I have shared my life with many great pets through the years. While I can’t always remember our anniversaries I can remember the names and faces of most of the pets who have been my companions. Each was special; each had some particularly memorable characteristic. But I have often told folks there is always one that stands out in my heart -- Hobbs. As my wife always said — he was, “the best darn cat in the whole wide world!” Hobbs was an orange tabby male who lived a long and happy life (although not long enough for me); fortunately, He lives on when I think of him -- every day -- or when I enter a password on my computer (an homage to him).
Losing a dog or cat
Dogs and cats have relatively short life spans and during our pet owning years we often see many come and go.
Undoubtedly, one of the biggest disadvantages of pet ownership is the inevitable sadness that accompanies their death. Coping with the loss of a beloved pet is a very personal thing. As with any loss, friends are often at a loss for words. In past history, the emotions and tears that accompanied losing a pet were frequently undermined by rolled eyes or statements like, “Get over it. It was just a dog!” or “You can get another cat.” Today people are more supportive and sympathetic. Hugs and shared tears are the norm. Excused absences from work are common. Sympathy notes, cards, and memorial donations are frequent responses for someone who has lost a pet. All are intended to support us as we mourn. [Editor's note: The ASPCA offers a pet loss hotline if you need more support -- (877) GRIEF 10.]
When is it a good time to adopt again?
Some people wait days to weeks, while others hold out for months to years. Some people even decide they no longer wish to have dogs. I have had experiences with clients who were without a pet in their life for months and clients who obtained a new pet literally the same day or even in anticipation of their pet’s death. It is reasonable to allow for time to process your sadness and your grief. To experience and recall the uniqueness of your departed pet. However, the void left can be overwhelming and it is also perfectly understandable that you find a new pet to share your life with sooner rather than later. A new pet is not evidence of any lack of grief but more likely a realization that our pets fill a unique place in our hearts.
I have often used the analogy of a beautiful rose bush in your yard that dies or has to be removed. An empty spot is left; a hole where a beautiful tree once lived. There is a hole in the ground that is obvious every day. There are no fresh flowers or sense of enjoyment.
Now plant a new rose bush in that spot and instead of the void you see new life, new commitment of nurturing and feeding. Now that bush is not a replacement but rather a fresh start.
The same holds true when we lose a pet; seeing their leash, dish, bed, or looking at that place where they once slept is a continual reminder of loss. At some point it is appropriate, and indeed healing, to get a new pet; a new friend. Note I did not say a replacement. You never replace a friend but the greatest honor you can pay a friend or a pet is to appreciate the joy they gave you, and recognize the fact that your life and theirs were both benefited by your relationship.
We are all different. But I encourage you to always be open to a new pet to share your day, your home, and your heart with.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Give Yourself Time to Mourn the Loss of Your Pet
A pet’s death can be a traumatic, shocking event. Sife says that “Timing is everything when considering whether to get a new pet. You must be ready for the new relationship, or both you and the new pet may suffer because of your underlying resentment.” He reminds us that most people need to be alone with the memories of their lost loved ones. He also suggests that as families work through their grief, children be allowed to participate in the discussion about whether or not to get a new pet.
Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened.
— Anatole France
Pet Adoption Statistics
Report Highlights. Research from the data science team at SparkysSpots.com revealed the following statistics about the current state of animal shelters in the United States in 2020.
- Americans adopt roughly 3.2 million pets from shelters each year.
- Shelters still contribute less than one-third of all pet adoptions.
- Currently, about 67% of American households include at least one pet.
- Despite increasing adoption rates, a combined 1.5 million dogs and cats from shelters are euthanized each year, and an estimated 70 million strays remain on the streets.
- On average, adoption is significantly less expensive than buying an animal.
Adoption from Shelters
Pets adopted from shelters are often referred to as “rescues.” Shelters take in homeless animals and take care of their medical needs, including vaccinations and spay/neuter procedures. Shelter space is limited, however, and many animals must be euthanized due to overcrowding. Pet adoption saves lives, costs less, and ensures the animal you take home is healthy.
