Are We Loving Shelter Pets to Death?

Author and animal advocate Arin Greenwood joins us as we talk through what’s really behind the negativity surrounding free adoptions. 

We need to get honest about what happens when we demonize free adoptions and holiday shelter promotions due to our desire to protect animals from potential cruelty. We also need to get honest about whether or not these emotional responses to potential cruelty are really based in reality.


First, let’s squash the idea that animals are adopted by just anyone during these adoption events. Adoption counseling happens. No one randomly hands out leashes to anyone who walks into a shelter. The animal welfare workers who participate in these events are not irresponsible. They are helping good pets find good homes.

Then there’s the reality of the open intake shelter system. These shelters have low cost and free adoption promotions because shelters are overcrowded and need to get pets into homes. And again, the majority of people are good. The majority of these homes are good and loving.

As Arin points out in the podcast, these promotions aren’t done because animal welfare workers don’t care about the dogs in their care. It’s the opposite. They want to get shelter pets into loving homes and out of the shelter system where there may be no choice but to euthanize them for space.


Recently, we’ve seen people say that they would rather a dog be euthanized than having him potentially be exposed to abuse. Let’s be clear, you are not a dog advocate if you would rather a dog be euthanized based on an incredibly low chance that it might encounter abuse. 

“The natural end to keeping animals away from people is that they will be euthanized.”

Not only that, your assumption that dogs adopted from these events are more likely to suffer abuse is based entirely in classism. You are assuming that people who cannot afford to pay an adoption fee are more likely to abuse animals. You may not realize that’s the subtext, but it is.

The truth is that you can do all of the home visits and reference checks you want, very few people advertise that they abuse animals and it is highly unlikely that they’ll give you references of people who would out them as perpetrators.

Anyone can neglect or abuse an animal, regardless of whether or not they pay an adoption fee, regardless of their income level, age, health, race or cultural background. Plus, we all know this is a rare occurrence. We all know that the majority of people are good and want nothing more than to love their pet. 

No matter whom you adopt a pet to there is always a chance the dog will return to the shelter or rescue. This happens regardless of whether or not your adoptions are closed or open. In fact, research shows that pets adopted as gifts around the holidays have the same return rate as dogs adopted during other times of the year.

“We need to believe in people and believe in the community and that members of the community can be trusted to love animals”

If someone wants a pet, they are going to get a pet. If they don’t adopt a dog from a shelter, they’ll probably go to a breeder, and odds are it won’t be a responsible one. And if your assumptions about them are correct, that they aren’t ready to adopt one of your dogs, then they aren’t ready to have any dog and they’ll eventually surrender the dog they adopted from a puppy mill/pet store to a shelter. That only adds to the existing problem of overcrowding.

We also know that dogs who leave shelters for a short time tend to be happier. This is why we love short-term foster programs. 

Studies show that dogs aren’t sadder when they leave the shelter for a few days and then come back. All of those Facebook posts to the contrary may tug on your emotions, but they aren’t based in reality.

What the dog knows is that he was away from the shelter for a short time and had a, hopefully, good experience during that time. If we all laud short term foster programs, then why do we tug on everyone’s heartstrings about how sad a dog is to be returned to a shelter? Dogs don’t know the difference.

Again, we’re letting our emotions get in the way. Dogs deserve for us to be logical and truly think about what is best for them vs that raw emotional hysteria that we can be swept up into because we love animals so much.

Whether you disagree or agree, we hope you’ll listen to the episode and give us feedback on why you feel the way you do about free and open adoptions.

Want to be on our podcast to talk about the intersection of animal welfare and social justice? Want to yell at us for our opinions? Email us!

The Individual Animal is available on iTunesStitcherSpotifyGoogle Play, and wherever you listen to podcasts.

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