The Psychological Benefits Of Adopting A Stray Dog Or Cat

We are experiencing a plague in the United States. Unwanted and stray cats and dogs. I believe a great deal of this is due to lack of education.

Some cities and municipalities put a lot of funding behind spaying and neutering education. Many communities have no-kill shelters, and a lot of other good is being done. But more can be done. The amount of strays is epidemic in the U.S and does not seem to be getting better. We know better, most of us.

For every baby born in the U.S there are seven cats and dogs born.

A female cat and her offspring can (and usually does) produce 420,000 kittens within seven years.

One female dog and her offspring can produce 67,000 puppies in six years (and usually does).

As many as 25% of dogs entering shelters each year are purebreds.

Approximately 61% of all dogs are killed in animal shelters.

Approximately 75% of all cats entering shelters are killed.

It costs approximately $100 to capture, house, feed, and eventually kill each stray animal — a cost which you, the taxpayer, eventually pay.

Can you see the importance of becoming educated regarding spaying and neutering pets? The Doris Day Animal League has a wonderful program which can give you a great bit of important information.

I do not sit in judgment Though I owned pets all my life, I truly did not understand true pet care until I reached my adulthood. I only knew what my parents taught me which was very limited.

As a upper-middle class child, like other upper-middle class kids, my parents bought me “the dog du jour” or what was trendy from a recent movie. From Irish Setters to Golden Retrievers to Great Danes to Sheepdogs.

And only from the finest breeders.

There is nothing wrong with that. Those animals need homes as well, and I feel good about every animal I learned to take care of as a child (from wherever they derived).

As I matured, I understood owning and caring for an animal is more than “just looking good next to an exotic or popular breed”. It is about bonding, caring, and loving that animal and learning unconditional love from it.

I will give you an example. The Northridge earthquake in 1994 destroyed my home. I was forced to move into an apartment that didn’t allow dogs. I had a beautiful blonde golden retriever I was forced to give away.

I cried on and off for a month (even though Otis got a home in Malibu and was living better than me).

I moved back to my home state of Mississippi to take care of an ailing mom. As a writer, I knew this could put me in a vulnerable situation, but I also knew that my mom took care of me whenever I was ill and that was the right thing to do. And as I expected, writer’s block set in and I did not write for four years. That was okay. One learns some valuable lessons (much more important than writing) when caring for an ill parent. She was once an English teacher, in love with the English language, and, as goofy as it might seem, sometimes I feel her soul is guiding my own text. I have heard more than one writer or artist share the same sentiment; didn’t believe them at the time, now I do.

It was 1997. Some college friends from Newburyport, MA invited me up to relax and take a break from my loss. I went. They asked if I wanted to see a movie, and I said “sure, why not”. We drove to New Hampshire as they wanted to see a new Jack Nicholson movie “As Good As It Gets”. I enjoy his movies so figured I would at least be entertained, in spite of the depression and continued writers block I was experiencing.

If anyone has not seen the film, I strongly suggest it. Nicholson plays a crusty author with writer’s block who is a rude misogynist, homophobic man who seemed to just take up space and complain. His neighbor, played wonderfully by Greg Kinnear was a gay man with an effeminate poodle-looking dog, that only served to make Nicholson more homophobic and stereotyping his neighbor (for the dog). Suddenly Kinnear is violently attacked in a robbery and nobody is there to take care of the dog. Enter (hesitantly), Jack Nicholson.

As time goes by, he is walking the dog, taking care of it, and his paternal instincts have kicked in. His

“hidden” love for Helen Hunt, who played a waitress at a cafe at which he frequented blossomed.

Everything changes for Jack. Nicholson realizes he has learned unconditional love from this little dog while his wounded gay neighbor recovered.

By the end of the movie, he “won the girl”, befriended Kinnear, and it had a very happy and somewhat predictable ending, but, it was so well-acted and written, it swept the Academy that year.

I returned home to Mississippi to my small house, alone. I was a volunteer at an equestrian center owned by the University. I really was not a “horse-person” but enjoyed caring for them as always loved animals in general.

One day, a pack of three dogs showed up at the center. There had been a tornado that day, and they appeared to have been out in the elements for weeks. One seemed near-death and was frightened to death of humans. He barked at the omnipotent thunder so I named him “Thor”.

A veterinarian friend of mine told me she would take him home and bring him back to health if I would keep him, probably wouldn’t live long due to his trauma but could at least have a few happy months or years. I reluctantly agreed. By his teeth, she estimated his age to be around eight years old.

Fast forward twelve years. Thor is still with me and my shadow. I have written over 200 articles, essays, etc. since he’s been in my life. I have written and produced the largest cartoon site on the Internet. I have the unconditional love of a beautiful, sweet successful woman who I would never have given the time of day, or vice versa, had I not learned what I learned from Thor.

He is a mixed-breed, probably part bearded collie and something else, who knows. He’s very smart and wise reaching age 20. He is on the b.a.r.f diet (biologically appropriate raw foods) and does not eat dog food. Until this year, he had no vet bills for nearly 11 years. Now his heart is a bit weaker but he still has all his cognitive abilities and can be very puppyish. More on pet nutrition at

He’s just a stray. A 35 pound ball of fur that looks somewhere between Benji and a sheepdog.

I never knew a stray mutt “Thor” could be my inspiration, even after seeing the Nicholson movie, but he is.

I have taken in probably 20 stray dogs and cats since I’ve had Thor but found them all homes. Thor does not like to share his space with me, and at his age, he is the boss. I don’t want him feeling “replaced”.

I encourage you to run by the shelter and take a look at some of the gorgeous sweet animals desperate for a home. Most shelters are not no-kill so most of them are on death row. You can be a hero to them, and believe me the payback is a million times over.

Don’t believe me? Give it a try.

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Rick London

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