The decision to add a pet to your family should not be taken lightly. It’s a big responsibility, one that could last as long as 15 to 20 years. But if you’re willing to do what it takes to care for your pet, you will be rewarded with its affection and loyalty.

If you’re thinking about getting a pet, consider adopting from a shelter or rescue. Nearly 4 milli on dogs and cats from shelters are euthanized in the United States each year because there just aren’t enough homes for them all. By adopting from a shelter instead of purchasing a pet, you can save a life while gaining a wonderful companion.

Here are some more reasons to adopt instead of buying:

• Many people buy from breeders because they want a purebred animal, but purebreds aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Due to the genetic similarities between parents, they are much more prone to a number of health problems than mixed breeds. However, if you’re adamant about getting a purebred, they can often be found in shelters. There are also breed-specific rescue groups that will help you adopt the breed you desire.

• If you buy from a pet store or online, you are likely to be supporting puppy or kitten mills. These operations breed animals without regard for their welfare, looking only to maximize their profits. The animals are often housed in terrible living conditions and do not receive proper medical care. That means that they are more susceptible to health and behavioral problems. Shelter animals on the other hand, are usually healthy. In addition to vaccinations, most shelters give each animal a thorough examination when it comes in and provide any needed medical care.

• Pet adoption is much less expensive than buying. Most shelters charge a very reasonable adoption fee in an effort to find homes for as many pets as possible. In many cases, vaccinations and spaying or neutering are included in the price. (However, it’s important to ask about this. If the pet is not spayed or neutered, you’ll need to have it done to avoid contributing to the overpopulation problem.)

• Animals found in shelters are usually past the puppy or kitten stage, but while many prospective pet owners desire a puppy or kitten, a young animal is much more demanding than an adult. Most shelter animals have already been litter trained or housebroken, and contrary to popular belief, most do not have major behavioral problems. In most cases, their owners simply didn’t have the time or patience to care for them and train them, so they were unfortunate enough to end up homeless.

When you adopt a pet, you’re providing a loving home for an animal that may have otherwise been needlessly killed just because someone did not give it the love and care it needed. You’re also helping combat the problem with pet overpopulation by not supporting puppy and kitten mills. But best of all, you will get a loving companion that will be forever grateful.

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