20 Amazingly Valuable Thrift Store Finds

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Thrift stores are always a treasure trove of vintage clothing items, posters of kittens, and old kitchen appliances—but sometimes a lucky shopper comes across an actual treasure.

1. A BEN NICHOLSON SCREEN PRINT

In November 2014, Jo Heaven was browsing her local “charity shop”—the British term for thrift stores that raise money for philanthropic organizations—in Swindon, England, when she came across a landscape print with stylized livestock. Liking the “quirky” screen print, she snapped it up for 99 pence (just over $1), and it was only once she got it to the car that Heaven noticed a note of provenance on the back, naming the artist as Ben Nicholson, the influential British modernist.

“My mum was an art teacher, so I’d vaguely heard of Ben Nicholson,” Heaven later told the BBC. “I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, what have I found here?’” The screen print turned out to be one of a set of four made from a single piece of cloth in 1938; another print from the set is in the collection of London's Victoria and Albert Museum. After having the print authenticated by the art experts at Bonhams, Heaven sold it through the auction house for £4,200 (about $5500). She donated 10 percent of the proceeds to the charity shop where she bought the artwork, and invested the rest of the money to a charity she runs called Empower, which supports development projects in the Gambia. “I didn’t earn this money so it seems only right to benefit others rather than gain myself,” Heaven told the Swindon Advertiser.

2. VINCE LOMBARDI’S SWEATER

Lombardi west point sweater
Heritage Auctions, ha.com

On a June afternoon in 2014, Sean and Rikki McEvoy were rifling through the bins at a Goodwill store in Asheville, North Carolina, looking for items they could resell through their vintage clothing business. Sean saw an old sweater with “West Point” emblazoned across the front. Thinking it looked like a vintage basketball warm-up, he tossed the sweater in their pile of goods, which they paid for by weight—58 cents a pound. Five months later, he was watching a documentary about Vince Lombardi, the famed coach of the Green Bay Packers, when a black-and-white photo flashed on the screen. The picture featured a young Lombardi during his 1949–1953 tenure as an assistant coach for Army’s football team, wearing a West Point sweater that looked rather familiar. And Rikki had noticed just the night before that the sweater had a name tag sewn into the neck. “It wasn’t Lombardi, was it?” her husband asked. “Yes, it’s Lombardi,” she replied. Sean nearly passed out.

Sean called the NFL Hall of Fame, and when he told them of his find, they tried to convince him to donate it to them—for free. The McEvoys passed, and in February 2015, they sold the sweater to an anonymous collector for $43,020 at a New York City auction of sports memorabilia.

But how did Lombardi’s sweater end up at the Asheville Goodwill in the first place? It was donated by Ann Wannamaker, whose late husband, Bill Wannamaker, had coached with Lombardi at West Point for a single season in 1952 and somehow ended up with the sweater. More than 60 years later, Ann was cleaning out her house and tossed the sweater into a pile of items to donate, leading to a very lucky find for the McEvoys. “It’s like winning the lottery,” Sean said.

3. A FLEMISH-SCHOOL PAINTING

In late 2010, a South Carolina man was browsing his local Goodwill when he noticed an oil painting in an antique frame—a still life of a dinner table. “I figured the oil painting was out of the 1800s because of the frame it was in,” said the man, who used his middle name, Leroy, in the press to maintain his privacy.

A former antiques dealer, Leroy thought the painting might be worth a “couple of hundred” dollars, so he bought it for $3. About a year later, his daughter took it to be appraised on Antiques Roadshow, whose appraisers offered an initial estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. That’s no chump change, but the painting turned out to be worth even more than that. Painted around 1650 by a Flemish school in Amsterdam, the still life sold for $190,000 in March 2012 through an auction house in Massachusetts. Leroy told reporters that he planned to split the money with his son and daughter-in-law. “It’s the biggest find I’ve ever had,” he said.

4. A PICASSO PRINT

picasso print found in a thrift store
Zach Bodish

In early 2012, Zach Bodish, an avid thrifter, was tracing his usual route through the Volunteers of America store in Clintonville, Ohio, looking for items to fix up and sell, when he came across a framed poster for a 1958 Picasso exhibition. Penciled in the lower left corner was the notation “6/100,” suggesting that the print was a numbered edition. Scrawled on the back were a few lines in French, which Bodish couldn’t read, though the word “originale” looked promising.

Bodish shelled out $14.14 for the poster and frame, and once he got home, he started Googling. He soon realized he had gotten his hands on a linocut poster created by Picasso for an exhibition of his ceramics in the French village of Vallauris in 1958, of which only 100 had been produced. And as for that writing on the back, it meant, “original print, signed proof.” A faded red scribble in the corner of the print was Picasso’s signature. “I started shaking a little bit,” Bodish recalled. The poster he had found was not only a limited edition, but an artist’s proof, one of a batch of initial prints that are approved by the artist before printing the other copies for the series. “You could have knocked me over with a feather,” Bodish wrote on his blog. He initially thought the poster might be worth $3000 to $4000, but after having the print authenticated, he sold it for $7000 in a private sale.

After an article in The Columbus Dispatch highlighted Bodish’s thrift shop discovery, a retired English teacher from Columbus named Ed Zettler contacted the paper, saying he was the one who had donated the print, which he thought was simply a reproduction. According to Zettler, a friend had given him the Picasso print as a housewarming gift in the 1960s, and it had sat in his basement for decades before he decided to donate it while clearing out his house. But Zettler had no hard feelings toward Bodish, telling Today, “That’s the risk you take when you bring something to the thrift store.”

