Please Don’t Ask Me to Adopt a Pet

I keep seeing pet adoption pleas and posts everywhere: on Facebook, in newspapers, on news programs, on the radio, and at tables in front of stores. Think of a place that you are bound to look at or pass, and you’ve probably seen a pet adoption sign of some sort there. They are almost unavoidable, and they usually make me really sad, but not in the way you’d think. I am all for pet adoption. Nobody wants to think of neglected, unloved, lonely, mistreated animals- including me, but that’s not what makes my heart ache. It’s not because these advertisements, stories, and “specials” make me feel guilted into donating food, newspapers, toys, or money, that makes me want to turn a blind eye to them. And it’s not because I feel guilty that I’m not volunteering my time at a shelter that I hate seeing these things. It’s not. I’m a dog person. I’m also a cat person. I have always loved animals, and I think families should have pets. I think animals should have families. I understand that people think all of these animals are voiceless, and need advocates. I get it. I really do. I’m happy I have friends who are concerned about these animals’ well being, and that they are trying to give them a “voice”.

But every time I see the word “adoption”, my heart beats a little faster. And it hurts, just a bit, every time that I see that it’s not someone advocating for orphans. Where are the people who are passionate about and advocating for humans without families? I know that a part of the reason that people don’t adopt orphans, is because they just aren’t aware of how many kids there are in need. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Did you know that in 2012, in the US alone, there were over 400,500 children living without permanent families? 115,000 of these children were eligible for adoption, but nearly 40% of these children will wait over three years in foster care before being adopted, if at all.¹ Worldwide, it’s estimated that there are nearly 18,000,000 children without parents.² What if for every pet adoption story we saw, we saw one for a child? What kind of difference would that make for kids in the US and around the world? I bet that’s something that hasn’t crossed most people’s mind, but what if it did? How many lives could that change?

Every time I see a picture of an older dog, accompanied by a write-up that tells us how he will likely be left behind because families are looking for puppies and young dogs, I think of how hard it must be for a 15-year-old kid who knows that their chances of being adopted before they turn 18 and are legally on their own are slim to none. This kid could be so bright, and have everything going for him. People will use that to justify their inaction, saying that he’ll be just fine because he has potential. But who decides what being “just fine” means? Sure, he could get a scholarship and go off to college. Maybe he will not get mixed up with the wrong crowds, even though he lacked a stable, positive influence in his life growing up. I guess that could happen. Maybe he’ll work hard and get good grades, and have friends. But then, what happens at Christmas break? Who does he have to go home to? While most college kids can look forward to home cooked meals, tossing a football in the yard with cousins, and having a mom who might do their laundry for a week or two, this orphan is alone. I’m sure there are cases where you might see that this kid is lucky enough to have formed great relationships with foster parents, or friends with generous families, and may not have to sit at home by himself during the holidays, but nonetheless, imagine the loneliness buried in his heart, even if you see a smile on his face, knowing that this is not his family.

That “optimistic” picture is highly unlikely, though. In truth, each year, more than 27,000 young folks “age out” of foster care, and are on their own. When you were 17 or 18, how do you think you would have managed without any emotional or financial support? How much harder would it have been for you to succeed?  This number has seen a steady increase in recent years.  Of those orphans that aged out, nearly 40% had been homeless at some point, nearly 60% of young men had been convicted of a crime, and only 48% were employed. Half of those youth were involved in substance abuse of some kind, and 17% of those who were female were pregnant.³ So, yeah. The scenario we were picturing before is probably not something you’ll see, even if you’re looking for it.

But we aren’t looking. And nobody is putting this information in front of us, either. How many times have you seen a “child of the week” flyer, advertisement, news segment, radio spot, or something similar recently? My guess is not once. If once, that is saying something. But how many times have you seen something about pet adoption? …and then wondered about bringing an animal home? Of course puppies and kitties are cute, and it’s not the same type of life change as it would be to bring home a child with their own baggage. But why aren’t we even thinking about these kids? We are so eager to buy sweaters for our dogs and treat them as our “babies”, but we’re so blind to the kids who just need someone to hug them, and be someone’s baby. And that hurts my heart. It should hurt more hearts.

I’ll get off my soapbox, now. I’m starting to ramble, and I am not good at writing “arguments”. But this isn’t about getting people to change their views, it’s hoping that people will open their eyes and open their hearts. Do something. I know that not everyone feels called to bring an orphan into their home. You may not have any desire to foster or adopt a child. But you can still impact the lives of kids in dire straights. Volunteer at schools in your city. Be involved in an after school program. Get involved in the lives of kids around you. Remember that just because a kid is smiling, doesn’t mean their family life is stable. Do you know the names of your neighbors’ kids? Do they know who you are? Become someone they can trust. Be a friendly face. Once you start looking, the opportunities are endless.

One last thing- I am by no means saying that people should stop advocating for animals. But I think we need a culture shift. People first. People first.

¹ Source: AFCARS Report, No. 19

²Source: UNICEF and Childinfo

³Source: Fostering Connections

Learn more here. That’s what I did.

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