs or walk on asphalt, cats that never learned how to groom themselves properly – or at all!
We choose to adopt for many reasons, not the least of which being that we are compassionate for creatures with an uncertain future, but with that compassion must also come empathy for an unknown past and a willingness to accept the mystery of our rescue pet. In some cases, the best we can do to put together the history of our adopted pet is to take examples of their behavior and reactions as hints or puzzle pieces to try and put together even if the majority of the picture stays blank. In all cases, we must lower expectations for a while and accept the likelihood that this pet will surprise us – sometimes with a fun surprise, sometimes (usually!) with a somewhat stressful surprise that may require reorientation of our lifestyle temporarily or permanently. Somehow, at the same time as being open to surprises from adopted animals, we must also do our absolute best to take it all in stride and accommodate them as we would any family member with a traumatic past who just didn’t speak the same language as us in order to warn us first! This is the challenge of adopting, and it has boundless rewards.
Adoption has undeniable merits and joys over buying from a breeder, but with those merits come unique challenges. Next time you or someone you know is talking about adopting a pet, remind them of this simple fact: an adopted animal is more than their ‘rescue’ identity – they are a complete creature, a whole consciousness made of instincts and a collection of past experiences coming together to put them in a position of need. You never truly know what you’re getting, but it’ll always come with love!
Mickey Zeldes’ column will return shortly
Mickey Zeldes is the supervisor at the Rohnert Park Animal Shelter. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.