5. AN ILYA BOLOTOWSKY PAINTING

When Beth Feeback first saw the big red abstract painting, she didn’t like it. Still, she ended up paying $9.99 for it at the Goodwill in Oak Ridge, North Carolina, because she hoped to reuse the canvas for one of her own paintings, which featured cartoonish cats. Luckily, a friend suggested that Feeback check the labels on the back, leading her to Google the name Ilya Bolotowsky and discover that he was a celebrated abstract painter who had fled Russia for the U.S. as a teenager—a painter whose works command prices upwards of $15,000. Though she originally found the painting unappealing, once she learned its value, Feeback quipped, “This is the most beautiful damned painting I’ve ever seen in my life.” She soon sold the painting, called Vertical Diamond, through Sotheby’s for $34,375, a price that includes an unspecified buyer’s premium (the final gavel price for the painting itself was about $27,000).

So how did this painting by a Russian émigré end up at a Goodwill in North Carolina? On the back of Vertical Diamond, a sticker reading Weatherspoon Art Gallery provided a clue. The registrar at the Weatherspoon Art Museum at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro looked for traces of the painting in museum records and found that Burlington Industries, a North Carolina fabric manufacturer, had loaned the painting to the Weatherspoon for a 1979 show. Burlington Industries presumably sold the painting at some point, or it may have floated around after the company filed for bankruptcy in 2004 and moved out of its headquarters, dispersing much of its art collection. But regardless of how the painting found its way to Goodwill, Feeback was very glad it did.

6. A CHINESE LIBATION CUP

A few years ago, a shopper in a Sydney op shop (“op shop” or “opportunity shop” is the Australian term for thrift store) found an interesting carved cup in the shape of a flower and spent $4 to take it home. The man later experienced quite the windfall when it turned out his purchase was a 17th-century Chinese “libation cup” made from a rhinoceros horn. He sold it through Sotheby’s [PDF] in June 2013 for $75,640.

7. A JAEGER-LECOULTRE WATCH

When Zach Norris saw a diving watch marked LeCoultre at a Phoenix Goodwill in January 2015, he knew he’d come across something valuable—and he didn’t want to let it go. Produced by the Swiss luxury watch brand Jaeger-LeCoultre, whose modern timepieces sell for thousands of dollars, this vintage watch was tagged just $5.99. “I didn’t even want to give it to [the cashier] to scan,” Norris told KTVK. “I was like, you can scan it in my hand if you want to.” Though he knew vintage Jaeger-LeCoultre diving watches were worth thousands to collectors, Norris soon discovered that his watch was particularly special, a model called LeCoultre Deep Sea Alarm. Produced beginning in 1959, the model was one of the first watches with an alarm for divers to use, and less than 1000 of them were ever made.

Norris had the watch authenticated by a local Jaeger-LeCoultre dealer, and after a website for watch collectors called HODINKEE highlighted Norris’s find, he was flooded with questions and offers to buy it. Norris accepted an offer from Eric Ku, a San Francisco-based vintage Rolex dealer and watch enthusiast, for $35,000—plus an Omega Speedmaster Professional worth $4000 (a watch Norris had long desired). In addition to donating a portion of his profits back to Goodwill, Norris earmarked a good chunk of his earnings to pay for his wedding the following fall.

8. AN 1823 EDITION OF THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

The United States Declaration of Independence
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In March 2006, a music equipment technician named Michael Sparks was looking through the Music City Thrift Shop in Nashville, Tennessee, when he noticed a rolled-up, yellowed document—a copy of the Declaration of Independence. Sparks happily bought the document for $2.48. “I’ve seen Declarations of Independence in thrift stores before,” Sparks later said. “This one was so beautiful I thought it was an engraving.”

When he examined the paper further upon getting home, he noticed that it was marked 1823, and that it said “by order of the government.” Sparks soon learned that his thrift store purchase was an “official” copy of the Declaration, one of 200 commissioned by President John Quincy Adams in 1820 and printed by William Stone three years later. Only 35 such copies had previously been found. Sparks’s Declaration had been shellacked, and the varnish kept the ink dark, making his document one of the best preserved of its kind. Sparks sold the 1823 Declaration through Raynors’ Historical Collectible Auctions in 2007. The winning bid? $477,650.

It turns out the Declaration had been donated to the Nashville thrift shop by locals Stan and Linda Caffy. Stan had bought the document at a yard sale in the mid-1990s for around $2, then hung it for decoration in his garage where he works on bicycles. His wife urged him to get rid of it, and other items, when the couple was cleaning out their garage in 2006. “I’m happy for the Sparks guy,” Stan Caffy told USA Today. “If I still had it, it would still be hanging here in the garage and I still wouldn't know it was worth all that.”

9. A GIOVANNI BATTISTA TORRIGLIA PAINTING

In late 2012, a Goodwill employee in Manassas, Virginia, named Maria Rivera discovered a small portrait in the store’s donation bin. Depicting an elderly woman holding a cup of tea, the oil painting had cracks in its surface and was housed in an ornate gold frame. The painting reminded Rivera of something she’d seen in a museum, so she pulled it from the pile, thinking it seemed potentially valuable. “I didn’t know how much at that time, but I said, we have some money here,” she told NBC News4. A lot of money, it turns out. The painting was authenticated as the work of 19th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Torriglia. Goodwill auctioned off the portrait on its website in January 2013. It earned a winning bid of $11,205.

10. AN ALEXANDER CALDER PAINTING

When Karen Mallet saw a lithograph with the signature “Calder” while shopping at a Goodwill outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she didn’t want to get her hopes up. She recognized the name of Alexander Calder—a celebrated American sculptor, painter, and printmaker—and decided she had to buy the print, just in case it was an original. “I thought, I don't know if it’s real or not but it’s $12.99. I’ve wasted more on worse things,” she told the Associated Press.

