Pets may be the great equalizer of mankind. It seems no matter where you live nor what culture or station in life, people naturally gravitate toward a loving companion. Sometimes they’ll have four legs, other times two wings or maybe they live in water. Throughout all social strata, race and ethnicity, most everyone loves to care for a pet and the majority of people will go to great lengths to ensure their animal’s comfort and well being.

We’ve witnessed in the media during the past decade fervent pleas to adopt a shelter pet. These abandoned kitties and tabbies, mutts and pugs are at the center of a current nationwide campaign by many animal-care organizations to who want to secure for them a permanent, loving home.

The Palmdale City Library recently partnered with Halfway to Home Dog Rescue to host a pet adoption event. The city of Lancaster will do its part in October to raise awareness of shelter pets—and pet care in general—with its annual Bark at the Park showcase at Lancaster City Park. Despite the busy lifestyle of today’s “multi-tasking” world, officials in both cities want more people to consider adopting and caring for a four-legged friend.

Halfway to Home Dog Rescue is a not-for-profit group that has saved more than 3,000 animals. Operated in conjunction with PetSmart store in Palmdale, their mission is to rescue, provide needed shots and medical attention and offer a safe and temporary home to dogs and cats who need what they call a “Forever Home.” Halfway to Home also provides spay and neuter services while promoting responsible pet ownership through its policies and education process. This, in turn, encourages pet owners to know the best practices for keeping animals content. The two-day Bark at the Park event this fall in Lancaster will bring together families and their pets for treats and fun—including performances by the American Diving Dogs, and a group of delightful pooches with a penchant for catching Frisbees. The event will serve as a collection point for blankets, food, pet toys and other essentials for donation to the Los Angeles County Animal Shelter in Lancaster.

Animal shelters have a large selection of animals looking for new homes. These animals may include dogs, cats, birds and even horses and livestock. You may not have to spend hundreds of dollars to acquire a pet. Shelters have a variety of young and middle-aged animals available who have had their vaccinations, have been fed and boarded well and the majority are in excellent physical and mental condition. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that anywhere from 6-8 million pets end up in shelters each year, but only half will get adopted. About one-fourth of these pets are purebreds.

Shelter pets are a bargain

Most pets end up homeless through no fault of their own. “Moving” and “landlord” issues are generally the top reasons people abandon their pets, meaning that shelters and rescue centers are full of family-ready friends. These pets typically cost less than pets purchased—or even acquired as a gift—when you consider the cost of vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery, microchips, de-worming and other “extras” included in the adoption fee.

Most shelters and rescue groups conduct thorough behavioral analysis of each pet to ensure that they will be the right fit for a family. This can dramatically improve the chances a new pet will fit in right away. Also, shelters and rescue groups can provide the best advice on forming a rewarding and compatible relationship with a new pet.

The Shelter Pet Project is operated by the HSUS and Maddie’s Fund (a non-profit seeking an end to pet euthanization) in collaboration with the Ad Council which has produced the many television and radio public service announcements over the past decade advocating pet adoptions. The goal of the campaign is to make shelters the first place potential adopters turn to when looking for a new pet, and to ensure that all healthy and treatable pets find a loving home. The HSUS has, for 60 years, advocated protection of all animals via education and hands-on programs; its primary mission is to prevent cruelty to animals before it happens.

The local campaign has been working. According to HSUS research spanning from the late 1980s to 2012, the number of dogs and cats euthanized every year has gone down. But annually there are still about 2.7 million healthy dogs, cats and other domestic pets in shelters who are not adopted. The American Pet Products Association (APPA) estimated in 2012 that 62 percent of American households had at least one pet, representing some 164 million owned pets. Cats are the nation’s most popular pet, totaling 95.6 million by 2012 according to the APPA. Dogs come in second at 83.3 million.

“The Animal Care Foundation’s goal is to improve shelter conditions for homeless animals and to educate staff and the general public about responsible pet care and ownership,” said John Gonzales, president of the Los Angeles County Animal Care Foundation. “Through our combined efforts with programs like ‘Faithful Friends,’ ‘Noah’s Legacy,’ ‘Dreams Come True’ and ‘Grooming Gives Hope,’ we are committed to providing our support and financial assistance to the six County of Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control shelters and the tens-of-thousands of animals they serve and protect.”

Gonzales said he was inspired by the many employees, volunteers, humane and law enforcement organizations who protect and serve animals throughout Los Angeles County. “Animal-rescue programs and successful prosecutions of cruelty cases continue to be the key to animal protection and welfare,” he said.

