Alison Barnes Martin/Masterfile
The home foreclosures at the heart of the global economic meltdown means that friendly, playful dogs that romped in suburban backyards and loving, easygoing cats that once prowled now-empty condos have been dropped off at shelters—victims of their families’ financial turmoil. Indeed, Petfinder.com, an online database of adoptable pets, reported in June that at least 500 shelters and rescue groups, out of 1,055 that responded to a survey, had pets relinquished to them in the last 6 months because of a home foreclosure. It’s a figure the Web site never tracked previously.
The Humane Society of the United States estimates that overall about 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats end up in animal shelters or with rescue groups in the United States each year—and about half of those aren’t adopted. The silver lining to a gloomy situation? Prospective pet owners likely have never had a larger selection from which to choose. The downside: It doesn’t make the process of adopting or buying a pet any easier.
If you’re ready to join the club—American Pet Products Association’s 2007-2008 owners’ survey said that 39 percent of U.S. households had at least one dog and about 34 percent of U.S. households had at least one cat—know that choosing a family pet will be a tug-of-war between desires and best intentions. Should you:
buy a pet from a breeder? You’ll be accused of condemning to death the animal that you could’ve adopted from a shelter or rescue group.
buy a pet from a pet store or from an online source? You might support the mass production of pets in well-documented inhumane conditions.
visit a shelter or rescue group? You might be adopting hidden behavior issues and shelling out big bucks to replace damaged household items while re-training.
Boning Up on Health and Behavior
Although there always will be uncertainty when it comes to choosing a dog or cat, you can eliminate many question marks by dealing with primary sources. Picking a pet should be a hands-on experience, which will let you see not only the pet itself, but its origins and how well it’s being treated. There are things you should know, so you don’t get bitten later by a bad decision.
A BREED APART. In recent years, an additional choice has entered the dog house—the designer dog, a cross-bred dog with two purebred parents of different breeds. The trend started with the Labradoodle (a poodle-Labrador cross), and promoters of new mixes have been restricted seemingly only by their imaginations in naming new combinations. (Not all cross-breds are marketed as designer dogs; that label is seen by some as a sales tool used by people trying to cash in on the cross-bred fad.)
These dogs have proven popular with buyers who like the idea of getting the “best of both worlds” from different breeds. Most cost about the same as registered purebreds—starting as low as $200 from a local ad to $5,000 for a particularly high-demand breed or mix from an urban pet store.
For a family pet, there might be an advantage to a cross-bred, says Christie Keith, editor at the PetHobbyist.com family of Web sites, as well as pet-care columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. The first generation of the cross of two different breeds of dog delivers the advantage of genetic masking, which means that the dog is less likely to display the problems typical of the parents. A puggle (pug-beagle cross), for example, might have a longer nose than a pug, which means the dog will be less prone to heat stress than its purebred parent.