Her Goodwill loyalty card brought the price down to $12.34, which Mallet forked over happily. Then, when she got home, Mallet started Googling. She quickly found pictures of numerous works by Calder in the same style (a similar painting, the basis for a set of lithographs, is in the collection of MoMA in Manhattan). Soon Mallet felt confident enough to take her Goodwill purchase to an expert for authentication. Jacob Fine Art Inc., in suburban Chicago, verified that the print was an original 1969 Calder lithograph called Red Nose, number 55 of 75 such lithographs. The appraisers set the replacement value at $9000, but Mallet told reporters in late 2012 that she has no plans to sell the print. While she didn’t connect to the piece originally, “It grew on me,” she said. “Now I love it.”

11. A PHILIP TREACY HANDBAG

In February 2012, John Richard was browsing at an Oxfam charity shop in London when he opened a dusty box and discovered an eye-catching handbag. The 73-year-old retired chef was intrigued by the bag’s print—images of Elvis Presley by Andy Warhol rendered in shades of brown—and decided to take it home, though he balked momentarily at the listed price of £20 (about $26). He tried to haggle the cashier down to £15 but decided to make the splurge when she refused to budge. Still, he put the bag aside once he got home and didn’t think about it for several months.

Remembering the bag later that year, Richard examined it and noticed a Philip Treacy label. Treacy is an Irish designer best known for making sculptural hats, including the one Princess Beatrice wore (to much mockery) to the royal wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge. A luxury designer handbag—might it be worth some money? Richard contacted the Philip Treacy shop in London and asked them to examine the bag. Store manager Gee Brunet confirmed that it was a hand-sewn, limited-edition Treacy design, of which only 10 were ever made. “It’s a piece of art, not a bag,” Brunet said.

Richard had the handbag appraised at £350,000, and he told reporters that he’d received two offers, for £250,000 ($325,000) and £350,000 ($455,000), from buyers in China. “I’m rather glad I didn’t put it back now,” Richard told the Daily Express.

12. A STADIUM EVENTS VIDEO GAME CARTRIDGE

stadium games video game screenshot
Bandai

On a spring day in 2013, Jennifer Thompson was perusing the $1 DVD section of a Goodwill store in Charlotte, North Carolina, when she noticed a video game sitting behind the glass counter. Tagged for $7.99, it was an NES cartridge for Stadium Events—a name that reminded Thompson of a Yahoo! article she’d read about the rarest and most sought-after games. She drove across the street to use the Wi-Fi at McDonald’s and confirmed her intuition: Stadium Events was a highly-coveted game that sold for thousands of dollars. Returning to Goodwill, Thompson purchased the cartridge, praying the cashier wouldn’t notice the golden egg he was letting go, then she drove to a local used video game store to test the desirability of her latest purchase.

She showed Wilder Hamm, the owner of Save Point Video Games in Charlotte, a few common games she said she wanted to sell, before revealing Stadium Events at the bottom of the pile. “Oh my God!” Hamm blurted out. “Normally in this business, we try not to show our cards,” Hamm explained later, but Thompson had surprised him and he couldn’t hide his excitement. “I felt honored just to hold it,” he told Kotaku.

Thompson auctioned off Stadium Events through the website GameGavel.com, ultimately selling the game to an orthodontist from Bedford, Indiana, for $25,000.

13. A VALUABLE DOG LITHOGRAPH

the brook hill dog painting by Alexander Pope
Public Domain

In March 2015, Floridian Maureen Flaherty attended the grand opening of a local Goodwill store, where she noticed a large lithograph print of a dog hanging on the wall. Two cashiers took the print down and Flaherty handed over $44 for it—adding a 50-cent donation to the listed price of $43.50. But Flaherty hadn’t even made it to her car when a local antiques dealer flagged her down in the parking lot. He told her, “You just walked out with the most valuable thing in there,” and tried to buy the print, but Flaherty declined his offer because she “just loved it” and wanted to keep the lithograph for herself. But the antiques dealer’s offer had piqued her curiosity, and when she got home, Flaherty did some internet research and realized that she’d just bought a print of a 1911 Alexander Pope painting called The Brook Hill Dog, which had been distributed to bars as advertising for distillery brand Friedman, Keiler & Co.’s “Brook Hill” whiskey.

Learning that a similar print had recently been sold for $3300, Flaherty decided to auction off her find for charity. “I foster dogs so I had the idea that since it’s a dog print, let’s auction it off so half the funds will go to a dog fund,” Flaherty told ABC News. The lithograph sold on eBay for $5150 and Flaherty donated half her earnings to a local animal rescue. She kept the remaining money to fund a book she was writing about fostering dogs, which came out the following year.

14. AN 18TH-CENTURY CHINESE CENSER

A woman from Surrey, England, discovered a colorful, gold-rimmed bowl while exploring a charity shop in Somerset. The metal bowl turned out to be an 18th-century Chinese censer, or incense bowl, produced during the reign of the Qianlong Emperor. Created using a technique called cloisonné, the censer is decorated with a scrolling lotus pattern against a turquoise background. Appraisers at the John Nicholson’s auction house estimated the censer’s value at £5000 to £8000 (about $6500 to $10,000)—quite an upgrade from the £2 charged by the charity shop. But the sharp-eyed thrifter who scored the item earned an even greater payday when John Nicholson’s included the bowl in their “Oriental Auction” in March 2017. Only 4.4-inches wide, the censer sold for £21,000 (about $27,000).

15. AN EDOUARD LÉON CORTÈS PAINTING

Workers at a Goodwill in Easton, Maryland, were sorting through donations in March 2008 when they unearthed a painting depicting a street scene of a flower market. Done in an Impressionist style, it seemed to be an original oil painting, not a print, and when store manager Terri Tonelli returned from her vacation, the employees told her they suspected the artwork was valuable. Thanks to Google, Tonelli figured out it was likely the work of noted French Impressionist Edouard Léon Cortès, who produced a number of paintings of flower markets. Goodwill shipped the painting to Sotheby’s auction house in New York, where it was authenticated, cleaned, and auctioned off. “It could have very easily ended up put in a pile, marked for $20,” Goodwill’s regional marketing director told the Associated Press. Instead, Goodwill sold the painting, called Marche aux fleurs, for $40,600.

