recent article in Slate by Emily Yoffe discussing how some animal rescues have stringent adoption standards is a real eye opener. I work in an animal shelter and spend every workday talking to people who might get a pet. Checking references for someone who wants to buy or adopt a pet is a great idea but there are far fewer homeless pets than there were 30 years ago. We can be even more selective than in days gone by, when anyone who would buy a dog license was handed a puppy.

Ms. Yoffe points out an obvious downside to being too restrictive: driving pet seekers to other sources when we are still euthanizing animals we can’t place. I am not advocating for placing pets anyplace unsafe just to avoid euthanasia, but a good home is not as hard to find as we seem to believe.

In the paradigm shift caused by homeless animal awareness campaigns, we’ve inadvertently vilified perfectly responsible dog and cat breeders. Don’t get me wrong, people absolutely need to know that having just one unplanned litter can greatly contribute to the burden on shelters over time. But somehow we made planned puppies and kittens sound just awful.

Purposely bred pets are the easiest to match to a family and the most likely to never need sheltering. In shelters, we usually don’t know what a pet’s parents were like and since we’ve only known the animal for a short time, it’s not easy to predict his future. People willing to take a shelter pet are better off if they have some experience reading and training animals and it would be terrific for us if everyone who wanted a pet had that experience.

But if they don’t, what better place to get it than from the experts? A breeder or shelter/rescue professional can prepare a pet owner for the most likely problems as well as steer them toward the joys. Who better than a hands-on rescuer to give tips on how to care for a strange dog and what to offer a frightened cat? If we are not helping people adopt and become better pet owners, do you think they will just decide not to get a pet? That’s unlikely. If they are smart, they will go to a reputable breeder. But reputable breeders have long waiting lists, so we may actually be pushing most people we reject toward a source we would not approve.

I have had occasion to explain to someone why he or she is not ready for a pet. But then we work together toward a goal of pet adoption in the future. If we are not telling unready adopters what it would take and how to get there, aren’t we contributing to that small number of owners who end up on the wrong side of the law?

In our defense, all the publicity about animal cruelty, neglect, and abandonment has made us believe that cruel human behavior and neglected animals are rampant. There are about 4 million animals who need shelter services every year. Sometimes, the same cat or dog needs shelter services more than once in a calendar year because about 10% of adopted animals are returned. There are also a percentage of repeat-offender cats and dogs who are picked up by their owners after escaping from a yard time after time. So the estimate is a little flexible.

Now, the estimated population of dogs in the US ranges from 70-90 million. There are a similar number of cats. That means that the 2% of pets who do need shelter services are more likely to be reclaimed, adopted or passed on to a rescue group than euthanized in the shelter. About 6,000 cases of people with too many pets to properly care for come up every year. This number has been steady for 20 years despite a huge increase in pet population. And many of this 6% of so-called hoarding cases result in owners being exonerated. Just because it’s a small portion of the population doesn’t make it okay, but our belief that they are all going to die and no one has a chance has got to go by the wayside. It’s simply not true. My point is most people who want a pet are going to do a great job.

How about those of us who know how to do it help them instead of making it hard?

Didi Culp
Director, Humane Society for Shelter Pets