Keeping An Open Mind (or: How Aesthetics Can Lead You To The Wrong Pet)

Aesthetics: Appreciation of the beautiful; pleasing in appearance

Anyone who has decided to adopt a pet has had their own personal pet fantasy. Their perfect mental image of pet ownership. For Mary it was hiking Eagle Lake in Acadia National Park with her rescue Golden Retriever. Her pet, a shelter dog of course, walks easily on his leash and is friendly to all of the other dogs they meet. He even knows how to shake. John’s mental picture is sitting on his couch at night watching TV with a big fluffy orange cat on his lap, purring and giving head rubs. He even has a name for the cat: Seamus. After dreaming about their pets for what seems like forever they each go to the shelter.

Mary goes into the dog room and by some miracle there’s a purebred Golden Retriever (seriously folks, this NEVER happens). He’s 8 years old and came to the shelter because the family got a new puppy and the older dog became aggressive towards it. He is labeled as a senior and dog-reactive. In the kennel next door there’s a 4 year old pit bull mix named Boo who came to the shelter all the way back in February.  He is trained and knows sit and shake.  He is labeled as energetic and potentially older child/animal friendly.

When John goes to the shelter he’s immediately drawn to Harry, a 1 year old long haired orange boy cat. Harry is here because his family didn’t have time for him and he was getting destructive out of boredom. He likes to run and chase things, play with toys, and his family described him as “non-stop.” On the other side of the room is Apple, a 5 year old, short haired gray and white girl cat. Apple is a cuddly lap cat who enjoys being with people and being a couch potato. She came in when her owner, an older lady, went into a nursing home.

Who do you think John and Mary should consider?

Each of these soon to be pet parents is imagining 2 different things when they fantasize about their pet: the aesthetics and the personality. For Mary the aesthetics are easy: male Golden Retriever. John is a little more specific: large, orange, fluffy, boy cat. Personality-wise they’re pretty straight forward as well. Mary wants a trainable dog who is friendly with other dogs and energetic enough to like hiking. John wants a lovey lap cat. There’s nothing wrong with any of that – in fact we want people to think hard about what they’re looking for in a pet – but shelters aren’t breeders. We don’t have custom designs and if a potential adopter comes in with an overly-specific list of wants they may miss out on a great fit. Or even worse, sometimes people commit to the aesthetics over personality.

Based on what we see at the shelter every day Mary is far more likely to ask to walk and meet the Golden Retriever and then leave alone without ever even considering the pit bull. Why would she, a Golden is what she sees in her mind. John? He might actually adopt Harry and take him home, only to be disappointed that the cat doesn’t cuddle. He may even tell people that “there were no lap cats when I went to the shelter.” And the worst part? He could end up bringing Harry back.

We’re not saying that the aesthetics aren’t important, that’s part of the reason that Golden Retriever specific rescue groups exist after all. We’re saying that sometimes the aesthetics a person is looking for can blind them to the perfect pet right in front of them. We would encouraging potential adopters to really think about what the most important attributes are for them. Talk to shelter staff about what they’re looking for, and keep an open mind when you arrive at the shelter.  And as for Boo and Apple, they’re both her at the shelter, waiting for their perfect matches.  No matter what you look like.



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