Looking for an animal companion? Consider a recycled pet

(First published May 2008, updated June 2010)

Recycling pets doesn’t mean turning your cat into a bird or your dog into a ferret, but it is a wonderful green way to approach the acquisition of your next animal companion. Environmental issues aside, it’s also a very humane choice.

The tragedy

My first “job” was as a volunteer at an animal shelter at the age of 11. At that time, I had my heart set on becoming a vet. Such was my passion and commitment, besides the usual walking and cleaning duties of a volunteer, the staff at the shelter allowed me to participate in cruelty callouts, minor surgical procedures and the destruction and disposal of animals. I got to see it all and participate in much of it – the good, the bad and the horrid. Even at that age I understood that being a vet wasn’t going to be easy and I really wanted to be prepared.

To this day, the memories of the cruelty I witnessed inflicted by others on animals and the sadness of ending the life of animals who did nothing wrong except to be born stays with me. There is absolutely no way I can describe the feeling of injecting a puppy who trusts you with a substance that will kill it a few seconds later. The puppy licking you or wanting to play with you, the squeal as the hypodermic pierces its skin, then the eyes fogging over before the puppy goes limp. I still tear up at this memory of over two and a half decades ago.

After euthanizing the animals, we’d then throw them into the incinerator. I’ll also never forget the smell and the tar that would leak out from the base of the incinerator; or shovelling the ashes of the animal I killed once it was done – the little bones could still be seen.

This is the reality of  the results of unbridled pet “consumption”. This is the result of human ignorance and cruelty in relation to the animals we are responsible for. No matter which country or city you live in, there’s a massive extermination going on of animals who have been neglected and thrown out like trash – literally millions of dogs and cats are euthanized annually. Living, breathing and feeling creatures.

What the shelters, pounds and animal societies do in their destruction is not the problem – it’s the end result of an oversupply of living creatures that don’t fit in with our demands or who have been born because their owners didn’t get the animal neutered.

Humanitarian issues aside, the environmental impact of these unwanted animals is huge. They have to eat, be sheltered and even the destruction process is resource intensive. Animals that turn feral wreak a heavy toll on the environment, killing billions of native animals a year. It’s just a terrible and tragic waste any way you look at it.

While there are no-kill shelters around; these are often operating at capacity. Too many people are buying their pets from breeders instead of obtaining pets from these sources.

Get a recycled pet!

One of the great misconception about getting an animal from a shelter is that they are “damaged goods”. Sure, some of the animals have been physically or emotionally scarred; but there’s no guarantee that an animal you buy from a breeder won’t be. Some of the puppy mills around keep animals in horrid conditions. Regardless of where you get an animal from; there’s always a risk of neuroticism or other behavior disturbances – but a good home and caring owners often do wonders for a neglected animal. In the case of dogs, they just want to be part of a pack – and will seek your acceptance by behaving appropriately with a little training and time.

If you’re into recycling, why not considered a “recycled” pet from a shelter? You’ll be getting an animal that has likely been immunized and spayed (or will be) included in the price. The dog or cat would have also been screened to a degree to see if it is able to assimilate into a new home. The money from your purchase will go towards the incredible work they do in trying to keep animals *out* of the incinerator I referred to.

The staff at shelters have often had the opportunity to observe the behavior of the animals brought in, so they can tell you if the pet appears to be house trained, would likely fit into a family who has young children or would be better with a single adult owner.

I can’t really think of a more environmentally friendly way of acquiring a pet than one that’s been tossed aside by another thoughtless human. When you obtain a pet via these means, you’re not only cutting down on the demand for “new” pets to be bred, but you’ll also be saving a life of another animal.

For some people though, the thought of going to a shelter is too heart-wrenching. I’ve seen some people go to a shelter and leave very upset because they wanted to take home all the animals.

If going to a shelter on a browsing expedition is just not for you, there’s online services where you can search through listings of pets available for adoption. These services are different from breeder’s classifieds as the listings are published by responsible owners who may not be able to maintain their pet any longer, but want to ensure it goes to a good home. Shelters also tend to publish listings of their current cases via these services.

Similarly, if you’re a pet owner and find yourself in a position whereby you can’t care for your animal, these online services can help match you to someone else who will take good care of your companion. Don’t dump your animal on the roadside hoping that someone will take care of it – it likely won’t happen. Don’t take your animal to a shelter if you can avoid it as you’ll only be placing added burden on these establishments that are usually running on empty as it is. Shelters are the the very final option, please try to do some legwork first by seeking out a new owner yourself.

One such service is DogTime, which currently lists over 30,000 dogs available for adoption in the USA. You can search for adult dogs or puppies, specific breeds and listings within your local area. The site also offers a ton of useful advice on being a responsible dog owner. Another service is PetFinder; which operates in the same fashion and in addition to dogs, also lists birds, cats, horses, pig, rabbits, reptile and other small and furry creatures.

I’m not aware of any similar online services outside the USA, so if you know of one in your country, I’d greatly appreciate you leaving a comment below or perhaps you might like to share your experiences of owning a “recycled” pet.