Cat up for adoption

What would you do if someone gave you a new car, the one you'd always wanted, the one that was perfect for your family? Would you treat it like trash because, after all, it was "free" so it wasn't worth anything? Or would you drive it proudly everywhere, telling everyone you know, "I won this car! I didn't have to pay for it! Isn't that great?"

I'm guessing you'd be pretty happy with your good fortune and happy to share your good news. The car is perfect for you, and the fact that you didn't have to pay for it won't change how much you value it or how well you care for it, not a bit.

Now what if you went to the shelter to adopt a pet and found out that your adoption fee was being paid by someone else and your pet was "free?" People in the shelter and rescue community have long believed that if you don't pay to adopt, you won't value or care for your four-legged family member. And at the first sign of strain in the relationship, you'd dump the animal.

That just doesn't seem like the pet lovers I know, and I bet it's not you, or any of the pet lovers you know, either.

It's time to change some attitudes.

If you're looking to adopt and ready to help prove how good most pet lovers truly are, you may be able to do both on June 1 and 2. Thanks to a pioneering nonprofit foundation stepping up to cover the costs, people in a handful of communities will be able to adopt a pet for free. Change a life and change an attitude. Want in on that deal? Read on!

Free to a Good Home Is Not a Bad Thing

I know that shelters and rescue groups are always trying to do what's best for pets. I know they're thinking that adoption fees make some sense as part of the screening process. If you can't afford to pay an adoption fee, the thinking goes, can you really afford to pay for food, veterinary care and the other costs of having an animal?

But what about all those people who can afford the fees just fine (which is most people) and waiving an adopt fee is just incentive enough to tip the scale for adoption? A couple of years ago, the folks at Maddie's Fund asked this very question, and the answer they got showed that the "conventional wisdom" was wrong. People love their pets, and the cost of acquiring that pet doesn't change how they feel.

They didn't just act on a hunch, either. They funded three small no-fee adoption drives, then studied the results. The Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine followed up on the animals in their new homes. The result? The overwhelming majority of the fee-free adopted animals in the study were still in those homes long after their adoption and were just as loved as any other pet. They got good veterinary care, slept on comfortable beds and were treated as members of the family.

With that study in their back pocket, the folks at Maddie's Fund decided to expand their adoption drive, and that's where you come in. Maddie's Fund is celebrating its fourth annual Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days on June 1 and 2. The goal: to find 5,000 new homes for dogs and cats and reach 11 million people with positive news about shelter adoption.

I think they can do it, and I'm counting on your help.

Pushing Change Is Making a Difference

If all you’ve ever heard is that the problems of homeless pets are worse than ever and can’t ever be solved because people are so awful, let me share some good news. It’s a fact that the number of pets killed in shelters has been going down for decades, and it's also true that people today are proud to say they’ve adopted a homeless pet. Meanwhile, the idea that spaying and neutering is what caring and responsible pet owners do has taken hold, and now the overwhelming majority of pets are altered.

If that good news came as a surprise to you, then I’m glad I could share it. Sometimes I think we're so overwhelmed with bad news that we stop being able to see the big picture. Thanks to people standing up for change, that picture's getting brighter all the time.

I have fought my whole life to make things better for homeless pets, from my earliest days as a veterinarian. I stepped up to end the shelter’s use of the gas chamber in my town and worked with other veterinarians to offer humane deaths to those animals who couldn’t find homes. That issue — the use of gas chambers in shelters — is still on the top of my agenda, which is why I recently joined the Board of Directors for the American Humane Association, which was instrumental in getting the entire state of Texas to ban gas chambers recently.

Our family has long been actively helping homeless pets in other ways as well. My daughter, Vetstreet training expert Mikkel Becker, has volunteered with the Search Dog Foundation to find shelter dogs suitable for search-and-rescue work. I’ve most recently stepped up my work for older homeless pets, joining the Board of Directors for the Grey Muzzle Organization.

Adopting pets is what we do in my family; our most recent addition is our Labrador-Pit Bull mix, Gracie.

I’m not alone in my choices when it comes to helping shelter pets. Animal lovers of all kinds and organizations big and small have been working on the homeless pet problem for years, and, yes, things really are getting better.

A Call to Action

Which brings me back to Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days, which is very good news indeed. This year's event is expanding, working with rescue groups and shelters in 100 locations in eight communities in five states (New York, Nevada, Wisconsin, Florida and California). Maddie’s Fund is spending $4 million on this effort. They will cover the shelters' costs for each adoption, paying not only the adoption fee but also the expense of making a pet adoptable. This means that older or harder-to-place pets get a better shot at a forever home, too. (To find a participating shelter or rescue group, visit the Maddie's Pet Adoption Days website.)

Those who know me — and, really, anyone who has ever met me — knows I’m a “glass half-full” kind of person. I’m always trying to see the best in others and focus on the good in the world, not the bad. Lucky for me, it has never been easier to find good in the shelter and rescue community, which is full of many caring and wonderful people, like the people at Maddie's Fund.

And like you, I've heard it said that you can't change the world when you adopt an animal, but you can change the world for that one animal. This time, you can do more. If you step up and adopt as part of Maddie's Pet Adoption Days, you will be changing how many people see the world. For free.

How much sweeter can a deal be? Now get out there and adopt.