The Mutt-i-grees program is becoming more widely known for giving young people a chance to learn about empathy and understanding by interacting face-to-face with shelter pets. But the mission of the Mutt-i-grees movement doesn't stop there.
In 2008, the North Shore Animal League America (NSALA) in Port Washington, N.Y., expanded the program to include the National Mutt-i-grees Registry. Designed to celebrate the quality and diversity of shelter pets, the registry invites people who have adopted from a shelter to submit their pet's name as a way of recording and recognizing the thousands of remarkable adopted dogs and cats that have been welcomed into new, more permanent homes.
"Twenty years ago, you didn't hear people say, 'I got my dog from a shelter,'" says Devera Lynn, senior vice president of communications for NSALA. She says widespread misperceptions about shelter pets as troubled or inferior kept many adopters from talking proudly about their adoption experience. Fortunately, that's changing. "Now there's more awareness and understanding that you can get healthy, beautiful, desirable pets from shelters. There are bumper stickers, hats, shirts - people really want to be part of this growing trend, which is really positive."
To date, more than 15,000 adopters have registered their pets with the National Mutt-i-grees Registry. That growing number keeps Devera and her colleagues optimistic about NSALA's mission to improve the way shelters and shelter pets are perceived. Specifically, they believe getting people to document and share their pride in adopting a shelter dog or cat can help to counteract the stereotype that shelter pets aren't as companionable as other pets. (The name Mutt-i-grees itself is a loving twist on the traditional idea of "pedigree" documentation for purebred dogs and cats.)
There's another aspect of naming and registering a shelter pet that resonates with Joanne Yohannan, NSALA's senior VP of operations. In a previous job working for animal control services in New York City, she was troubled to see many dogs and cats move through shelter systems with nothing more than a number assigned to them. "It's so important to give every pet an identity," Joanne says. "Once they have a name, it gives them an identity. It helps people look at an animal and understand that it's a living, breathing being." She adds that naming is also a way to recognize the uniqueness of every pet - not only its unique mix of breed characteristics but also its distinctive story and one-of-a-kind personality.
When adopters register their pets with the National Mutt-i-grees Registry, it also gives them a way to stay connected with fellow shelter supporters. The American Mutt-i-grees Club website is one place where members can interact by posting photos and videos of their furry friends, and by sharing information about topics like pet care and travel tips. Devera and her colleagues look forward to building this community even further, spreading the word about thousands of extraordinary shelter pets in the process.