One thing you can stop doing today that will help save thousands of dogs and cats in shelters

By Julie Castle

One of the most beautiful things about the companion animals with whom we share our lives is their ability to bring out the best in us. Their unadulterated joy brightens our days, their zest for life renews our spirits, their unconditional love soothes our souls, and their vulnerability inspires our kindness. It’s no wonder that two-thirds of U.S. households share their homes with pets. All things considered, it’s hard to imagine what our world would be like without them.

Everybody deserves the opportunity to add that kind of joy and companionship to their lives. With 625,000 cats and dogs killed in shelters every year simply because they don’t have safe places to call home, we need more people adopting pets and we need more resources and safety nets for people trying to keep their pets. Which makes me wonder, why do so many supporters in our movement continue to say the one thing that flies in the face of all that?

For those of us working in animal shelters or working to provide lifesaving support for animal shelters, there is one comment that we continue to see posted on our social media pages and advocacy forums that makes us visibly cringe: “If you can’t afford a pet, you shouldn’t have one.” If this sentiment is still a part of your animal-loving repertoire, whether you’re doubting the merit of free pet adoptions or judging someone who can’t afford an unexpected $400 vet bill, it’s time to lose it.

Animal advocates are all cut from the same compassionate cloth. For those of us who work, volunteer and donate on behalf of pets in need, I often feel like we do so because it helps define our humanity. But here’s the thing: Somewhere along the way, part of the kindness that drives us to help pets has been corrupted in some people — to the point of not extending that same kindness to humans. And it’s time to make a course correction. Not doing so is hurting people and, quite frankly, killing the pets we’re working so hard to save.

The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified so many of the complex systemic issues we face in this country and exposed vulnerabilities in the areas of employment, food security, health care, education and transportation. So many of the things many of us have always taken for granted are bending and cracking under the weight of something beyond our personal control. For those who were already struggling and already pressed by systemic inequities, it’s even worse.

If we’re going to survive this global pandemic, we have to do it together. As much as I love apocalyptic dramas like The Walking Dead, I have zero desire for that to become a reality show. We’re all in this together. And understanding that simple fact is the only way anyone has ever accomplished anything that really matters, and that includes saving the lives of at-risk pets and creating no-kill shelters and communities.

We have some rough days ahead of us in this country. Expectations around the magnitude of the looming housing crisis are grim as protections like eviction bans, mortgage payment forgiveness, extra unemployment benefits and stimulus payments expire in the summer months. Coupled with the impossible task of keeping everyone safe and healthy while sending parents back to their work spaces and kids back to some amended version of school, this fall is going to hurt. This crisis won’t just be a human crisis. It will be a human and pet crisis.

Caring about animals means caring about people, and vice versa. In the coming months, you’re going to see lifesaving collaboration happening among human services and animal services as everyone pools their collective compassion, ingenuity and grit to protect and support people and pets. We need everyone on board for that.

We need fewer unhelpful comments on Facebook and more thoughtful voices with solutions. We need less judgment and more of that legendary kindness and generosity that animal lovers are known for. We need you. Fellow community members need you. The animals they share their lives with, and those they’re still hoping to adopt, need you.

Julie Castle


Best Friends Animal Society