Seeking One Good Home


Every year, over two million dogs and cats are euthanized in the U.S. simply for lack of a good home. Every adoption of an animal from a shelter reduces that figure by one. Every purchase of an animal from a pet store, breeder, or puppy mill sends a signal to the owners of those businesses that they can make money by breeding more animals. America doesn’t need more animals, but America’s animals do need more good homes.

Encouragingly, whatever cultural bias there may have been in favor of bred-and-purchased animals over shelter animals is eroding, as people have come to realize that most dogs and cats arrive at shelters through no fault of their own (as opposed to cartoonish notions that shelters are full of strays, feral animals, or those too wild to share a home). Human living conditions change—people move, relationships start and end, illness and age make it too difficult for humans to care for their companions—and often animals end up relinquished to the care of the local shelter as a result, when nobody else can take them on.

In fact, because so many of the animals in shelters have had homes already, they may be more likely to appreciate the stability, warmth, and love that an adoption will bring—94% of the animals adopted from ASPCA partner shelters remain with their adopters.

Additionally, with millions of dogs in shelters all over the country searchable and viewable online, even an adopter with a strong penchant for a certain type of dog—size, color, breed, age—can probably find that dog waiting out there if they’re just willing to look. I’m personally still a sucker for walking through the local shelter to fall in love, but I first saw my current canine companion on PetFinder. Other online options include The Shelter Pet Project, Adopt-a-Pet, Petango, or the website of just about any local shelter in your vicinity.

The purchase price of an animal bought from a breeder perpetuates further breeding. The adoption fee for an adopted animal supports the maintenance and improvement of the shelter, which in turn provides a temporary haven and a second chance for animals who would otherwise have none. Freeing up one more kennel provides the next shelter dog or cat a momentary reprieve, but supporting shelters as institutions slowly shifts our culture’s treatment of animals toward a sustained, shared compassion.




Microchips: Technology Can’t Replace Common Sense

“Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”

– Gertrude Stein


Nearly all veterinary and animal-protection organizations suggest that dogs and cats should be implanted with radio-frequency identification (RFID) microchips that allow lost or stolen animals to be identified. Such chips, about the size of a grain of rice, are implanted under an animal’s skin so that, in the event a lost animal is found, a vet’s office or animal shelter can pass a handheld scanner over the chip to retrieve the animal’s identity and contact information. Just in the United States, millions of pets are lost or stolen every year. The deployment of these chips has already prevented untold heartache and loss.

Studies of microchip effectiveness have shown that lost pets with microchips are more than twice as likely to be reunited with their humans as are lost pets without them. Especially for those of us who grew up in a time when metal tags engraved with names and phone numbers were the best preventive solution, RFID chips seem like a fantastic common-sense use of technology—a practical leap into a more compassionate future.

However, not everyone realizes that microchips require effort beyond implantation if they are to be effective. Specifically, owner contact information must be registered in appropriate databases to be useful. Initially, the only databases that served this purpose were created and controlled by the RFID technology manufacturers. With these databases, pet owners register their animals for a fee, and identifying information is made available to the veterinary offices and shelters that make use of that particular scanner technology. Because their technology and the data they collect are proprietary and not openly shared, people have found lost pets with microchips and had them scanned, only to be told that the scanner returned no helpful information.

In response to this splintered situation, a number of open-source databases have been created to allow microchipped pets to be registered (and identified) free of charge. The most common one in use in my part of the country,, is operated by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), but others (, are striving to serve a similar purpose. While the technology companies may provide services beyond simple identification in exchange for their fees, a simple nationwide database of registered pets that is also free to access seems to be drawing closer to reality.

Usually (but not always), government-operated shelters will implant chips in any stray, u-chipped animal that comes into their care, and registration to the shelter occurs at that point. Ask questions of your local shelters and vets, register your pet’s chip number as widely as you like, and maintain good records.

Finally, keep the common-sense solutions alive. Nothing can replace the jangly reassurance of a set of dog tags trotting into the room. That’s timeless technology.


Unleashing Resolve

For many of us, the turning of the year brings new resolve to live better—to eat right, to reduce stress, to exercise. Such self-oriented efforts, at any time of year, can initiate real change in our own lives, but our companion animals can benefit from these resolutions as well.