Last year Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich presented the L.A. County Animal Care Foundation with a scroll in recognition of its work to help shelter abandoned animals, its successful adoption program and its efforts to better inform the public about animal welfare.

More Americans are adopting pets

The Dreams Come True Program helps to provide funds for special medical procedures and needs for pets at the Department of Animal Control. Another program, SAVE (Spay, Adopt, Vaccinate, Educate) subsidizes spay/neuter costs for the adoption of animals that have been at the shelter a little longer and also helps serve dogs and cats with special needs such as a missing limb or blindness. Noah’s Legacy helps to provide for the needs of pets that have been left behind or otherwise separated from their human families in major disasters. The fund also helps support the department’s emergency-response efforts that are critical to communities hit by wildfire, flooding and earthquakes.

Americans are becoming more sensitive to the plight of lost or abandoned pets. Adoptions have improved significantly over the past decade, particularly as they relate to the reduction in euthanasia. The National Council on Pet Population stated this year that the number of dogs and cats euthanized each year in shelters has decreased, from up to 20 million a decade ago to an estimated 3-4 million in 2012-13.

An estimated 2.7 million healthy shelter pets are not adopted annually from the approximately 3,500 animal shelters nationwide. About 2 to 5 percent of those are shelter cats not reclaimed by owners. Dogs fare much better with about 30 percent being reclaimed by their owner(s). Today roughly 30 percent of pets in homes come from shelters or rescues.

There are common and some obscure pestilence’s that can strike your pet, therefore it can be wise to speak initially with a veterinarian or qualified animal expert when bringing home any new pet regardless if they have fur, feathers or even fins.

An alert went out in the Antelope Valley in May warning against Parvo, a highly contagious and fatal disease in dogs. In the first four months of the year, 70 of the 162 Parvo cases reported to the County of Los Angeles Department of Public Health were in Lancaster and Palmdale alone. Half of the cases were detected in April, and since the spring, the number of cases has leveled off.

County officials recommend local dog owners vaccinate their pet against this painful and deadly disease. The most common signs of canine Parvo virus infection include fever, anorexia, lethargy, vomiting and/or diarrhea. Some dogs can survive the disease, if given appropriate and prompt treatment. Parvo is a virus and can survive in the environment for months or even years. Puppies are most likely to suffer from the disease and die, but any unvaccinated dog—of any age—can become infected with Parvo. Therefore, animal health officials recommend you keep puppies and unvaccinated adult dogs away from public areas and away from other unvaccinated dogs until you have completed the series of vaccinations for your pet, especially puppies who should be re-vaccinated every three to four weeks until they are 18 to 20 weeks old. Vaccinate the dog again one year later. Start the vaccination no later than one month after birth.

Visit local animal care center

The Lancaster Animal Care Center, 5210 W. Avenue I, conducts bi-monthly low-cost vaccine clinics from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The Parvo vaccine is $14 per dog. Also, rabies vaccination, de-worming, microchip placement and licensing can be done at the “one-stop” clinics. For details, call (661) 940-4191.

People keep pets for companionship, affection and the fun they provide. There is a particular joy among pet owners in seeing their companion’s character and temperament blossom over the years (not to mention its physique) which allows us to treat it with loving kindness in accordance with its needs. A pet gives a sense of fulfillment; we also derive joy playing with and talking to a pet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study about 10 years ago and found that pets can provide health benefits such as decreasing blood pressure, decreasing cholesterol levels, increasing exercise and providing greater socialization opportunities.

Parents can use pets to teach children to become more responsible and compassionate, if they allow the youngsters to care for their own pet. If it’s a puppy, make it a child’s responsibility to name, feed, walk, train, bathe and clean up after the dog. This can instill in the child personal responsibility and good character traits at a young age. The parent needs only to pay for the license and vaccinations.

In a 2010 book, “Dogs: Domestication and the Development of a Social Bond,” author Darcy Morey explained that domestic animals such as dogs and cats became pets over thousands of years. For instance, wolf cubs in the stone age began to associate people with food and a secure place to live. The wild cubs found over time they did not need to hunt for nourishment, while the hunter could gain a trusted partner in his quest to secure food.

The text also revealed that ancient Egyptians worshiped cats as gods; some Egyptians from high society would even embalm their late cat and place it in a special urn to take with them into the afterlife. By the time homosapien emerged as modern man, a little domesticated animal—the dog—would stay faithfully by his side for the next 50,000 years.