By: Meghan Holland
Lindsey Spruell, a social work junior at West Texas A&M University, said having a pet helped her get out of a low point in her life.
“I felt like I needed something to be there for me,” she said. “I was just really lonely and sad, and then I adopted Bear, and he helped.”
Bear is a dog that she adopted from an animal shelter in Amarillo, Texas last year. Spruell said she had been thinking about adopting a dog for a while, and after she got out of class one day, she decided to just go and do it.
Spruell said she remembers how the Facetime call went when she told her parents that she had adopted Bear. She said they were not very happy at first.
“My dad was so dramatic. He was like, ‘You're never coming here ever again.’ And guess what? Now he loves this dog,” she said.
Spruell said Bear has become her best friend.
“No matter what happens with me and someone else,” she said, “I'll always have my dog around. And it's just really comforting.”
For many people, pets bring a sense of comfort and joy that only an animal can give. According to the 2019-2020 Animal Pet Products Association National Pet Owners Survey, 67% of households in the United States own a pet, which translates to about 84.9 million homes.
Spruell said she takes her dog everywhere with her. She said she lets him lean his head out of the window while she drives, and the two of them have a favorite song that they listen to. She said she even takes him hiking and camping.
“I took him to go camping in Colorado on the sand dunes,” Spruell said. “That's probably the best memory because he was off the leash, and he was just having fun.”
In addition to Bear, Spruell recently rescued a cat from a car repair shop. She named him Midnight, and she said the two animals are now best friends.
“I rescued the cat from a car place,” Spruell said, “Which sounds weird, but they were working on my car, and they were hitting the cat with the tools. And he was a kitten, like really, really small, so I just took him.”
Midnight, she said, is more of a troublemaker who has an attitude, but she said he also can be really sweet. Spruell said she does not understand her cat but loves him anyway.
Steven Greene, the director of Animal Services at the Lubbock Animal Shelter & Adoption Center, said he thinks many people choose to adopt or rescue animals because the animals are in more need of help than those that are born in a mill or are breeded out.
“Many of (the animals) come in from the streets, and they're unwanted or neglected,” Greene said. “You feel better helping that animal that may not have otherwise had a good option.”
Greene said he grew up around animals but then was away from them for most of his adult life. He said he wanted to do something different after leading various careers such as working for the city, and he saw an opening. He applied as the field operations officer for the shelter.
“Our adoption numbers have changed tremendously in the seven years I've been here,” he said. “When I started, we were more of a high kill, low adoption type of operation. And we have completely changed that around where we have had a 96% or higher save rate the last four or five straight months, and over 90% over the last 24 months.”
The shelter has had to change their operations in accordance with city and state mandates due to COVID-19.
Greene said Megan Schroll, the assistant director of Animal Services, is the “adoption expert” for the shelter.
“We have been doing appointments every day for an hour,” Schroll said. “People can come to the shelter, and they wait outside, and we go and find their perfect dog for them. We ask them a few questions, and make sure it'd be a good fit for their family (and) for their lifestyle.”
The shelter has also incorporated special events, such as what they call the “Doggy Drive-Thru.”
“People can just drive up and find a dog, and that's been super successful. We've had 25 adoptions in three hours, and that was our highest one that we had, and we're having another one this week,” Schroll said.
The shelter had about 180 pet adoptions in the month of April, which is lower than normal, but considering that no one can come in the building, Greene said it was amazing.
Schroll said that shelter animals take about a month to acclimate to home life with the new routine and training. Schroll said she encourages people to be more adamant about giving their new shelter pet time and giving them a better chance of life.
“People really need to see past getting a purebred dog or something close to that, because any dog makes a good dog through training and TLC,” she said. “It's just really important to keep your options open and make sure you know that they're well taken care of afterwards. A lot of the shelter dogs are not potty trained when they leave, but it really just is a matter of time.”
Brett Beitlich, the growth and outreach liaison at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, Idaho, said he recommends researching the animal before adopting it so the pet owner will know what to expect.
Beitlich said it took some time to train his two dogs, Hanna and Maddox, because he rescued them off the streets in Guam while he was in the military. Maddox was just a puppy when he rescued her.
“Guam had a bunch of stray animals, and the towns were overrun,” he said.
Beitlich said that because they came from the streets, the dogs often got into the trash can when they were hungry. It was habitual for them to search the trash for food. He said they have since adjusted to the training, and he also said that a pet owner needs to be able to devote the time and commitment to helping their animals.
“They rely on you,” Beitlich said.
When Beitlich came back to the United States, he brought his two dogs with him. He said Hanna and Maddox “have traveled more than some people get to travel in their entire lives.”
He said there is no way to measure what it means to be a pet owner. He can be having a bad day, but his dogs make it better.
Spruell shares that feeling. “What’s not good about having animals?” she said.
(authors note: this story was written for J310F at the University of Texas at Austin)
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