May 7 to 12 is the 102nd annual Be Kind to Animals Week, a reminder that we should always treat our animal companions with compassion and empathy, in return for their trust and loyalty. This is a particularly good time to teach our children respect for all living creatures, and to renew our commitment to do the same for the rest of the year.

Here are some other things we can do to show kindness to our dogs:

Adopt Don’t Shop

When you are considering adopting your next dog, please go to a shelter or rescue instead of a pet store. It’s the best way to save a life.

 Not all dogs wind up in shelters because they are “bad.” Oftentimes, it’s because their former family can no longer care for them, whether for financial reasons, a move to a place that would not allow dogs, or the death of a caretaker.

A shelter dog should not be punished for the failings of its previous humans, but every puppy that is bought from a store instead of adopted from a shelter increases the likelihood for a shelter dog to become one of the nearly three million unwanted dogs that are destroyed in the U.S. every year.

Also remember that it’s very difficult to tell whether a pet store dog came from a legitimate, licensed breeder, or was the product of a puppy mill — even the pet stores can be deceived about the source of a puppy.

Spay and Neuter

In order to reduce the number of unwanted dogs that are destroyed each year, we need to reduce the number of unwanted dogs. Spaying or neutering your pets is the best way to do this.  

There is really no excuse to not have your dogs fixed. All of the standard arguments against it are complete myths. Neutering a male dog will not make him fat and lazy, and he will not lament his lost “manhood.” Instead, it will reduce aggression and excitement, as well as his desire to “mark” his territory, including indoors. It will also eliminate the possibility of testicular cancer down the road.

It’s also a myth that female dogs should have a litter of puppies before being spayed. Spaying before a dog’s first heat cycle can reduce the possibility of various forms of cancer. Needless to say, it will also completely eliminate the possibility of unwanted puppies.

Remember: Dogs experience the world first through their sense of smell, and if you have an unfixed female around that goes into heat, every male dog in the neighborhood will know it, and the unfixed males will do their best to try to get to her.

Donate or Volunteer

Whether you have a dog or not, you can still help your local shelters and rescue organizations through donating, whether your time, money, or material help, and there’s probably a shelter or rescue near you.

 While these groups can always use financial support, if you’re short on funds you can always offer your time. They always need dog walkers, as well as volunteers to assist people in finding and adopting the right pet, to tend to the kennels and the dogs’ needs, and more.

If you don’t have the time or the money, shelters always need supplies, and many of them have wish lists. Old blankets and newspapers are always in demand, but so are things like office and cleaning supplies, toys, bowls, other accessories, and food.

See Something, Say Something

Animal abuse is a serious issue, but the animals can’t report it themselves. If you know of dogs or cats that are living in inhumane conditions or that are being physically abused, report it to your local animal control authorities. It’s another way to save animals’ lives, and to find them homes that are loving and committed to their care.

Help Educate Others

Spread the word to your friends on how they can help out, and how they can fulfill their dogs’ needs and bring balance to their pack. If you live in an area with a lot of dog walkers, try to organize a neighborhood pack walk, which will help to socialize the dogs and educate the humans.

Don’t forget social media. If you’re an active user of Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or other such sites, you have a platform to spread the word, and yet another way to help out animals everywhere.

The best gift we can give to our dogs is strong Pack Leadership by giving them rules, boundaries and limitations and providing exercise, discipline and affection, in that order.

A balanced dog is a happy dog. Luckily, dogs naturally know how to be balanced — if we let them. It is only when we have unbalanced energy, are inconsistent in our leadership, or fail to let our dogs know what they should be doing that misbehaviors arise and become a problem.

Preventing those problems in the first place is the greatest kindness we can show to our canine friends, this week and every week.

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