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.



Things Our Animals Would Like You To Know

Spring is the start of our busiest season here at the shelter. We start getting kittens, surrenders increase as people move, and the warm weather sees more cases of animals abandoned on the streets. As our residence rates increase here at the shelter though, so does visitation. More people start coming in, and more often. Families who had decided to wait until summer vacation to get a pet start coming in to look at what’s available and people considering a dog see the warmer season as a great time to take action, when “walking the dog” is especially pleasant. So what does that mean for those of us who work for the animals here at the shelter? It mean it’s time to share our top tips for visiting the shelter so that both visitors and animals have the best experience possible. Well, not just OURS…we asked the animals too!

Bartholomew from the Cat Adoption Room would like you to please pay attention to animal body language when you visit. If a cat hides under the bed or moves away from you he may not be in the mood to cuddle. If a cat flattens his ears, hisses or swats than he is scared and wants you to give him space, not move closer. The cat rooms can have tens of visitors a day and that can be overwhelming, especially towards the end of the day.

Shelter Human’s Perspective: If a cat indicates that he’s not interested and you keep pressing he may bite out of fear. If a cat bites a human, even if it’s because he was provoked, we have to remove the cat from the adoption floor for a 10 day mandatory hold. That’s a State of Massachusetts regulation. So in some scenarios a human’s bad action can cost an animal it’s ability to be adopted for 10 days. PLEASE pay attention to a cat’s body language!!

Lola in the Dog Adoption Room would like you to only ask to see an animal if you’re serious about adopting. If you take an animal out “just to play” or “just to look” she won’t understand and then she can get super stressed when we have to put her back in the kennel. That stress will manifest as anything from excessive barking to jumping, or unruly behavior. She can also get tired after being taken out several times and it will change the way she interacts with another family, who may actually be interested in adoption.

Shelter Human’s Perspective: We want our animals to present their most accurate personality and it may not seem like you’re 20 minute walk or play time will alter that but trust us, it does. Especially if 5 people all want to see the cute dog without being serious about adopting and then a 6th person comes in who’s actually interested the dog may be too tired to play, too “done” with people to be friendly, or even so stressed that she acts out. This might cost her the right forever family because when they arrived she wasn’t presenting her most accurate self.

15 year old Zestey from the Cat Lounge would like to remind you to please NEVER scruff an animal in the shelter. (Scruffing is picking up an animal by the skin at the base of the neck.)

Shelter Human’s Perspective: The cats in our care may have medical issues that visitors know nothing about. An older cat may have arthritis, for example, and scruffing her could cause serious pain or even damage! If you scruff her, hurt her, and she bites you out of pain or fear, she’s the one who gets taken off the adoption floor and put on the mandatory 10-day hold. Scruffing a rabbit or guinea pig can actually break their backbone and even kill them.

Kyler and Karliah the love birds would like you to know that bonded animals have to go home together. We cannot separate them no matter how much a person only wants one.

Shelter Human’s Perspective: Nothing to add here, it’s just how it is.

Greta the bunny in the Smalls Room would like you to know that your fingers look like carrots to small animals and hot dog pieces to cats and dogs so if you stick your fingers in the cages you may get nibbled.

Shelter Human’s Perspective: Just don’t do it! We tell people all day long not to stick their fingers in the cages but they still do and remember, if a person gets bitten, even if it’s because they broke the rules and stuck their fingers in a cage, the animal is the one who may be penalized with a 10 day hold.

Mamas in the Cat Lounge would like to remind you to sanitize your hands in between animal interactions.

Shelter Human’s Perspective: You know how quickly a cold can spread in an office or school? Things can spread just that quickly in an animal shelter. That’s why we put such a premium on cleanliness at the APCSM and why you’ll see hand sanitizer in every room. Please use it!


Boo in the Dog Adoption room would like you to know that if you yell at him to stop barking he’s going to think you’re talking back to him and just bark more. In fact if you yell at a dog to do just about anything in that room, surrounded by other excited barking dogs, he’s going to think you want to have a barking contest and get really excited about it.

Shelter Human’s Perspective: The Dog Adoption room is a room full of dogs who are super excited to see people, any people, and they’re going to voice that by barking and running and jumping in their small space. To get a true feel for an animal’s personality you should pay attention to Broski…

Broski in the Smalls Room would like you to talk to shelter staff about the type of animal personality you’re looking for and your lifestyle to see if they can point you in the right direction of a match.

Shelter Human’s Perspective: We spend a lot of time with the animals in our care and so we know who needs a super active family, who would be good with kids, and who special needs that need to be considered. Come talk to us about what your looking for or ask questions about an animal you’re interested before you ask to take it out of the cage. It can save you both stress if it turns out not to be a match and might even pair you up with a great pet that you hadn’t considered.

If you have questions about a rule or policy that the shelter has we’d love for you to ask us about it. There’s always a reason we have a specific policy, whether it’s something we’ve learned from years of experience in shelter work or something we decided to implement after an incident. At the end of the day we work for the animals in our care and their health and safety is our top priority.

