“Shelter dogs are not broken. They’ve simply experienced more life than other dogs. If they were human, we would call them wise. They would be the ones with tales to tell and stories to write, the ones dealt a bad hand who responded with courage. Don’t pity a shelter dog, ADOPT one. And be proud to have their greatness at your side.” — Author unknown
Last December, The Weather Channel® announced that it was partnering with the American Humane Association in order to find and train a shelter dog to be the official Weather Channel Therapy Dog for victims of weather disasters. The dog would visit schools, hospitals, shelters and more to bring love and support to those communities impacted.
Recently, The Weather Channel introduced viewers to the five finalists. This effort is helping the nation recognize the health benefits and talents of pets and, more importantly, shifting the negative perception of shelter pets as being “broken” or “bad” animals. Often, these animals were victims themselves due to the nation’s pet overpopulation problem. With a loving home and training, rescue pets can give back to the community in a powerful way by serving as therapy pets or search and rescue animals.
Here are just a few examples:
- Therapy dogs — many of whom were formerly shelter dogs — visited victims of the Newtown shooting, Boston marathon bombing and the tornadoes in Moore, Okla.
- Jake — a black lab that was found in a shelter with a broken leg and dislocated hip, became a search and rescue dog who worked Ground Zero on 9/11 and in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina. Jake, like so many others, was a victim of “Black Dog Syndrome,” where wonderful black cats and dogs are passed over in shelters because of their color.
- Elle the pit bull is one of the most famous in her misunderstood breed and is part of a program called Tail Wagging Tales in North Carolina that helps grade-school children practice reading and strengthen their confidence with animals. Elle educates children on how to approach and treat dogs. This past year, she actually earned the title of “2013 Hero Dog” by the American Humane Association.
- The American Humane Association’s 2012 Hero Dog, Gabe, who was labeled for euthanization at a pound in Houston, Texas, was rescued and trained to be one of the top military working dogs stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gabe completed more than 210 combat missions, with 26 finds of explosives and weapons. Gabe had such a fan base that even after his heart-breaking passing last year, his memory and legacy is helping other shelter pets all over the country find homes.
- And don’t forget Miley the Cat, who currently provides comfort, love and company at San Francisco VA Medical Health Center at Fort Miley, Calif. Many veterans who were disabled during military service see a kindred spirit in Miley, who lost the tip of his ear when he was a stray.
Studies also show that shelter animals can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, prevent against respiratory infection, lower stress, boost self-esteem, lower blood pressure, protect against allergies, ward off depression, and boost oxytocin and serotonin levels (the “feel good” hormone). Many provide assistance to those with disabilities like blindness, deafness, epilepsy, autism and diabetes. Most recently, a new study is investigating dogs’ ability to sniff out ovarian cancer.
All of these add to the many reasons to consider shelters when seeking a new pet. Adoption creates new lives for these powerful contributors to the health of our communities.