16. AN AUGUSTA NATIONAL GREEN JACKET

green jacket auctions
Green Jacket Auctions

In 1994, a sports journalist noticed a green blazer in a stack of used suit jackets at a Toronto thrift store. When he unearthed the green blazer, he immediately recognized the patch on the pocket: the logo of the Augusta National Golf Club. While all members of the Georgia club get such jackets, nowadays they are only allowed to wear them at the club (though they were allowed to take them home in the 1950s and 1960s); the only person who can sport the green blazer outside club grounds is the current Masters champion.

Since 1949, the winner of the Masters Tournament—which is one of the most prestigious competitions in professional golf and is held each year at Augusta—receives one of the club’s famous green jackets as a trophy. One of the most coveted golf memorabilia items for collectors, this thrift store jacket was priced at $5. The journalist snapped it up on the spot. While he later tried to trace the provenance of his purchase, the Augusta National Golf Club refused to help. The tag dates the jacket to the 1950s (but before 1957), and otherwise little is known about the blazer’s origin—the name tag had been cut out.

Soon a British golf journalist named Dominic Pedler had convinced the lucky thrifter to sell him the jacket with “an offer he couldn’t refuse.” Then, over 20 years later, the jacket went up for auction in April 2017, garnering lots of media attention, as well as a final bid of $139,349.

17. A MARY MOSER PAINTING

In 2013, Liz Lockyer stopped into the Royal National Lifeboat Institution charity shop in her hometown of Teignmouth on England’s southern shore. She noticed a still life painting of flowers housed in an ornate gold frame. An artist herself, Lockyer thought the antique frame would be perfect for her own work, so she plunked down £5 (about $6.50) to take home the set. It was only later that she realized the painting was something special when she examined the signature.

The painting was by Mary Moser, a celebrated 18th-century English painter and one of only two female founders of the Royal Academy of Arts. Moser was known for her lush depictions of flowers, and the auction house Christie’s confirmed that Lockyer’s thrift store find was indeed one of Moser’s still lifes. The painting is worth at least £1000 (about $1300). “There was a definite risk I was going to rip out the painting and keep the frame,” Lockyer said. “I’m very glad I didn’t, but it’s one of those things—you had to look at it closely.”

18. PHOTOS BY FAMOUS MID-CENTURY PHOTOGRAPHERS

One day in 2016, Kent Shrewsbury stopped by the Habitat for Humanity ReStore in Anaheim, California, with his son, 20-year-old Kenneth Solis. As Shrewsbury wandered the store, Solis went directly to the records. While flipping through the vinyl, he discovered a stack of black-and-white photos between two records. One showed a dog with a giant stick. Another was an artistic nude of a pregnant woman. A third showed a couple dancing. There were 20 others. Solis grabbed the photos and took them over to his dad, who recognized the dancing couple as Marilyn Monroe and her third husband, playwright Arthur Miller. Solis and Shrewsbury purchased the photographs for $23—$1 apiece. Shrewsbury then went about deciphering the signatures on the pictures and Googling the names. That’s when he realized they’d found something more than random antique snaps: the prints seemed to be from famous 20th-century photographers including Eve Arnold, Burk Uzzle, and Elliot Erwitt. The images were gelatin silver prints (a photo process introduced in the 1870s that remained popular with fine art photographers through the 1960s), so maybe they were originals.

A few months later, Shrewsbury took five of the photos to an Antiques Roadshow taping in Palm Springs, where he showed them to appraiser Aimee Pflieger, a photography specialist at Sotheby’s. She authenticated the prints, calling them a “fantastic find.” She estimated the combined value of the five photos as $24,000 to $36,000. Shrewsbury and Solis hope to sell the photos and use a portion of the money to buy Solis a car, with the rest going to Habitat for Humanity of Orange County as a donation.

19. A FRANK WESTON BENSON PAINTING

In 2006, an anonymous donor dropped off a watercolor at a Goodwill store in Portland, Oregon. Employees thought the painting of a couple paddling a canoe looked like an original rather than a print, and its Impressionist style was eye-catching. Goodwill put the painting up for auction on its website with a starting bid of $10, but offers soon spiked when local gallery owner Matthew W. Gerber determined that the watercolor was, in fact, an original work by celebrated American Impressionist Frank Weston Benson.

Benson’s work hangs in museums like the National Gallery in Washington, D.C., and commands prices of as much as $100,000. “Frank Benson is a top-tier impressionist,” Gerber told The Oregonian. “When they put this up, they didn’t have a clue what it was.” A Goodwill spokeswoman suggested that the donor also likely did not know the painting’s value. And that value turned out to be considerable. The winning bid? $165,002.

20. A CHINESE POT

The wooden pot was cracked all over, and its rim and base had been reattached with glue that oozed out and hardened. Sections of the pot were discolored, and it had been donated in a grocery bag alongside various household items. And yet somehow, an employee at St. Peter's Hospice charity shop in Bristol, England, recognized that the pot, which looked very old, might be culturally valuable. In fact, it was a bamboo pot meant for calligraphy brushes that was carved between 1662 and 1722 by the important Chinese artist Gu Jue. Experts believe the pot depicts the poem “The Agreeable Life in a Land of Transcendents” and features the philosopher Lao Tzu sitting on an ox, as well as other figures. The pot generated considerable interest from collectors and ultimately went to a buyer in Hong Kong for £360,000 (about $470,000).