6 Simple Ways To Exercise With Your Dog (& Benefits)

This week Guest Blogger Sarah Zyan from has written a post for us about getting fit with your fur baby in time for summer!


You finally decided: you’re going to start exercising with your dog! Hooray for the good decision! Whether you are the proud parent of a Poodle or a Boxador, you know a good daily workout session is necessary for your best friend’s health (and yours as well). No dog (or human, for that matter) wants to be overweight, or obese. Obesity leads to heart disease in dogs as well as other dangerous conditions such as cancer, arthritis, or even diabetes. So, to keep yourself and your dog healthy, follow these simple steps.

Believe us, you’ll thank us later!

Hike with your dog

Hikes are fun! Really! A good thing to do during a weekend morning is to go hiking with your best friend. Not only does it build good stamina, it also reinforces your dog’s relationship with nature (and yours as well). There is nothing better than some fresh air on a Sunday morning, with beautiful landscapes, and your four-pawed friend!

Go for a jog

If you’re not used to running, start with a 30-minute walk, then go from there. After a few tries, you will be able to jog with your dog for 10 minutes straight without breaking a sweat (or losing a lung, like some of us often do).

Dogs also build habits easily, which means once they get used to your routine morning jog, there will be no way for you to get away from it, which works as a great motivator. But, be careful when it’s too hot or humid outside. Since dogs do not sweat like us humans, you’ll have to go jogging during the perfect moment of the day, which is either early morning or late evening, when the weather is coolest.

Bike with your dog

If you’re not into jogging or hiking, and would rather ride a bicycle, then don’t worry, that is also a great exercise for dogs and humans alike. If you have a dog that has waaay too much energy, biking is actually the perfect solution, since he’ll try to keep up with your pedaling and will be happy about it.

This exercise will not only help you build crazy leg muscles, it will also change your dog’s behavior. If your dog is aggressive or twitchy, then he probably needs more workout, since aerobic exercise stimulate the production of serotonin in the brain, which relaxes dogs.

Go swimming

It is a known fact that dogs absolutely love water. So, why not take advantage of that? Take your dog to the beach or a pet-friendly swimming pool and swim together. Swimming is especially good for dogs (and humans) with joint problems, since it’s a low pact aerobic exercise. It also uses all the muscles of the body, which makes it perfect for both of you.

Play catch with your dog

And don’t just stand there when your dog goes to catch the ball. Instead, race him to it, this way, you’ll both be exercising. Dogs can also play soccer (yes, you’ve read it right, soccer), so don’t hesitate to purchase a soccer ball made especially for dogs (which is resistant to sharp teeth) and have some dribbles with your best friend!

Go to a dog park

Well, that’s mostly for your dog’s health. Dogs are friendly, social creatures, and they love nothing more than to play with others of their species. So, don’t deny your dog that pleasure, and take him to the dog park. There, he’ll get to make new canine friends and play with them, which is, naturally, exercise. It’s also good for your dog’s social skills, so there’s that!


You have to remember that exercise is not the only way to keep your dog healthy. Cutting back on treats is one way you can do that too or moving to healthier treats (such as some fruits and vegetables, yes yes, dogs can eat those too). You can also choose to change your dog’s diet by changing his food brand to something healthier and less caloric, such as Whole Earth Farms.

And, don’t forget, a happy dog is a dog who receives love, attention, and care from his owner. Your dog considers you his best friend, and will always be loyal to you, no matter what. His love in unconditional, and so should yours be.


Are You Sure That’s A Stray? A Handy Guide For Not Accidentally Scooping Up And Surrendering Someone’s Indoor/Outdoor Cat

A sure sign of spring here at the Animal Protection Center is the uptick in people bringing us stray cats and kittens that have been hanging around their yard, street, or neighborhood. These animals have been hunkering down all winter so when they start to emerge with the warm weather and make babies, good citizens from all over Southeastern Massachusetts bring them to us for socialization, care, and adoption into loving homes. 90% of the time this is an awesome thing and we are profoundly grateful for people who care enough about those animals to get them to safety here in the shelter. Sometimes though a sad thing happens: a good Samaritan brings us an animal and we say hmmmmm, we don’t think that’s a stray. We think that might be someone’s indoor/outdoor cat.

First of all let me be clear: here at the APCSM we are big advocates of keeping your pet cats inside. Indoor cats are protected from disease, encounters with coyotes, eating poisonous plants or other found items, and all sorts of other troubles. Indoor cats live longer, safer lives overall than their indoor/outdoor counterparts. That being said we’re not naive, we know that there are a lot of people who let their cats out to roam. We’re not going to judge those people here but we will encourage them to let their neighbors know that they do this so that those neighbors don’t bring their cat to the shelter thinking it’s a friendly stray or abandoned pet.

