You can become a hero to a dog this month by celebrating the American Humane Association's Adopt-A-Dog Month, www.americanhumane.org, (click on No. 4).
Millions of dogs in shelters face an uncertain fate, and more join them each day. The recession is filling shelter kennels and cages with pets accustomed to snuggling on living room sofas and sleeping on beds.
There are simple things any of us can do to make a difference in these dogs' lives.
Top of the list, of course, is to adopt one of them. Companionship, better physical and emotional health, social interaction and devoted love are just a few of the big benefits of having a dog. Dogs encourage people to exercise, enhance family and social relationships, promote laughter and act as a nonjudgmental audience and sounding board.
But remember, adopting an animal is a big step, and one that will affect your lifestyle for many years.
Dogs can live 15 years or longer. Think about how old you will be 15 to 18 years from now if you decide to adopt a puppy. Also, think about whether you're prepared to go the distance with a new pet. Most people don't live in the same place for 15 years, and moving with a pet can introduce complications. The time to think about such problems is before you adopt.
Fido will affect your finances, too. Consider the expenses a new dog will incur and commit to providing financially for the care of a new pet. Feeding, veterinary care, boarding, grooming and toys can add up to a first year total of $800 to $1,600, according to a pet care costs analysis by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Nobody's perfect, but the American Humane Association can help you decide whether you could be the "perfect dog owner."
You may be the perfect dog owner if you:
• Think caring for a dog for 15 years does not seem like a lifetime;
• Look forward to big, wet kisses when you come home each day;
• Like sharing your house with someone who sheds, tracks dirt occasionally and possibly drools;
• Don't mind sharing your house with a roomie who doesn't clean up after itself;
• Want to take care of someone every day;
• Don't mind spending money on pet food, toys, veterinary care, chew toys and more;
• Want someone to adore you even on a bad-hair day;
• Think spaying and neutering pets will help solve the pet overpopulation problem;
• Can't imagine leaving your devoted pet behind when you move;
• Want to keep an ID tag and microchip on your pets so they can always get back to you no matter what;
• Enjoy unconditional love and constant companionship.
If you decide to adopt your first dog, or it's been years since you parented a pooch, visit the AHA's web site to find out how to get properly equipped for canine companionship.
If you aren't ready to adopt, but still want to make a difference for homeless dogs, here are other ways to celebrate Adopt-A-Dog Month:
• Spay or neuter your pup. It's the best way to prevent more animals from enduring difficult, unhappy lives. Spayed and neutered animals have been shown to lead longer, healthier lives and tend to avoid behavioral problems.
• ID your pet. A tag, microchip or both will reduce the possibility that your pet will become one of the presumably "homeless" dogs at your local shelter. Only 15 to 20 percent of dogs who enter a shelter are reunited with their owners. Make sure your dog is one of the happy few by outfitting him with proper identification.
• Donate to your local shelter. Show the dogs at your local shelter or rescue group that you care by giving a donation. It can be money, volunteer time or supplies. Call to see what's needed. Even the smallest donation can make a difference.