- Nationwide, shelters take in more than 6 million animals each year.
- 49% of all shelter animals are adopted.
- Cats and dogs are adopted in equal numbers.
- About 30% of all pets are adopted from shelters.
- At least 50% of unadopted animals are euthanized.
- Cats have the highest rate of euthanasia at 70%.
- On average, the initial cost of pet adoption ranges from $370–$1020 very small animals like fish and hermit crabs can be as low as $9.
- Clinics that specialize in spay/neuter procedures are consistently less expensive than regular veterinarians.
- Some shelters offer discount pet insurance or veterinary services.
- The average cost of adopting a dog is less than one-third what it would cost to purchase that same animal from a breeder.
Purebreds in Shelters
There’s no need to go to a breeder to get a purebred animal. Shelters often have a significant percentage of purebreds. There are even rescues that specialize in purebred animals. The Specialty Purebread Cat Rescue system, for example, has shelters throughout the Midwest.
Ten Most Common Shelter Breeds
Ten Most Popular Dog Breeds
Health Benefits of Pet Adoption
For most people, adopting an animal is about more than getting a pet. Studies show pets become important members of the household, providing comfort and companionship. Many children with autism and ADHD reportedly thrive working with therapy animals. Pets ease loneliness, increase sociability, and diminish stress.
- Clinical tests show that pets:
- Decrease blood pressure.
- Decrease cholesterol levels.
- Decrease triglyceride levels.
- People who live alone decrease their risk of heart disease by 36% when they adopt a pet.
- Animals boost human activity through exercise and play.
- Dog owners are much more likely to get 90 minutes of daily exercise than those without dogs.
- 87% of cat owners say their pets are good for their well-being.
- 76% report their cat helps them cope with everyday life.
- Petting a cat or dog for 10 minutes decreases physical and mental stress.
- 34% of fibromyalgia patients who spent 10 minutes petting a therapy animal reported a reduction in physical pain.
- Daily visits from a therapy dog reduced post-op patients’ dependency on pain medication by 28%.
- 94% of parents with autistic children report their child shares a close bond with the family dog.
- Babies living with pets develop more robust immune systems than those who don’t.
Sometimes homeless animals are adopted by a small community, such as neighbors in an apartment complex. These adoptions typically involve cats and are unofficial, beginning with one or more community members feeding a friendly stray. Neighbors may also take the cat to a local vet or let it indoors in bad weather.
- 35 million community cats are estimated to live in the U.S.
- Only 2% of community cats have been spayed or neutered.
- 80% of new kittens are born to community cats.
- 81% of people would rather keep a friendly stray outdoors than have it captured and euthanized.
- 11% of community members provide the bulk of the cats’ food.
Community Benefits of Animal Adoption
By some estimates, over a hundred million animals live on the street. Most of these animals have not been sterilized, producing still more animals to roam city streets and neighborhoods. These animals can quickly overrun these areas, causing damage to both property and the local environment. Many strays are lost pets lacking ID.
- Shelters report that fewer than 10% of intake animals are spayed or neutered.
- Realistically, one female cat produces 3,200 decendents over 12 years.
- Theoretically, one female cat could produce up to 420,000 descendents over 7 years.
- Likewise, one unspayed dog could theoretically produce up to 67,000 descendents over 6 years.
- Unneutered male cats are particularly aggressive and territorial, using excessive urine to mark a perimeter.
- Ecologists consider loose feral cats extremely detrimental to their local environment.
American Pet Ownership
The United States has more pets than any other country in the world, with 86 million households including at least one pet. Pet ownership reduces health risks while improving quality of life. Some owners become so attached to their pets that they come to think of them as part of the family, including them in family celebrations, holidays, and major life events like weddings.
- Collectively, Americans keep over 135 million pets.
- 78 million pet dogs.
- 85.8 million pet cats
- 56.6 million U.S. homes include a dog while 45 million have a cat.
- 710,000 lost pets in shelters are returned to their owners each year.
- 75% of pets are spayed or neutered.
