25 September 2014

Adopt-a-Dog Month (October 2014)

For my very first advocacy post, I wanted to focus on something joyful.  When I saw that October is Adopt-a-Dog month, it seemed perfect.  I love dogs, they're wonderful beings, and I draw them all the time.  It's a great topic to bring more attention to because anyone can help no matter how much time or money they have to spare; you don't have to actually adopt a dog (or even leave your house) to support the cause!  Let's look at how we can provide extra support to adoptable dogs this October.

I want to point out that some call it "Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog" month.  I imagine this is to emphasize the adoption of dogs in shelters as opposed to purchasing a dog from a breeder, pet shop, etc.  I think it's good to make that distinction but I don't like excluding adoptable dogs that are available in other places such as animal sanctuaries, breed-specific rescues, or foster home programs, not to mention stray and unexpectedly homeless dogs that haven't yet been placed with an organization.  So I'm sticking to Adopt-a-Dog.  Just remember, the point is to support dogs in need of homes, not humans in need of cash!

It would be wonderful if everyone who reads this post participates in supporting the cause.  To that end, I'm listing several actions you can take, starting with the easiest, most inexpensive, and ending with the most difficult and dedicated.  There shouldn't be any reason not to help!   

Super Easy, Totally Free: Share

The easiest thing one can do to support Adopt-a-Dog month is spread the word.  This can be done through many channels but there's one so easy you don't even have to leave the device you're reading this on: make a shout-out on your favorite social network!  It can be as short and simple or long and detailed as you please.  If you want to go longer, consider sharing a fun or heartwarming story about an adopted dog in your life (even better, share a photo of that furry friend!).  To make your post more useful, provide a link to your local shelter, a rescue for your favorite breed, or even a national organization such as the ASPCA.  You can ask your friends and family to share the message, too.  But if you would like to make your message as short n' sweet as possible, you can simply share a link to this blog post and/or copy and paste the following message in your status update:   
October is Adopt-a-Dog month!  Share, donate, adopt!


Push It to the Next Level: Donate

If you have more to give after spreading the word, donate!  There are lots of ways to donate and many places that would be happy to receive your support.  The three main donations to consider are time (volunteering), supplies (food, toys, bedding, etc.), and money.  Money is the most useful to any rescue organization since it can be applied to very specific needs (and it doesn't have an expiration date!) but time and supplies are helpful, too.

It's important to contact your choice rescue organization before actually showing up with your donation.  Depending on a wide variety of factors, they may not be in need of cage cleaners or dog food at the moment.  I've personally experienced a rescue rejection when all I had to offer was my time but what they were in need of was food (hay bales for horses, to be specific).  So before you decide where to donate, evaluate what you have to give and ask the organization if they need it.  Some organizations have a helpful page on their website that lists specifically what they are currently in need of.  Others will have volunteer applications you can fill out and submit so they can contact you when your specific type of volunteer service (dog walking, secretarial work, photography, etc.) is needed.  If your choice organization isn't in need of your type of donation, don't worry.  You can try another organization or just wait and offer again later.  There will always be another chance to help!


Go All the Way: Adopt!

