Remember those Pantene commercials in which fashion models said, “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful”? Well Petfinder.com is trying out a new twist with its third “Adopt-a-Less-Adoptable-Pet” campaign (this year extended to run from September 17 – 25), featuring a theme of “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m ______, Adopt Me Because I Need You.” The goal is to encourage people to not judge a book by its cover (or as I might joke, to persuade people to think outside the litter box), and to give those animals who might be overlooked a second chance.
We’re talking about the “elephant in the room.” No one likes to admit it, but people make judgments based on appearances all the time. Oscar Wilde famously quipped that “it is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances…” The Truth About Cats & Dogs showed how one leading man could be so blinded by someone’s beauty (the character played by Uma Thurman) that he could miss the true pearl in his midst (the character played by Janeane Garofalo).
So what makes a pet less likely to be adopted? I spoke with Betsy Banks Saul, the founder of Petfinder.com:
Older Age — People worry that they will fall in love with an older animal and then be heartbroken, but Saul explains that one really never knows what the future will hold in store. “I adopted a very old dog, Jim, a hound dog, five years ago,” she says, “and I thought I’d give him six months and a place to rest his head.” She explains that he’s still going strong. She also says that she doesn’t know anyone who’s adopted an older pet who hasn’t been changed forever in that they continue adopting older pets from then on. (This makes me think of what they say about first class. Once you’ve flown that way, you can’t go back!)
Color — Believe it or not, pets with dark fur can take a longer time to be adopted, particularly online because you can’t see their facial expressions as well. Some shelters also have low-lighting which can present a similar issue. (Shy pets can also be overlooked because they don’t necessarily run to greet you when you visit a shelter. Keep in mind that a submissive or shy pet could be appropriate for your home.)
Can’t Live With Other Pets — I could see how this could be an issue if one already has pets, but if one doesn’t? Well, I’d argue there are many plusses to a one-pet home. (and those creatures lucky enough to be fussed over and to receive all the attention might wholeheartedly agree!)
Particular Breed or Kind of Pet — In spite of the prevalence of cats in people’s homes, cats are overlooked more at shelters than are dogs. According to Saul, this may be due to cats’ perceived independence and to cats’ “marketing problem.” She explains how you have to judge each animal as an individual and not as a stereotype. “I have a cat who does a high-five and plays fetch,” she adds.
Not Yet House-Trained — I know that some families have struggled with this one, but for the most part, this is easily addressed.
Atypical Physical Traits — This could refer to a blind or deaf animal, a cat with one eye, or a dog with three legs, to give you an idea. I’ve already mentioned this book but let me mention it again by way of example — one has only to read Homer’s Odyssey: A Fearless Feline Tale, or How I Learned about Love and Life with a Blind Wonder Cat — to remind all of us about animals’ abilities to surprise us with their resilience and resolve. I am in awe of this cat!
Medical Issues — A pet could have allergies, mange, diabetes, etc. Saul gives her cat Charlie an allergy pill every day of his life. It’s not fun for her, and it’s not fun for her cat, but it pales in comparison to the overall experience of having Charlie in her home. For her, giving a diabetic cat a shot every day wouldn’t be a deal breaker — for other people caring for pets, it might be.
Which brings me to a crucial point. If you’re looking to adopt a pet, you need to think long and hard about your lifestyle and be honest with yourself. Otherwise you won’t be doing yourself or your pet any favors. There is a difference between what you want to do, and what you actually do. Saul says, “You may want to be a marathon runner, but do you actually run? Do you like to stop off for drinks after work every night? Then maybe get a cat…”
Not only can a pet deemed to be less adoptable turn out to be your knight in shining armor or the perfect addition to your family, Petfinder.com has found by surveying its members that these heretofore overlooked pets have gone on to work as therapy or service animals after finally being adopted. I’ve written about this before — about how the same hyperactive characteristics that can make a family pet challenging can make for a stellar search dog — and Petfinder cites examples of a one-eyed R.E.A.D. dog who visits elementary schools as well as abused or neglected dogs now working in the police department’s narcotics department.
Check out RealSimple.com’s Pet Basics Guide for tips on picking a pet you’ll love and caring for your pet once you bring him or her home.