If you do have a cat visiting your yard or neighborhood though and you think you should bring it to the shelter please do this first:

1. Ask around to see if anyone recognizes the cat or knows where it lives. Take a photo of the cat and share it on your Facebook/Twitter feed to see if anyone comments, “Hey! That’s Fluffy, my indoor/outdoor cat!  If this cat is super friendly try putting a break-away collar on her with a note saying, “Do I belong to someone?” This has worked several times and we can even provide you with a collar if you stop by.

2. Look the cat over. Is it dirty? Injured? Coughing? Does it appear to have fleas or mites that would indicate it’s been living rough?  Does it seem wary or scared around people? If any of these are present please do not attempt to catch the cat yourself! Call your local animal control. They will catch the cat safely.  We work closely with several animal control offices so there’s a good chance it will end up here anyway.  However, a cat that lives somewhere will often have a clean, glossy coat, be very friendly, or have clipped claws.

3. Does it visit at a specific time every day?  Some people let their cats out when they go to work in the morning and then back in in the evening.  Some people let their cats out every afternoon when they get home.  If the cat is visiting you at a specific time every day it might be on a schedule because it lives somewhere.  Also, just because it’s begging for food doesn’t mean it’s hungry, she may just be playing you for extra food.  Cats are like that.  Note: we know she’s cute but if you feed her the cat will just keep coming back.

4. Is it pregnant? If an owned cat turns up pregnant the owner will almost always stop letting it out.  If you think a  pregnant cat is hanging around your yard give us a call. If she’s already had her babies the most important thing is to keep the nursing momma and the babies together.  DO NOT separate the kittens from the momma, they could die.  Again, call with questions on this one!

Please always err on the side of caution when dealing with a cat who’s medical history you don’t know.  If you feel unsafe or like you might be scratched or bitten DO NOT try to handle the cat.  Call your local animal control and ask for help.

If you’ve read this far and you’re still not sure what to do call us or try our helpful resources page.

Why We Can’t “Hold” Animals

Around 5:30 last evening my email pinged with a message from Google: we had gotten a 1-star review. Ouch! I always go in and read those in order to see what went wrong and determine whether we needed to recommend a different approach for our staff, volunteers, or even in the way we treat the animals. I quickly determined that this review fell into the category of the majority of our bad reviews, it was about our not “holding” an animal for the family. Those reviews go something like this:

I brought my family into the shelter and we fell in love with (animal name). Unfortunately, (family member) wasn’t with us so we couldn’t adopt but when we came back with (family member) the next day (animal) was gone. Now my family is heartbroken and I am frustrated and angry. The shelter knew we were interested, why couldn’t they work with us?

Here’s why. We love that you were so interested in that animal that you came back because in the majority of cases the family never does. They come in and fall in love with an animal and tell us that they will be back the next day with their family member to adopt. Then something happens. It could be that mom absolutely doesn’t want another cat, that dad found a dog at a breeder’s that is better for the family, that they didn’t realize that the guinea pig enclosure, toys, and accessories were so expensive, or even that they discovered that their homeowner’s association doesn’t allow dogs of a certain breed or size. Honestly, it doesn’t matter though because the point is that the majority of them never come back and, what’s worse, they never tell us they’re not coming back. That’s why we don’t hold animals. We cannot take away an animal’s chance to be adopted while we wait and hope that an interested family will come back. That’s not in the best interest of the animal. We do want to work with you though, so here’s what we advise.

First, if you seriously want to adopt an animal, have all your ducks in a row before you come. That means every person living in the house needs to be present. You should call up your vet and let him/her know that the shelter might be calling for a reference. If you don’t have a vet, that’s OK, we can recommend one. If you rent either make the same call to your landlord or get something in writing that says you can have a pet. Check with your homeowner’s association about breed/size restrictions. You still may not be able to take the animal home that day (it might need to be spayed/neutered for example) but we can finalize the adoption.

Second, if you are planning on incorporating this new animal with one already living at the house call us ahead of time about setting up a meet and greet. That means that we arrange a space where your current animal and the prospective new animal can meet in a safe and supervised way to see if they have compatible personalities. We do this most often for dogs but have done it for cats and even guinea pigs too so call us ahead of time and we can talk to you about it.

Third, do your research. I decided to get a fish once, thought it would be a fun and easy pet. Wanted one of the pretty tropical ones so I went to PetCo and came out $150 dollars later with the tank, the filter, and a bunch of other stuff I hadn’t prepared for because I was young and didn’t do my research. Guinea pigs need enclosures, cats like to climb. Birds need stimulation in their cages, dogs misbehave if they get bored so they need toys and opportunities to be active. Know how much a pet is likely to cost you and what it needs before you fall in love, it could save you trouble later.

Finally, don’t get discouraged if you don’t find your match right away. Check our website frequently and even call us about whether we have what you’re looking for. Also, the more open you are, the more likely we’ll have something for you. The family looking for a “smallish” dog might find a match far sooner than the family who’s only looking for a purebred Chihuahua (we almost never get those, by the way).

Our responsibility is to do the best we can for the animals in our care. That doesn’t mean we don’t want to work with you but ultimately, we work for them.