25 Benefits of Adopting a Rescue Dog

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iStock.com/Manuel-F-O

According to the ASPCA, 3.3 million dogs enter shelters each year in the United States. Although that number has gone down since 2011 (from 3.9 million) there are still millions of dogs waiting in shelters for a forever home. Here are 25 benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

1. Adopting a dog means you won't be supporting puppy mills.

A closeup of a dog's nose sticking out from between green bars.
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If you go to a pet store or to a disreputable breeder to buy that adorable puppy, it's entirely possible that it's from a puppy mill, where dogs are kept in terrible conditions. By adopting a rescue, you can help lower the demand for puppies from puppy mills.

2. You can find almost any breed you want.

A beagle puppy standing on a stone walkway.
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Is your heart set on a specific breed? There's a wide network of breed-specific rescues out there. Just spend a little time online and you can get the dog of your dreams without resorting to buying from puppy mills.

3. Shelter dogs are eager to follow your lead.

A woman holding up her finger to a dog.
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A 2016 study that appeared in Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research analyzed problem solving in dogs in homes (what they called "pet dogs") versus shelter dogs. The researchers found that although pet dogs are better at following human pointing, shelter dogs "seem to be more socially driven to gaze and interact with humans" when compared with pet dogs, which they say is likely due to the shelter dogs' "generally limited and poor-quality contact with humans." But the researchers also pointed out that with increased human exposure, the shelter dogs were trainable.

4. A rescue dog might help you get a date.

Two people from the knees down standing close together with a black and white dog between them.
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According to Slate, one survey found that "82 percent of people [felt] more confident approaching an attractive person if they had their dog with them." Another study cited by Slate found that in the modern world of dating apps, people with dogs look more approachable and happy than those who are dogless.

5. You can share your audiobook collection with them.

A young girl reads a book to her Pomeranian.
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There have been several studies on the best ways to calm dogs in kennels [PDF]. Classical music seems to work well, but a 2016 study found that compared to other "auditory conditions," kenneled dogs were more relaxed while audiobooks were playing. Cesar Milan then did his own tests and found that 76 percent of his volunteer dogs were more relaxed at home while listening to audiobooks—and teamed up with Audible to create a specialized audiobook service. Just be careful: soon your rescue pup will be better read than you.

6. Rescue dogs can transform in dramatic ways in a forever home.

A happy dog with his tongue out sitting in a field of flowers.
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Thanks to those heart-wrenching ASPCA/Sarah McLachlan commercials, everyone is familiar with how sad a dog can appear in a shelter. But once adopted, dogs' attitudes can change dramatically. In 2008, Italian researchers published a paper about a shelter dog named Daisy that they placed into a facility for people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Although in the shelter Daisy had groomed so much that she developed a skin lesion, in the six months that she lived at the facility, her over-grooming lessened, she was healthy, and she "displayed no aggressive or sexual behavior, even when in heat." And the calming effect seemed to go both ways: the researchers reported, the people in the facility experienced "many positive effects of Daisy's presence."

7. Shelter pets come with benefits.

A dog running through the grass with an orange ball in its mouth.
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Whether you get your pet at a breed-specific rescue or from a normal shelter, you'll often have access to resources about your fuzzy new family member, and maybe even classes on how best to take care of them.

8. Shelter dogs are typically up-to-date on all their shots.

A vet giving a shot to a golden retriever puppy.
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Depending on the shelter, shelter dogs may already be vaccinated and microchipped (or the shelter will perform these services for a small fee)—which means you can get straight to cuddling your new pet instead of making vet appointments.

9. Shelter dogs may also already be spayed or neutered.

A vet looking into a dog's ear.
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More than half of states have laws requiring "releasing agencies" (a.k.a. shelters) to spay or neuter dogs they adopt out. While the pet sometimes isn't fixed until you adopt it, frequently it's already been spayed or neutered. Check with your local adoption center.

10. By adopting a dog, you're helping to keep the unwanted pet population down.

A lazy bulldog lying on a rug.
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If you happen to adopt a dog that isn't fixed, you can still help prevent pet overpopulation (especially in the wild) by keeping it in the house and away from other unfixed dogs of the opposite sex. (But seriously, get your pets fixed!)

11. Rescue dogs may be easier to housetrain.

A small dog holding a leash in its mouth.
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Many adult shelter dogs are already housebroken when you adopt them. But because the dog may have a history that prevented such training (such as never being allowed inside the house), you shouldn't go in expecting a house-trained pet. If your new pupper isn't house-trained, there are resources out there that can help you reach that goal; many say that adult dogs have an easier time getting the hang of it.

12. Adopt and older dog and you can skip the puppy stage.

A dachshund puppy plays with a shoe outside in grass.
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Yes, puppies are adorable. They're also full of energy and require a lot of time, training, attention, and patience. It can be tough to fit an energetic puppy into a hectic life. Adopting an older dog from a shelter allows you to skip the puppy stage altogether, which can mean an easier transition from not having a pet to being a pet owner. It also (hopefully) means you may avoid having your slippers, running shoes, pillows, furniture, and doors gnawed on by sharp little puppy teeth.

13. If you adopt an older dog, you'll have a better idea of their temperament.

An older dog sitting in the grass with his tongue sticking out.
iStock

An analysis of many studies found that the "personality" of an adult dog is fairly consistent. Puppies, on the other hand, can change personality a fair amount, especially when it comes to "responsiveness to training, fearfulness, and sociability." So by getting an adult dog, you have a better idea of what the animal's personality is truly like.

14. A shelter can help match you with a dog that best reflects your personality.

A red haired woman holding a white dog, both laughing.
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Because adult dogs are generally more fixed in their personalities, many adoption centers have matching programs that help the process of pairing dog and human. The ASPCA claims the programs have dramatically improved successful adoptions at some shelters.

15. You'll feel more involved in the community.

A businessman walking his dog and talking to another dog owner.
iStock

According to a 2013 study, dog owners over 50 who walked their dogs felt a higher sense of community. So adopting a dog can help you connect to your neighbors.