- Stray cats are up to 6x more likely than stray dogs to be adopted off the street.
- 10% of pet owners are allergic to their animals.
- 21% of holiday pet sales are purchased by friends of pet owners.
- 80% of Americans claim to consider their pets members of the family.
Statistics About Cat Adoption and Ownership
Though friendly, cats are usually aloof. They are a rare example of self-domestication, developing a symbiotic relationship with humans over thousands of years with little interventional breeding. Though dogs are more popular among households, cat owners are more likely to keep multiple pets.
- 1.6 million cats are adopted in a year.
- There are 85.8 million pet cats in America.
- Cat owners keep an average of two (2) cats per household.
- 52% of cat owners keep multiple cats.
- A single cat costs their owner less than a thousand dollars annually.
- The average cat’s annual vet bill is $219.
- An estimated 80% of pet cats are female.
- 86.1 million cat owners (76%) consider their cat(s) a family member.
- 17% of cat owners buy their pets Christmas gifts.
*Some survey responses did not indicate a number of cats owned.
Statistics About Dog Adoption and Ownership
Dogs are among the smartest and friendliest domestic animals. They tend to form strong bonds with people and consider their human families their “pack.” Physicians and psychologists consider them some of the best therapy animals due to their intuitive relationship with humans.
- 900 billion dogs are kept as pets throughout the world.
- Americans keep 78 million pet dogs.
- Dog owners have an average of 1.6 dogs per household.
- 142.6 million people own dogs.
- 90% of pet dogs know the “sit” command.
- 14% of dog owners lose their dog within the first five years of ownership.
- 94% of lost dogs are found alive.
- Half of found dogs are located after a search of their neighborhood.
- 20% of lost dogs find their own way back home.
- Dogs lower the risk of death in heart attack and stroke survivors by 27-33%.
- 121.2 million – or about 85% – consider their dog(s) a family member.
- 81% of dog owners buy their pet a Christmas present.
- 72% feed their dogs turkey at Thanksgiving.
- 8 million dogs enter new households every year.
- 1-in-4 dog owners adopted their dog from a shelter or rescue.
- 57 million learned about their dog via word of mouth.
Adopt to Stop Puppy Mills
Puppy mills have been legally defined as “dog breeding operation[s] in which the health of the dogs is disregarded in order to maintain a low overhead and maximize profits.” The animals are typically ill with viral infections, sores, injuries, and mental/behavioral disorders. Of the estimated 10,000 puppy mills operating in the U.S., only 3,000 are legal.
- 90% of pet store puppies are born in mills.
- 70% of mills are illegal and completely unregulated.
- Over 4 million puppies are born in mills each year.
- Just over 2 million of them make it to pet stores.
- Puppy mills often take advantage of the anonymity of e-Commerce to sell their pups online.
- People who end up with puppy mill dogs are usually looking for a specific breed.
Statistics About Other Animals
Dogs and cats may be the most popular domestic pet animals, but not some people like their pets to be more unique. Shelters take all kinds of animals: birds, snakes, rodents, ferrets, rabbits, and guinea pigs are often among a shelter’s population. These animals all need forever homes just as much as the dogs and cats do.
- Rabbits are the third-most abandoned animals in shelters.
- Rabbits are high-maintenance they require a veterinarian with specialized knowledge and training.
- 2.8% of American households own pet birds.
- 3.6 million households include a pet bird.
- 9 million Americans report living with a pet bird.
- 42% of pet birds came from a pet superstore or pet shop.
- Pet shops are also a top source for “pocket pets” like gerbils, hamsters, and guinea pigs.
- Pigs are smarter than dogs.
- China has more domestic pigs than any other country in the world.
- Pigs tend to get along better with cats than with dogs.
- Ball pythons are popular pets and can live up to 40 years.
- Large snakes can go weeks or even months between meals.
- 4/5 of all snake species lay eggs.
- Pet turtles can live for decades.
- Turtles recognize their owners.
- All turtles carry salmonella.
