Often people look forward to this time of year in Bloomington waves of students are making a mass exodus. But sometimes I get sad as well because I think of all the pets that get abandoned by irresponsible owners who move away and don’t bother to find a new homes for their animals. I don’t think I really want to know the statistics of how often this happens.

A pet is a commitment. It is a living creature that you have signed on to take care of. That means for the lifetime of the animal, not just while it’s cute or convenient for you. Every year there are rabbits that get turned outdoors in the months following Easter; Christmas puppies that are adorable under the tree become work as they need to be taken outside even during the winter months.

Yes, there might be times when you are no longer able to care for a pet. Perhaps it’s your own illness or you lose your job and have to move to an apartment that doesn’t allow animals. But every effort should be made to place your pet in a loving new home before surrendering it to a shelter. You owe that to your companion.

If you are looking for a pet, your first and last stop should be the animal shelter. Think of all the animals that are looking permanent placement, that have been given up by their first family, and how grateful they would be to become part of yours. Yes, I believe that animals can feel gratitude—and show it, if we will only pay attention.

Pet adoption fees are very reasonably priced, and sometimes shelters will have specials during certain times of the year or on certain animals. Often the adoption fee includes a spay or neuter procedure. But even if it is not included be sure to have this done, as part of your job as a responsible pet owner is to make sure there aren’t more animals out there that will end up in a shelter.

Sometimes people will say they don’t want a shelter dog because they are looking for a particular breed. Most county humane associations have websites featuring their adoptables. If you don’t find what you’re looking for locally, then look at the surrounding counties. There are also a variety of rescue organizations that specialize in specific breeds.

There is really no reason to purchase a pet from a breeder. Even if the breeder is reputable and not part of a puppy mill, that still doesn’t change the fact that there are so many animals out there waiting for a home that will otherwise be killed if you or someone else doesn’t adopt them. Otherwise it’s like saying that a used pet isn’t good enough for you. Isn’t saving the life of a critter more important?!

On a positive note, sometimes cool things happen with animals in Bloomington. During spring finals week there is an event called Rent-A-Puppy, at which students can play with a dog for a fee. This is a fundraiser for the animal shelter as well as a way to showcase adoptable pets (and help students de-stress).

Check out your humane association and see what they have to offer. Check Craigslist and do other web searches for animals who need to be relocated. You can save a life and give a furred, finned, or feathered friend a second chance for a good home.