Want a puppy or kitty? How about a pig?
Prospective pet owners may want to keep an open mind when they head to an animal shelter or rescue organization. Beyond cats and dogs, the adoption options range from parrots to parakeets, and from guinea pigs to the farm variety of porkers with names like Bentley, Curley, Olive, and Dunkin.
“You name it, we shelter them,” said Rob Halpin, spokesman for the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which has adoption centers in Methuen, Cape Cod, and Boston. “We actually get more rabbits than puppies.”
Placing all those critters can be tricky, though, with some animals finding it much harder to get adopted. Pit bulls, dogs with health problems, behavior-challenged dogs, senior cats, roosters, and horses are among those that wait the longest to be adopted, shelter officials said.
At the MSPCA’s Nevins Farm in Methuen, for example, between 60 and 80 roosters live in the “bachelors’ pad” at any time, staying for about a year on average, according to Mike Keiley, director of the adoption center there.
He said there are 48 horses on the farm and in foster homes, and it’s not uncommon for them to be there two to three years before they are “re-homed.”
And he’s seeing a “big influx” in formerly indoor pet pigs -- especially “micro pigs,” which often are piglets before their growth spurt -- that are equally difficult to place.
While pigs are dog-like, personable, and can be housebroken -- hence their appeal -- they also have some natural behaviors that don’t make them very good roommates, Keiley said.
“They have a really strong sense of smell and use it to root into the earth to find nuggets of deliciousness. In a home they will pull up flooring, rip up cabinets,” he said. As a result, it can take a year or longer to find a pig a new home, he said.
By contrast, it took only a few hours to find a home for two Madagascar hissing cockroaches that arrived at the farm earlier this year, from someone who bought them at a pet store and had second thoughts. “Believe it or not, they are a pretty popular pet,” Keiley said.
The state doesn’t keep records of how many animals, or what kind, go through Massachusetts shelters and rescue organizations each year. But reports from the individual groups add up to big numbers.
For example, between July 2015 and July 2016, the MSPCA took in nearly 8,000 animals, according to Halpin. Ninety percent of the animals were adopted -- up from about a 20 percent adoption rate 30 years ago, he said.
The latest total included 4,180 cats, 1,788 dogs, 981 “small animals” such as rats, mice, ferrets, and gerbils, 487 rabbits, and 495 birds, he said.
About a quarter of the dogs were pit bulls, a breed that is still often a hard sell despite the MSPCA and other organizations’ efforts that include celebrating “Pit Bull Awareness Month” every October.
Noreen Ford of Framingham has been working for the past 15 years to make people appreciate pit bulls and to find them homes through the nonprofit PittieLove Rescue. She said her group averages a little more than 100 pit bull adoptions a year.
Ford got involved after a pit bull escaped from an abusive owner and ended up at her door. She had two dogs already and didn’t plan on adopting another, but when she called shelters, none wanted a pit bull because of the breed’s reputation for aggressiveness.
“It was discrimination,” she said. “That’s when I made it my mission to change people’s minds about pit bulls.”
She contends that rather than being naturally aggressive, the breed is “loving and attentive and really highly trainable -- and that also makes them good for bad people, because they want to please people.”
Ford has two pit bulls now: 4-year-old Cassidy and a puppy named Kisses that was part of a litter named for candies since, she said, “we try to give our dogs soft names.”
Ann Lambertus of Lexington is devoted to the adoption of another often-maligned breed: coonhounds.
She’d owned and showed basenjis and was looking for a bigger hound when she discovered coonhounds. She found that while there were few available locally, thousands of the floppy-eared hunting dogs were being euthanized in rural shelters down South.
“They’re working dogs down there, not pets,” she said.
Lambertus founded the Northeast Coonhound Rescue in 2010, and said she’s placed about 550 dogs since then, with about 99 percent of them coming from the South, especially Virginia and Tennessee. The animals arrive weekly in special dog transports that are licensed by the state -- which reports about 15,000 dogs of all kinds coming into the state annually, mostly from the southeastern states.
Lambertus said most of her dogs, which stay in foster homes, are adopted within a few weeks, although about one in 10 come back because of problems -- despite pre-adoption vetting and home visits.
“Containment is the one challenge” with coonhounds, she said. “They can’t be allowed off leash because they were bred to go off and run and hunt.”
Finding the best match for any animal and new owner is the biggest challenge for shelters, according to Ashley Davis, director of animal care for the Scituate Animal Shelter, which placed 440 animals in 2015.
Like most shelters, the Scituate one asks prospective adopters to fill out a matchmaker survey, describing their home situation and what they’re looking for in a pet. And the shelter checks with landlords to make sure an animal is allowed.
The shelter also does a behavior evaluation of every new dog it gets, testing for such things as degree of protectiveness toward food and toys, stranger anxiety, and problematic behavior around children and other dogs.
The tests include sticking a plastic hand on a stick into a bowl of food while the dog is eating, and seeing how the animal reacts to a toddler-size doll “walking toward it,” or to a person dressed in a long coat, hat, and sunglasses pounding on a door.
Davis said adoptions aren’t finalized until the animal has been home a week, and even after then it’s always welcome back.
“We’re not looking to get [animals] out as soon as possible,” Davis said. “We want to be sure there’s a good match.”