Like many people, I've had pets all my life. I grew up in a household with at least one cat and one dog at any given time, and often the animal population vastly outnumbered the human residents. Fish, rabbits, guinea pigs, and hermit crabs were just some of the creatures to share the space with my family and me, and they were there at our sides through the good times and the bad.

When I left for college, I made my parents video call me so I could keep in touch with my furry friends back home, and as soon as I moved off campus into my own place, I resolved to get a pet of my own as soon as I could. But as a full time student and a part time employee, finding the time to search for one proved more difficult than I had originally thought. When I was finally gifted a day off from both work and school, I set off for the nearest animal shelter to begin my search.

The first place I wanted to visit was my city's animal services center, the government funded organization that every state has, because I knew it would be full of pets who didn't have much time left. I knew I wanted a cat and I knew I wanted him or her to be a bit older, someone who might need a second chance or stood less of a chance of being adopted.

I expected the shelter to have lots of animals, as it was the city's main one, but I was shocked to see just how many furry friends were there. There were rows after rows of cats being kept in small kennels with barely enough room for them and their food dishes, with many choosing to sleep in their litter boxes because of the lack of space. Sweet faces peered out at me from behind bars and every meow broke my heart more and more.

It wasn't that the cats were being neglected, I could tell that the shelter simply lacked the ability to accommodate so many animals, it was their quality of life that was so upsetting. Every cage's occupant had the potential to be the best friend to someone, to change someone's life with its company, but the sheer number of creatures meant that the odds of a happy ending were devastatingly low. There was a point where I had to return to my car for a bit and collect my thoughts because the bleakness of the situation was almost too much to bear.

According to the ASPCA, between 8-12 million animals enter shelters each year, and 5-9 million end up being euthanized due to lack of space and resources. It is estimated that 60% of dogs and 70% of cats who arrive at a shelter end up being put down. This means millions of animals never get a chance at a loving home and never get a chance for someone to get to know them and experience their personalities.

When a pet arrives at a shelter, after its initial tests to make sure it won't contract any illnesses or diseases to the animals around it, the pet usually has between 3-5 days to be adopted, before it could potentially be put down. Even identifiable pets who have escaped from their owners are only held for two weeks or so before being euthanized. This gives the animals so little time to be considered for new homes and most never get the second chance they deserve. If everyone who was able rescued even one pet per household, the amount of money it costs to have a pet would be considerably less than the tax money paid per household towards funding animal shelters and euthanasia procedures. The annual expense of having a pet breaks down to roughly $3 a day, a very manage amount in the grand scheme of things, especially when kept in mind all the good that money is doing.

Choosing adopt a pet not only saves the life of the pet itself, but it also carries many health benefits for humans as well. When a human interacts with a pet, the chemical Oxytocin is released, which is linked to the lowering of blood pressure, reduced anxiety, and an increase pain tolerance. Animals also increase our serotonin levels, which makes us feel better and can even help with recovery from depression. Owning a cat can dramatically decrease the chance of heart disease and stroke, and dogs can easily to trained to recognize signs of seizures. In addition, pet owners have been found to live at least two years more than those who don't have animals present in their lives.

If you could save an innocent life and better your own at the same time, why wouldn't you? Adopting a pet gives them a second chance at happiness, brings light into the lives of us, the owners, and fills the world with more positivity because of this. If you feel that you can accommodate a fury friend in your home, then I strongly encourage you to spend your next day off exploring your nearest animal shelter and learning about all the possibilities that come with adopting a pet. Check out websites like Petfinder and petMD to learn more about life with animals, or stop by your local pet store or veterinarian.

In regards to how my adoption story ended, I spent several days exploring all my options at a handful of local shelters, and finally found my cat. He's older, shyer, and different than most, but he's the perfect fit for me. He sleeps on my bed every night and keeps me company every day, despite being a shelter pet, despite being returned by his previous owner, and despite being overlooked time and time again by many. His name is Shady, and I'm thankful every day that I brought him home with me.

Change a life, better your own, and save the world. Adopt a pet today.

Meet Shady, my new best friend