When I was younger, I became fixated with the idea of buying a purebred pug. It was all I wanted, and I began saving up the $1200 it would cost to purchase one from a breeder. As one of my money-making initiatives, I started babysitting for a woman who volunteered as a foster parent for shelter dogs.
That’s when everything changed, and I decided to get a rescue dog instead. Here are just a few of the ways this choice ultimately made me a better person.
While I’m fortunate enough to live in an area that only has no-kill shelters, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I potentially saved a life. Sure, my CJ wouldn’t have been put down if he hadn’t been adopted, but I always wonder what would have become of him. Would he have been in that shelter for years? Would he end up with a family that didn’t love him the way I do?
There’s also the consideration that the donation made to adopt CJ not only covered his costs but also probably went toward saving other misplaced dogs. The awareness generated from adopting animals and encouraging others to do the same creates a pay-it-forward effect that helps many pets find their forever home.
Knowing that you saved a living creature is a powerful feeling. During his time roaming the streets after being abandoned by his previous owner, CJ could have fallen ill, got hitten by a vehicle, or met his demise in any number of ways. Instead, he’s laying on my bed as I write this, comfortable, safe, and more than a little spoiled.
While I was fortunate enough to be raised in a household in which I shared in the responsibility of caring for my younger siblings, adopting my rescue dog was the first time I was the primary caregiver of someone who needed to be fed, watered, and walked every day. It was a big change. It meant no more sleeping in, ensuring that I was home at a reasonable hour to let CJ out, and allocating money to pay for his food and trips to the vet.
In other words, rescuing a dog set me up with a sense of responsibility at a young age that would carry through to my post-secondary education and career.
As any pet owner would argue, the best part about owning a dog is the feeling that you are loved unconditionally. As someone with a history of anxiety and depression, this feeling taught me not only that I was worthy of love, but also how to love in return.
A 2007 meta-analysis of studies on how interacting with animals impacts depression showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms among those who partook in animal-assisted activities or animal-assisted therapy. Harvard has even released a special report called “Get Healthy, Get a Dog” that outlines how owning a dog can reduce stress and prevent social isolation in those who suffer from mental health issues and physical limitations.
Unconditional love is extremely powerful. It’s what drives me to get up to take CJ out for a walk when I feel weighed down by the world. It’s what makes me laugh after a hard day at work when CJ gets stuck in a paper bag. It’s what drives me to do ridiculous things to celebrate his existence, like getting this dog portrait from Instapainting and a pet staircase for the foot of my bed.
Rescuing a dog has made me more conscientious of animal rights and the planet at large. When you consider the fact that 6.5 million animals end up in shelters each year in the United States, it raises a lot of questions and awareness about how humans treat the earth as something disposable.
Since rescuing a dog, I’ve become more conscientious of how I treat animals and the natural environment. I’ll pick up someone else’s litter, donate time and money to more causes, and make small efforts to make a difference.
I know that someday CJ won’t be around. While I dread that day, here’s what I’ll use for comfort when the time comes: I provided love to a creature that had no home or family, and in doing so, it opened my mind to the idea that one person can make a difference and that love transcends words and can be conveyed through action. That knowledge alone has made me a better person.