16. A dog can improve your health.

Woman working on her computer getting a kiss on the face from her dog.
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A study of Mexican dog owners versus non-dog owners found that the dog owners felt that they were healthier: "Compared to non–dog owners, the dog owners' scores were significantly lower for psychosomatic symptoms and stress and were higher for general health, vitality, emotional role, absence of bodily pain, social functioning, and mental health."

17. Your kids will play more if you have a dog.

A group of kids petting a dog.
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It's not just adults who experience health benefits from having a dog; another study found that child dog walkers played outside more and were more likely to walk in the neighborhood.

18. Adopting a pet helps small wild animals.

A dog looking for a squirrel up in a tree, but the squirrel is on the other side of the tree.
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As one of the most common predators in human areas, dogs can easily do great harm to local wildlife. By keeping dogs out of the wild (whether that's the city or the countryside), you can help reduce the numbers of truly wild animals that are preyed upon by what are supposed to be pets.

19. Adopting a dog can limit the spread of disease.

A yellow lab staring up at the camera.
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Feral dogs can also have disastrous effects on wild animals in regards to disease. For instance, the black-footed ferret was nearly driven to extinction by canine distemper. By keeping dogs out of the environment and up-to-date on all their necessary shots and vaccinations, adopters help many other animals, too.

20. You could have a movie star on your hands.

A dog wearing a bowtie, standing behind a slate for a movie.
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A surprising number of actual canine movie stars came from shelters. The original Benji was adopted from a shelter; Rudy, one of the 22 dogs that played Marley in the film Marley and Me, was just 24 hours away from being put down before he was rescued; and Spike, the star of Old Yeller, was adopted from Van Nuys Animal Shelter, supposedly for $3.

21. A rescue dog might have experience living in a home, making the move from shelter to your home an easier transition.

A dog on its back on a carpet.
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Some shelters have foster programs, where the dog is sent out to live with a volunteer in an actual house. Not only does this give the dog a chance to be away from the shelter, but it gives the humans looking after the pup a chance to see how the dog reacts in a less controlled environment—hopefully making the future forever home transition easier.

22. Even volunteering to foster has its benefits.

A woman walking a dog in the park.
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If you're not quite ready to adopt, consider fostering, which has a number of benefits for you and for the dogs you're housing. According to one researcher, overweight participants in a "loaner" dog walking program lost an average of 14 pounds because they felt "the dogs need us to walk them." Other participants in a community dog walking program were inspired to increase their exercise even when they weren't walking dogs.

23. You can help shelters modernize.

A chihuahua sitting on a cushion in an animal shelter.
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Shelters across the country are modernizing their facilities—which can sometimes be a very expensive prospect. The adoption fee you pay to the shelter to take your dog home will help the facility get the resources to give future dogs a better shelter experience.

24. By adopting a dog, you're saving at least one life.

A happy dog with its tongue sticking out lying on flowers.
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By giving a dog in a shelter a second chance, you can make sure it has a great life.

25. In reality, you're probably saving more than one life.

A dog running with a stick in its mouth; all four feet are off the ground.
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By adopting a dog, you open up a space in the shelter that can be filled by another future pet. And by supporting your local shelter, you help their mission to save many more.

But remember, a pet of any kind is a massive commitment. Some estimate that "more than 20 percent of people who leave dogs in shelters adopted them from a shelter." And studies have found that much of the problem is people not knowing what they're getting into. So make sure that you have the time and energy to devote to a pet, and do your research before adopting.

This story has been updated for 2019.

25 Species That Have Made Amazing Comebacks

iStock.com/guenterguni
iStock.com/guenterguni

Conservationists can't afford to become complacent. When it comes to rescuing endangered species, progress is an ongoing effort. Still, we can take comfort in the knowledge that many organisms once on the brink of extinction or endangerment have made tremendous comebacks with our help. Just look at what happened to these 25 plants and animals.

1. THE BALD EAGLE

close-up of a bald eagle
Sherrodphoto/iStock via Getty Images

For much of the 20th century, this American icon was in jeopardy. Habitat loss, hunting, and the widespread use of DDT—an insecticide that weakens avian eggshells—once took a major toll on bald eagles. By 1963, the species population in the lower 48 states had fallen from an estimated 100,000 individuals to just 417 wild pairs. To turn things around, the U.S. government passed a series of laws, including a 1973 ban on DDT that was implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). These efforts paid off; today, approximately 10,000 wild breeding pairs are soaring around in the lower 48.

2. THE ARABIAN ORYX

an arabian oryx in the desert
Clendenen/iStock via Getty Images

The Arabian oryx is a desert antelope indigenous to the Middle East. Reckless hunting devastated the species, which became essentially extinct in the wild during the early 1970s. However, a few were still alive and well in captivity. So, in the 1980s, American zoos joined forces with conservationists in Jordan to launch a massive breeding program. Thanks to their efforts, the oryx was successfully reintroduced to the Arabian Peninsula, where over 1000 wild specimens now roam (with a captive population of about 7000).

3. THE GRAY WOLF

Gray wolf stalking prey in the snow
hkuchera/iStock via Getty Images

Even well-known conservationists like Theodore Roosevelt used to vilify America’s wolves. Decades of bounty programs intended to cut their numbers down to size worked all too well; by 1965, only 300 gray wolves remained in the lower 48 states, and those survivors were all confined to remote portions of Michigan and Minnesota. Later, the Endangered Species Act enabled the canids to bounce back in a big way. Now, 5000 of them roam the contiguous states.

4. THE BROWN PELICAN

Brown pelican
CarolinaBirdman/iStock via Getty Images

Louisiana’s state bird, the brown pelican, is another avian species that was brought down by DDT. In 1938, a census reported that there were 500 pairs living in Louisiana. But after farmers embraced DDT in the 1950s and 1960s, these once-common birds grew scarce. Things got so bad that, when a 1963 census was conducted, not a single brown pelican had been sighted anywhere in Louisiana. Fortunately, now that the era of DDT is over, the pelican is back with a vengeance on the Gulf Coast and no longer considered endangered.

