Myths and misconceptions about shelter dogs

Anyone with a rescue dog will tell you that their pup is incredible – so why aren’t more people choosing to adopt from shelters?

You’ve probably heard the astonishing statistics. Approximately 3.3 million dogs enter shelters nationwide every year and of those dogs, only half are adopted. These numbers beg the question – why aren’t more people adopting dogs? Eager to get some answers, Animal Wellness spoke with Rena Lafaille, Director of Administration and Promotions for the ASPCA Adoption Center. She helps us debunk the myths and misconceptions about shelter dogs, and explains some of the many benefits of adoption!

AW: Are more people buying dogs from pet stores or rescuing them from shelters?

RL: Adoption trends are moving in a positive direction, and there has been an increase in animal adoption nationwide. This is tremendous progress for America’s animals, and is the direct result of innovative, life-saving programs and hard work from local shelters, rescues and national organizations, like the ASPCA, to end homelessness and needless euthanasia of shelter animals.

It also reflects the public’s dedication to rescuing homeless animals. At the same time, people are moving away from buying dogs at pet stores. There has been a drop in the overall number of pet stores selling puppies in the US, and notably, of the top 25 pet store chains, only 1 sells puppies. The percentage of people who report owning a dog they acquired from a pet store is also decreasing. People don’t want to support or associate themselves or their pets with the cruel commercial breeding industry, and that’s why more and more people are avoiding pet stores.

AW: What do you think deters people from adopting dogs from shelters?

RL: Some people believe that dogs who end up in shelters must have something wrong with them, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Animals often end up in shelters through no fault of their own and for a variety of reasons – many animals enter shelters because an owner has had to give them up due to relocation, financial hardships or health problems. Because many shelter animals are surrendered by their owners, shelters are able to gather lots of information about the animal’s behavior, preferences and medical history; an added bonus is that these animals are likely already accustomed to being pets in a home environment.

AW: Some people choose to buy dogs from breeders because they think they’re healthier and better adjusted. Is this true?

RL: Purebred dogs sometimes have genetic disorders and medical issue predispositions, certainly no less often than shelter dogs. Also, while bloodlines can be useful tools to assess an animal’s value and temperament, they are somewhat limited in terms of predicting an individual animal’s behavior. Shelters are motivated to save lives and make strong matches. Many provide thorough behavioral and medical assessments of each animal that comes into the shelter, so they can appropriately pair up animals with potential adopters.

AW: If people are set on getting a purebred dog, for any number of reasons, is adoption out of the question?

RL: Not at all! The types of animals available for adoption differs from shelter to shelter, and at the ASPCA Adoption Center we see all sorts of dogs – young, old, shy, playful, mixed-breed and purebred.

AW: Why is adopting a dog more complicated and expensive than it used to be?

RL: Fees, requirements, policies and procedures vary depending on the adoption center or rescue group. Potential adopters should also consider that adoption fees provide critical resources to enable shelters to continue rescuing animals and providing them with the physical and medical care they need to get adopted.

It’s also important to note that some approaches to adoption are shifting. More and more shelters are participating in conversation-based, or open adoptions—a system that does away with hard and fast policies and adoption applications, and instead focuses on making matches between pets and people. Through these conversations, shelters are ensuring that they are matching the adopters’ expectations with the cat or dog’s mental, behavioral and physical needs.

AW: What can pet parents do to help break down the negative misconceptions about shelter dogs?

RL: There are so many ways to get involved in this important mission. You can adopt a pet from your local shelter, but if you can’t adopt right now, consider fostering an animal in need, which also frees up shelter space and resources. You can also give generously of your time and volunteer, donate money or supplies and even help spread the word about adoption to help dispel common misconceptions about shelter dogs, and encourage those close to you to make adoption their first option.

Rena Lafaille is the Director of Administration for the ASPCA Adoption Center located on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Rena joined the ASPCA Adoption Center staff six years ago and holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration with a concentration in animal welfare and protection from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism and Metropolitan Studies from New York University. Rena was a journalist before she decided to pursue her passion for animal welfare. A born and bred New Yorker, she is now raising a two-legged and four legged family in the city.

The ASPCA Adoption Center is a spacious, state-of-the-art shelter with highly qualified veterinarians and behavior counselors on staff. On any given day, the Adoption Center houses hundreds of cats and dogs waiting to find loving homes. In 2017 alone, the Adoption Center staff welcomed 26,020 human visitors and found homes for 4,756 cats and dogs.


Animal Wellness is North America's top natural health and lifestyle magazine for dogs and cats, with a readership of over one million every year. AW features articles by some of the most renowned experts in the pet industry, with topics ranging from diet and health related issues, to articles on training, fitness and emotional well being.