Warning About Exotic Pets
Exotic pets end up in shelters, too. Be sure to do your research before you adopt. Exotic animals all have unique needs failure to understand and meet these needs can have dire consequences. Knowing city, county, state, and federal laws about your exotic pet may save you a load of cash and a lot of heartbreak later on.
- The most popular exotic animals are harmless.
- Exotic pets usually need a veterinarian who specializes in their species.
- Exotic pets tend to be active and agile.
- Primates need to climb and swing.
- Miniature deer need room to run and jump.
- Fennec foxes love to burrow and play.
- While harmless to humans, an exotic animal might be dangerous for another house pet.
- Bushbabies may eat small birds.
- Pigs don’t like dogs.
- Large cats like to toy with small animals in ways that often cause injury.
The most rewarding way to make a difference
Whether it’s your first time adopting, or you’re a seasoned pet parent, there’s nothing like taking home your new best friend. Here are some resources to help make the transition a little easier.
Some questions you should be ready to answer
Is this your first time adopting or owning a pet?
Inexperienced pet owners often are not sure what questions to ask or what to expect. You may also be asked if you’ve had to return an adopted pet in the past.
What is your housing situation (e.g., single-family home, townhouse, condo, apartment)?
Some pets need more space to move around than others. You may also be asked if you have a fenced-in backyard or easy access to a dog park.
Do you currently: own, rent, or live with a relative/friend?
Landlords and roommates may have strong opinions about pets living on their property. Sometimes they will be contacted to verify that it is acceptable to have a dog, so make sure to have their contact information ready and available.
How old are the people living with your new dog?
Young children may not yet know how to be gentle with a new pet, especially during the excitement of the first few days. Conversely, older senior citizens may not be able to handle the energy of a younger dog or cat. It’s helpful to bring these people with you on adoption day if possible to get a sense of how they interact with the new dog.
Will this pet live with other pets (e.g., dog, cat, bird, etc.)?
It’s important to know the temperament of your current pets so you can be sure your new addition is a good match. Other pets may become aggressive or threatened with a new pet around the house.
How flexible is your budget?
Pets tend to have their own expenses, including food, supplies, and toys. In case your new pet has special needs or health issues, are you financially prepared to handle them?
How much time do you think you’ll be able to spend with your pet each day?
If you’re out of the home a lot, you’ll probably want to plan for a way to keep your pet from becoming lonely. You might be asked about your work schedule to help the shelter worker understand how long the pet may spend each day at home alone.
Are there any pet behaviors you will not tolerate?
Bad habits take time to handle, so if chewing, barking, scratching furniture, accidents indoors, etc. is unacceptable in your home, the best time to mention it is during adoption.
Would you adopt a pet with pre-diagnosed health conditions?
This does not necessarily mean that this pet will not be great to adopt — it just means they may require special attention or care.
How to prepare
Bring the right mindset
Don’t set your sights on a specific dog or cat you find online, but be ready for commitment. You’ll have to be patient with your dog as they learn their new role in the family.
Bring the right materials
All adoptions require a photo ID, an application, and a fee to be collected before an animal can go home. The fee can range anywhere from $25 to $200, so call to confirm the price.
Leave with the right documentation
Don’t forget to ask for a spay or neuter certificate as well as a detailed list of vaccinations and any other medical history, if available.
Have a veterinarian ready
If you don’t have a trusted veterinarian already, there’s no better time to find one near you so you can schedule an appointment early.
Give your new pet a familiar taste
Quality nutrition is key to a happy, healthy life. Try to continue feeding the food your pet ate at the shelter, or change pet foods gradually to avoid an upset stomach.
Prepare your home and family for the new addition
Discuss these questions ahead of time so everyone can give the new pet a warm welcome:
- Which family members will feed, walk and bathe the pet?
- Do the kids know how to treat a new pet gently?
- Will a new pet be an issue with a landlord or roommate?
- How might other pets in the house be affected?
- Are there any areas of the home where the pet shouldn’t be allowed?
- Is anyone in the home allergic to fur or saliva?