5. ROBBINS’ CINQUEFOIL

Robbins' Cinquefoil
U.S.D.A. Forest Service, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Noted for its yellow flowers, Robbins’s cinquefoil (Potentilla robbinsiana) is an attractive, perennial plant that’s only found in New Hampshire’s White Mountains and Franconia Ridge. Collectors once harvested the cinquefoil in excessive numbers and careless backpackers trampled many more to death. In response, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service re-routed hiking trails away from the flower’s wild habitats. This, along with a breeding program, rescued the Robbins' cinquefoil from the brink of extinction.

6. THE AMERICAN ALLIGATOR

American alligator on a log
Joe Pearl Photography/iStock via Getty Images

With its population sitting at an all-time low, the American alligator was recognized as an endangered species in 1967. Working together, the Fish and -Wildlife Service and governments of the southern states took a hard line against gator hunting while also keeping tabs on free-ranging alligator populations. In 1987, it was announced that the species had made a full recovery [PDF].

7. THE NORTHERN ELEPHANT SEAL

Elephant seal winking
franksvalli/iStock via Getty Images

Due to its oil-rich blubber, the northern elephant seal became a prime target for commercial hunters. By 1892, some people were beginning to assume that it had gone extinct. However, in 1910, it was discovered that a small group—consisting of fewer than 100 seals—remained on Guadalupe Island. In 1922, Mexico turned the landmass into a government-protected biological preserve. From a place of security, that handful of pinnipeds bred like mad. Today, every single one of the 160,000 living northern elephant seals on planet Earth are that once-small group’s descendants.

8. THE HUMPBACK WHALE

humpback whale
miblue5/iStock via Getty Images

Did you know that the world’s humpback whale population is divided into 14 geographically-defined segments? Well, it is—and in 2016, the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) informed the press that nine of those clusters are doing so well that they no longer require protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The cetaceans’ comeback is a huge win for the International Whaling Commission, which responded to dwindling humpback numbers by putting a ban on the hunting of this species in 1982. (That measure remains in effect.)

9. The Fin Whale

Fin whale near Greenland
Aqqa Rosing-Asvid—Visit Greenland, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Commercial whaling decimated global populations of fin whales, the second-largest species of baleen whale on Earth. In the 1970s, international coalitions banned fin whale hunting in the Southern Hemisphere and the North Pacific, and legal catches were reduced in the North Atlantic in the 1990. Though three countries—Norway, Iceland, and Japan—continue to hunt whales for oil and meat, the IUCN reported in 2018 that the fin whale population has doubled since the 1970s.

10. THE WHITE RHINO

White rhino adult and calf
Marcello Calandrini/iStock via Getty Images

Make no mistake: The long-term survival of Earth’s largest living rhino is still very uncertain because poachers continue to slaughter them en masse. Nevertheless, there is some good news. Like black-footed ferrets and northern elephant seals, white rhinos were once presumed to be extinct. But in 1895, just under 100 of them were unexpectedly found in South Africa. Thanks to environmental regulations and breeding efforts, more than 20,000 are now at large.

11. THE WILD TURKEY

two male wild turkeys
Lois_McCleary/iStock via Getty Images

It’s hard to imagine that these birds were ever in any real trouble, and yet they looked destined for extinction in the early 20th century. With no hunting regulations to protect them, and frontiersmen decimating their natural habitat, wild turkeys disappeared from several states. By the 1930s, there were reportedly fewer than 30,000 left in the American wilderness. Now, over 6 million are strutting around. So what changed? A combination of bag limits set by various agencies and an increase in available shrublands.

12. THE BLACK-FOOTED FERRET

black-footed ferret
USFWS Mountain-Prairie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

North America’s only indigenous ferret is a prairie dog-eater that was written off as “extinct” in 1979. But the story of this animal took a surprising twist two years later, when a Wyoming dog gave a freshly dead one to its owner. Amazed by the canine’s find, naturalists soon located a wild colony. Some of these ferrets were then inducted into a breeding program, which helped bring the species’ total population up to over 1000.

13. THE CALIFORNIA CONDOR

portrait of a California condor
SumikoPhoto/iStock via Getty Images

Since 1987, the total number of California condors has gone up from 27 birds to about 450, with roughly 270 of those being wild animals (according to a 2016 count by the FWS). With its 10-foot wingspan, this is the largest flying land bird in North America.

14. THE GOLDEN LION TAMARIN

two tamarins
Enjoylife2/iStock via Getty Images

A flashy orange primate from Brazil’s Atlantic Forest, the golden lion tamarin has been struggling to cope with habitat destruction. The species hit rock-bottom in the early 1970s, when fewer than 200 remained in the wild. A helping hand came from the combined efforts of Brazil’s government, the World Wildlife Federation, public charities, and 150 zoos around the world. There’s now a healthy population of captive tamarins tended to by zookeepers all over the globe. Meanwhile, breeding, relocation, and reintroduction campaigns have increased the number of wild specimens to around 1700—although urban sprawl could threaten the species with another setback. But at least the animal doesn’t have a PR problem: Golden lion tamarins are so well-liked that the image of one appears on a Brazilian banknote.

15. THE ISLAND NIGHT LIZARD

island night lizard
Ryan P. O'Donnell, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Native to three of California’s Channel Islands, this omnivorous, 4-inch reptile was granted federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1977. The designation couldn’t have come at a better time, as introduced goats and pigs were decimating the night lizard’s wild habitat in those days. But now that wild plants have been reestablished under FWS guidance, more than 21 million of the reptiles are believed to be living on the islands.

