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Editorial: Dogs aren’t a fad, they’re a family member

When the coronavirus lockdown sent everyone inside for much of 2020, people found all sorts of ways to pass the time. Baking became so popular that flour became hard to find. “Do It Yourself” projects, from home repairs to garden revamps, were all the rage. And many families, who previously didn’t feel they had time for a dog, decided it was the perfect opportunity to bring home a pet.

Adoption rates doubled at some shelters, and puppies were in particularly high demand. To be fair, who doesn’t love a wiggly, furry, little baby animal? It’s what the internet was built on.

Animal advocates were happy to see so many dogs find their forever homes, but they quietly held their breaths. Much like the rush to buy baby chicks and bunnies at Easter, many of which get dumped as adults, what would happen when the puppy was no longer adorably teeny?

“We’ve been kind of sitting back, waiting for the other shoes to drop,” said Nancy King, executive director of Pets Lifeline.

The thud of that other shoe has hit. The local shelter has seen an alarming uptick of owner surrenders, largely with dogs that were never properly trained. People who say, “We got it as a puppy and it was so cute, but now it’s biting people so you train it.”

There’s also been more “strays” sent to the shelter — dogs that were clearly someone’s pet, only to be thrown out when they are no longer convenient. These poorly socialized animals end up at the shelter, which can be a shock to the system when they’re used to a home environment. They come trembling with terror, unable to understand why they can’t just go home.

“They’re all good dogs, we’ve been working with them,” King said.

Luckily, Pets Lifeline’s expanded shelter offers more room for dog training, and they recently hired a dog behaviorist to help the animals learn their manners and become excellent family pets. But it takes time and resources, and these animals aren’t adopted as easily.

“It seems to be more of a larger breed issue,” King said. “Small dogs get adopted quickly here.”

In an effort to keep animals from getting institutionalized, Pets Lifeline created a section of its website called “Adoptions by Owners,” where those looking to rehome a pet without putting it in the shelter can list their animals. It is overflowing with cats and dogs, many left in the cross-hairs by their owner’s poor planning.

The shelter is doing the work that owners neglected to do. Training is not easy, it takes hours of practice and repetition to teach a dog how to behave and live in harmony with a family. With larger breeds, especially working dogs like huskies, it also takes hours of exercise and enrichment to keep their active minds and bodies busy.

Pets Lifeline offers training classes, but before adopting a dog, King wishes people would do their research. Too many times, she has seen dogs surrendered for following their natural behaviors because an owner did not take the time to support the animal’s known needs, like lots of exercise.

“Educate yourself on what dog you have and what training it needs,” she said, adding that the information is easily found online without the expense of a class.

Any decent pet owner knows animals are forever. They may chew up a pair of shoes or bark too much at the neighbors. But that doesn’t mean you give up on them. Dogs want to be good, but like people, they can pick up bad habits — all of which can be managed with positive reinforcement training.

“If you get a pet, work with it,” King said. “Shelters are not a dumping ground.”

Adopting a pet is a decision that should never be made lightly or on the whim of a child’s whine. Bringing home a pet is making a promise to give an animal a home, even in hard times.

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