Dogs, cats, and other companion animals certainly live different physical lives than we do in many ways. Cats living safely indoors can appear to sleep 90% of the time, splitting the rest between eating and antics. Dogs’ body types and appetites for vigorous exercise vary so widely that it’s difficult to generalize about their needs. But like us, all animals need some exercise, optimally a little bit every day.

Violet at Point Isabel 1-4-18The obvious benefit of increased vigorous exercise—for us and for them—is improved physical health, including the loss of excess body weight, improved endurance, and increased flexibility. Less apparent but perhaps just as valuable benefits—for us and for them—include improved mood, eradication of boredom, and a decreased likelihood to engage in aggressive or destructive behavior.

Walk the dog. So obvious that it’s easy to overlook, regular brisk walks with your dog build muscle strength and endurance for both of you. If it’s been a while, start slow, be patient, and set simple, attainable goals. If you’ve been walking together already but want to freshen things up, try a different route or different terrain, vary your pace (walk-jog-run), or mix up your own muscle groups by side- or lunge-stepping intermittently.

Play with the cat. Not all cats take to all cat toys, but the right toy for the right cat can prompt impressively aggressive bouts of jumping, batting, and general frolicking. (The near-silent sound of our feather-on-a-wire toy being lifted from the shelf will bring my two cats running.) Wild cats (and outdoor domestic cats) get ample exercise in the pursuit of prey. Indoor cats, when stimulated, will pursue whatever “prey-like” toy catches their attention—laser-pointer lights, rainbows cast by crystals spinning in the window, robot vacuums—but they’re probably happiest when their humans are directly involved. The best toys are often not store-bought—a paper grocery bag with a pinch of catnip at the bottom can be an entertaining workout.

Start where you (and your animal) are. If regular exercise hasn’t been a part of your animal’s routine, his endurance and flexibility may be quite limited—but will improve with patience and routine. Obviously, if you’re concerned about his ability to engage in regular exercise, consult a veterinarian. Beyond that, veterinarians generally advise starting with 5- or 10-minute walks for dogs and adding time as you see her stamina improve. As strength and endurance increase, you’ll be able to expand your route and vary your terrain. As you persist, you’ll start to see benefits beyond the ones you set out to find.


Cold Weather Compassion

IMG_3545.jpgAs days grow shorter and the coldest part of the year approaches, understand that your furry friends’ furriness will not always suffice to keep them safe and comfortable.

Hypothermia and frostbite are just as dangerous to dogs and cats as they are to humans, and perhaps harder to detect because we can’t always know what they’re feeling or thinking. Certainly some dogs are better suited to cold weather—those with thicker fur coats, and larger dogs in general—but no dog should ever be left outside when temperatures near the freezing point. Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers, two of the nation’s most popular breeds, are usually quite shorthaired and therefore especially susceptible to cold.

Sweaters, sweatshirts, and raincoats for dogs, therefore, are not just endearing, but sensible things to have on hand. While some dogs have no tolerance for foot coverings, many can grow accustomed to them—and dogs who will be walking in cold or wet weather may walk longer and happier with booties snug on their paws.

Most importantly, bring your animal friends inside when the weather gets cold. How cold is too cold? If you wouldn’t enjoy being outside without a coat or a campfire for hours, chances are good that your dog wouldn’t either.

Our cultural awareness of the dangers of leaving dogs in hot cars has improved significantly, to the point where many jurisdictions have made it legal for civilians to rescue dogs at risk of overheating. But because of the widely held assumption that their “fur coats” or a car’s enclosed space will protect them, we still too often leave dogs in uncomfortably cold cars.

Leaving a dog alone in a car for any length of time is never ideal, but if you do, remember that your dog won’t be able to tell you how cold they got while you were gone. You could be putting more than just her comfort at risk.

Cats present a different cars-and-cold-weather consideration. Because automobile engines can be a source of warmth well after a car is parked, outdoor cats and other creatures have been known to climb in under the hood. Obviously the spinning fans and whizzing belts in a car’s engine compartment with a cat resting too close would be significant health hazards, and many cats have been severely injured or killed in this way. A thump on the hood or quick honk of the horn before starting the engine could save a cat’s life.

Keep your animal companions cozy and comfortable this winter. They will surely return the favor.