16. THE OKARITO KIWI

Small, flightless, island birds usually don’t fare well when invasive predators arrive from overseas. (Just ask the dodo.) New Zealanders take great pride in the five kiwi species found exclusively in their country, including the Okarito kiwi, which is also known as the Okarito brown or rowi kiwi. These animals have historically suffered at the hands of introduced dogs and stoats. But recently, there’s been some cause for celebration. Although there were only about 150 Okarito kiwis left in the mid-1990s, conservation initiatives have triggered a minor population boom, with about 400 to 500 adult birds now wandering about. Taking note of this trend, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has declared that the Okarito kiwi is no longer endangered.

17. THE BROWN BEAR

brown bear with three cubs
LuCaAr/iStock via Getty Images

Let’s clear something up: The famous grizzly bear technically isn’t its own species. Instead, it is a North American subspecies of the brown bear (Ursus arctos), which also lives in Eurasia. Still, grizzlies are worth mentioning here because of just how far they’ve come within the confines of Yellowstone National Park. In 1975, there were only 136 of them living inside the park. Today, approximately 700 of them call the place home. In 2018, the FWS delisted the Greater Yellowstone population grizzlies from Endangered Species Act protection, but reinstated them in July 2019 as "threatened" to comply with a Montana court ruling.

18. THE THERMAL WATER LILY

thermal water lily

With pads that can be as tiny as one centimeter across, the thermal water lily is the world’s smallest water lily. Discovered in 1985, it was only known to grow in Mashyuza, Rwanda, where it grew in the damp mud surrounding the area’s hot spring. Or at least it did. The thermal water lily seems to have disappeared from its native range. Fortunately, before the species went extinct in the wild, some seeds and seedlings were sent to London’s Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. There, horticulturalists figured out a way to make the lilies flower in captivity, and managed to saved the species.

19. THE PEREGRINE FALCON

Peregrine falcon
ca2hill/iStock via Getty Images

When a peregrine falcon dives toward its airborne prey, the bird-eating raptor has been known to hit speeds of up to 242 miles per hour. The species endured a plummet of a different sort when DDT dropped its population. In the first few decades of the 20th century, there were around 3900 breeding pairs in the United States. By 1975, the number of known pairs had been whittled down to 324. Things got better after the insecticide was banned, and according to the FWS, somewhere between 2000 and 3000 peregrine falcon pairs currently patrol the skies in the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

20. PRZEWALSKI'S HORSE

Przewalski's horse in autumn field
Nemyrivskyi Viacheslav/iStock via Getty Images

There are a few different subspecies of wild horse, all of which are endangered. One variant is the Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus perzewalskii) from Mongolia. It completely vanished from that nation during the 1950s, but by then assorted zoos around the world had started breeding them. From 1992 to 2004, some 90 captive-born horses were released into Mongolia. They thrived and around 300 are living in their native habitat today, while other populations have been successfully introduced in Hungary and Russia (including in the Chernobyl exclusion zone).

21. THE NORTH AMERICAN BEAVER

North American beaver
webmink/iStock via Getty Images

No one knows how many hundreds of millions [PDF] of these buck-toothed rodents were living on the continent before European fur traders showed up. But after two centuries of over-trapping, spurred by the lucrative pelt trade, the number of North American beavers had shrunk to an abysmal 100,000 in 1900. Their fortunes reversed when restocking programs were implemented in the U.S. and Canada. Nowadays, somewhere between 10 and 15 million beavers live in those countries. Thanks to beaver's amazing landscaping talents, many property owners have come to see them (unfairly) as pests.

22. THE CAFÉ MARRON

Cafe Marron tree
Abu Shawka, Wikimedia Commons // CC0 1.0

Rodrigues Island in the Indian Ocean once gave biologists a chance to raise the (near) dead. This landmass is the home of a small tree with star-shaped flowers called the café marron. It was thought that the plant had long since died out when a single specimen was found by a schoolboy named Hedley Manan in 1980. As the only surviving member of its species known to humankind, that lone plant assumed paramount importance. Cuttings from the isolated café marron were used to grow new trees at England’s Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. Right now, there are more than 50 of these plants—and all of them can have their ancestry traced straight back to that one holdout tree.

23. THE WEST INDIAN MANATEE

Manatee with fish
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

A docile, slow-moving marine mammal with a taste for sea grasses, the Floridian subspecies of the West Indian manatee is a creature that does not react well to razor-sharp propellers. Collisions with boats are a significant threat, and the danger won’t go away altogether. Still, the passage of tighter boating regulations has helped the Sunshine State rejuvenate its manatee population, which has more than tripled since 1991.

24. THE BURMESE STAR TORTOISE

Burmese star tortoise
LagunaticPhoto/iStock via Getty Images

The pet trade did a number on these guys. Beginning in the 1990s, wildlife traffickers harvested Burmese star tortoises until they effectively became “ecologically extinct” in their native Myanmar. Luckily, conservationists had the foresight to set up breeding colonies with specimens who’d been confiscated from smugglers. The program started out with fewer than 200 tortoises in 2004; today, it has more than 14,000 of them. “Our ultimate objective is to have about 100,000 star tortoises in the wild,” Steve Platt, a herpetologist who’s been taking part in the initiative, said in a Wildlife Conservation Society video.

25. THE GIANT PANDA

panda in tree
DennisvandenElzen/iStock via Getty Images

Here we have it: the poster child for endangered animals everywhere … except that the giant panda is no longer endangered. In 2016, the IUCN changed its status from “endangered” to “vulnerable.” There’s still a chance that we could lose the majestic bamboo-eater once and for all someday, but the last few years have offered a bit of hope. Between 2004 and 2014, the number of wild pandas increased 17 percent. The welcome development was made possible by enacting a poaching ban and establishing new panda reserves. It’s nice to know that, with the right environmental policies, we can make the future brighter for some of our fellow creatures.

This story first ran in 2017.

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