The most dedicated, time-consuming, and expensive way to support Adopt-a-Dog month is to act on the cause's namesake.  Adopting a dog is a massive responsibility.  I know that's something stereotypically said to children when they ask for their first pet, but it's also something grown-ups tend to forget.  Not everyone can or should adopt a dog.  If you're considering bringing a new furry friend into your life, ask yourself these questions first, and answer brutally honestly:
  • Financially, can I afford a dog?  Do I have enough regular income to purchase healthy food, bedding, toys, and other supplies?  Do I have a savings built up for veterinary emergencies?  Is my financial situation stable enough to afford these things throughout the life of the dog?
  • Time-wise, will I be able to support a dog?  Will I walk the dog often, play with it regularly, groom it, clean up after it, and provide basic good-dog training?
  • Does my housing situation allow dogs?  Are there any restrictions on the size or breed allowed?  Are there special registration requirements?
  • Do I already have pets that would make adopting a dog difficult?  Is there the potential for them to suffer chronic stress or be in danger due to a new dog's presence?  Would my current pets adapt well to another canine family member?
  • Are there other humans in my household?  Would they be willing and able to provide care and support for the dog?  Are there young children or older adults who need special consideration about the size or breed of dog?
  • Am I emotionally and mentally prepared for a new dog?  Am I grieving a lost loved one (human or animal) or suffering another emotional hardship (bad breakup, etc.) which leaves me ill equipped to create a strong, balanced environment?  Am I ready to handle the negative things that inevitably come with a dog (messes, accidents, etc.) in a calm, positive way?
The answers to these questions must be taken seriously.  Please don't adopt a dog just because it's exciting or fun at the time.  Don't bring another life into your home just because it's cute or pretty or because you feel sorry for it.  (You can still help the adoption cause even if you realize you aren't ready to adopt after all; keep reading!)  Make absolutely sure you can support the burden of a dog's life--financially, medically, socially--and if you find you're ready, here's how to get started!
  1. Research - Before you head out to your local shelter, do a bit of research online to find out what type of dog would fit you, your lifestyle, and your household best.  It's much better for all involved if you go in with an idea of what you're looking for.  A lot of stress and unhappiness could result from a bad matchup and returning your dog to the shelter (even if it's necessary due to complete incompatibility) is the antithesis of Adopt-a-Dog month.  Some general things to think about include your personal energy level (don't expect the addition of a dog to somehow prompt you to be more active, choose a dog that matches your current energy level), what ages the humans are in your household (young children and older adults are better suited to different types of dogs than adolescents and adults), how much time you have to dedicate to dog care (some types of dogs are more prone to illness, some require intense and regular grooming, some simply need a lot more daily exercise and interaction), and what other pets the new dog would be coming home to (it's important to find a dog that will fit in well and not endanger or be endangered by your existing pets).
  2. Dog-proofing - Once you have an idea of the type of dog you'll be after, it's a good idea to start dog-proofing your house.  There are a lot of different things to do, especially for first-time dog owners.  PetCo has provided an excellent printable list that you can put up around the house and/or distribute to all your household humans: Dog Proofing Checklist.  Even if you already have a dog at home, it's a good idea to reevaluate your home's dog-proofed status before bringing in your new companion.  I've personally known several long-time dog owners who never knew about certain dangers until it caused injury or death to their dog.  Don't let yourself be caught unaware!
  3. Visit - This is the fun part!  Visit your favorite shelter or rescue and check out the dogs!  Even if you're adopting a dog from a foster home, you should still go visit if possible.  My favorite adoption method comes from Cesar Millan.  An A-to-Z list of adoption rules and guidelines is contained in this article: The Rules of Adoption.  A couple of the most important rules are: talk to the people who actually handle the dogs so you can find out how the dogs behave for them, don't look the dogs directly in the eye when you're evaluating them (also, don't squeal happily or talk excitedly, this will simply excite them and won't let you see their true selves), walk a few dogs that you're interested in to gauge their energy level and personality, and when you've found a dog you want, go home first (it's tough, I know!) and come back on another day at another time so you can see if the dog behaves any differently then.  If it's still a good match, inform the shelter staff so you can fill out any required paperwork and pay the necessary fees to secure your new dog.
  4. Supplies - You may have noticed that I haven't actually mentioned bringing your dog home yet.  That's because it's a good idea to, once you have the dog secured, prepare your home with the proper supplies first!  Some essentials I recommend include a properly large house crate (this should be treated like your dog's new bedroom, a special place set aside just for them), a comfortable and large-enough dog bed for the crate, food and water bowls, appropriate food for your dog's age and size, toys and chew treats, training treats, a collar with I.D. tags, and a leash.  There may be other essentials to get that are specific to your dog, such as training pads for a puppy or jackets for short-haired/hairless dogs.  There are also purely fun supplies to consider; I always have my dogs wear colorful bandanas, for instance.
  5. Coming Home - The final step is to actually bring your dog home.  Different rescue organizations will have different adoption requirements (I've even heard of some that perform a background check or require a waiting period before you can take the dog) so pay attention and ask questions while you're filling out forms.  When your dog is ready to go home, I recommend another Cesar Millan technique: go on a walk first.  Ideally, you would walk the dog directly from the shelter to your home (this gives your dog the feel of moving or migrating rather than simply being carted to another strange place) but if that's not possible, try to take a short walk before getting in the car and then take a long walk around your neighborhood before arriving at your home (this will allow your dog to experience new smells and start growing accustomed to the environment).  Once you arrive home, introduce your dog to new areas around and inside your house slowly.  Show them where they're meant to go potty, show them where their food and water is, and show them their new bedroom.  Depending on the dog's personality and whether there are other humans and pets to introduce them to, it can be a good idea to only introduce your dog to a new area of the house every couple days.  If you have existing pets in your home, make sure to properly introduce them to your new dog.  Here are a couple useful lists from the ASPCA: Introducing Your Dog to a New Dog and Introducing Your Cat to a New Dog.
Mixed Breed Hound Dog Cutely Chewing Elk Antler
Kenshi enjoying an antler!  I adopted my biggest buddy in 2004.

Finally, for those who wish they could adopt a(nother) dog but can't (that's me), you can still help a specific dog at your favorite rescue organization.  If you fall in love with a dog at the shelter and want to ensure they have a good chance of being adopted, offer to pay the adoption fee.  You can pay in full or even just partially, whatever you can afford.  At my local shelter, the Idaho Humane Society, they will post on the animals' cage doors to let potential adopters know that the fee has been reduced or already accounted for.  This makes the dog in question more attractive and gives it a better chance to be adopted.  Plus, you get to feel good about supporting that adorable fuzzy face!

This October, please spend just a couple minutes to support Adopt-a-Dog month.  I'll be doing my part, too.  Remember: share, donate, adopt!