I watched an excellent TV program a few nights ago called Shelter Me that you all may be interested in. It presented an uplifting look at the role that shelter dogs can play in the lives of people from many different walks of life.

The first segment focuses on the journey of two stray pit bulls, from the day they are picked up on the streets and brought to the shelter until they become beloved family pets. Next, we visit a women’s prison where inmates train shelter dogs to become service animals for people with disabilities. Finally, the program takes a look at how shelter pets help returning war veterans cope with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The program does an excellent job bringing home the point that most pets that end up in shelters are there due to no fault of their own. Contrary to popular belief, these are not "bad" animals, just unlucky ones that have been let down by the humans in their lives.

For example, people associated with the organization that helps veterans with PTSD affirm they have no need to breed animals specifically for this role since they find so many dogs in shelters that have the "service dog" mentality. If there are dogs of this caliber awaiting adoption, just imagine how many "pet quality" animals are included in the staggering 3-4 million dogs and cats that are euthanized in America’s shelters every year.

One of the veterans with PTSD mentions that knowing that his dog has had troubles in her past just like he has makes their relationship even stronger. They are truly partners in making better lives for each other. It gives new power to the question, "Who adopted whom?" To paraphrase the program’s theme song:

I’ve been let down many times before

But I still reach out my hand

Your love can shelter me

There’s nothing it won’t bring

Open your heart and see that love is everything

Visit the Shelter Me website to watch a synopsis, see when your local PBS station is airing the program, or order a DVD if you’ve missed it.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Dog in a Shelter, photo by Liana Aghajanian with Spot US / via Flickr