I have two rescue cats that I couldn’t imagine returning to the shelters that they came from, but that’s happening to animals all over the country in response to shifts in the economy and public health. Suddenly transported from a loving home where they felt safe, animals are now being dropped in shelters that don’t have the space for them.
Shelters nationwide are facing an overcrowding crisis as animal intake outpaces adoption rates while they continue to struggle with high inflation rates and staffing shortages, WHYY reported. Additionally, people are returning the animals they adopted during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as life returns to “normal” and they have less time to care for an animal, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported.
At the same time, more college students are bringing pets to campus for emotional support, Inside Higher Ed reported. Pets can help college students manage mental health by being a source of comfort and support, according to News in Health. They are especially beneficial to students because they can provide support to those overwhelmed by college life, like academics, finances and their social life.
As shelters struggle to house incoming animals and are forced to euthanize them, shelter animals need all the help they can get. Temple students who are planning to get a pet in college must choose to rescue animals from shelters or the streets to help combat the increasing number of animals in shelters, instead of adopting from animal breeders.
Euthanasia rates in shelters have decreased in recent decades, but an estimated 920,000 shelter animals are still euthanized every year, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Considering the current shelter crisis, rates are increasing this year.
“Adopting is the most impactful thing you can do for animals in a shelter,” said Carly Gove, the community engagement manager for Morris Animal Refuge located at 13th Street and Lombard, one of the oldest shelters in America. “Donating is very, very important, fostering is extremely important, but adopting, ultimately, is what gets the animal out of the shelter system and keeps them out of the shelter system for the rest of their lives.”
ACCT Philly, the largest shelter in Philadelphia, is facing higher animal surrender rates and closed its non-emergency dog intake because they are at capacity. Compared to 2021, the rates of cats and dogs surrendered by owners increased by eight and nearly 10 percent respectively in the first quarter of 2022, according to a report by Shelter Animals Count.
Although shelters do their best to provide comfort and care for animals, the animals still experience high levels of stress from living in crowded, loud cages with constantly changing environments. Students who adopt from shelters can help take animals out of this stressful situation and into a safe, comfortable home.
“As dogs spend more time in a kennel, especially kennels that are high volume and it’s very loud and they want to bark and there’s a lot of incoming, outgoing traffic of people and volunteers, it causes them to misbehave a bit more and also increases the risk of bites, triggers them to bite and to go into a fight or flight mode,” said Devon Kluver, the shelter manager at Saved Me Rescue, a nonprofit organization that rescues animals from overcrowded shelters that have to turn to euthanasia, like ACCT.
Breeders, especially puppy mills, also contribute to animal populations in shelters. If an animal has health or behavioral issues, or if there are too many animals to be sold at the mill, they are often dropped off at a dump site or at shelters.
Puppy mill dogs, who can no longer breed, due to age or too much breeding, often face the same fate because they are seen as useless due to their inability to continue reproducing, Kluver said.
If students buy from breeders, they are passing up the opportunity to save animals from local shelters at capacity, which could mean they are leaving a pet, that would have been a good companion, to be euthanized at a shelter. Adopting from shelters or rescuing from the streets satisfies both the desire to have a loving pet and makes a person feel good about potentially saving an animal’s life.
Students can find a sense of fulfillment in rescuing animals because they are giving their pet a second chance at a happy life off the streets and out of shelters.
“The best part is being able to know that your animals are happy; they enjoy their house, enjoy their life, know when their next meal is there and they’re companions to you for that,” said Rosalee Banks, a senior criminal justice major, who has four rescue cats. “They almost kind of know what you’ve done for them. I don’t know if dogs and cats have good memories, but I like to think that my cats remember their old house and they appreciate what they have now.”
Rescuing animals benefits all parties involved. Students are emotionally supported, shelters have fewer animals to worry about and animals can find unconditional love in a forever home, even though they once faced the risk of euthanasia. By making the ethical decision to adopt — not shop — students will be saving an animal’s life.