You want only the best for your best friend—always. But what happens when the best thing for your dog is parting ways with you? The choice to surrender a dog isn’t an easy one and should never be taken lightly. Often it’s heart-wrenching. But in certain circumstances, it’s the right call.
Let’s take a close look at the most common reasons people surrender their dogs, how to surrender your dog humanely if you decide it’s your only choice, and ways to avoid giving up your dog if at all possible.
Why Do People Give Up Their Dogs?
Problem pet behavior, moving, and health problems (for owners and dogs) are among the top reasons people give up their pets (both dogs and cats), according to a 2015 survey by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
Among the surrenders related to the pet, 35 percent were due to aggression, 29 percent to destructive behavior, and 26 percent to health problems. The highest percentage of family-related surrenders were attributable to health problems and allergies in owners, while housing-related surrenders were attributed to landlord issues or not having room for a pet.
Knowing your limits as a pet owner can give your dog his best chance for a happy life. Giving up a dog does not make a person an unfit pet owner. Responsibly surrendering an animal can be the best option for the dog. Most shelters no longer view giving up a pet as a reason to deny future adoptions, as was once the case.
How to Responsibly Surrender Your Dog
If surrendering your dog is the best option for your situation, these suggestions can help you rehome him responsibly. If you adopted your dog from a shelter or purchased him from a breeder, your signed contract may require that you return him there should you need to relinquish ownership. If so, abide by this agreement.
Some owners prefer to personally rehome their dog. Rehoming a dog takes planning, patience, and effort. Finding the ideal family can take weeks to months of hard work. Spaying or neutering prior to rehoming can make your pet more adoptable—and it slows the cycle of unwanted litters.
Thoroughly interview any potential adopter to determine the best match. Consider asking for a vet reference. Keep in mind: The veterinarian can’t release information about the home in question without consent from the owner.
While the numbers of ‘Free to a Good Home’ horror stories are inflated, some nefarious opportunists do take advantage of people rehoming pets. A small rehoming fee may discourage an adopter with negative motives. The fee may also demonstrate an interested person’s ability to provide long-term care for an animal. If someone balks at a small fee, they may not be prepared for the cost of caring for a dog. If charging a family to take in your beloved pet doesn’t sit well with you, consider donating the rehoming fee to the local animal shelter.
Your veterinarian’s office may offer rehoming resources for clients. Other clients often reach out to the vet and office staff when they’re looking for a new pet, so they may have leads on potential homes. And veterinarian offices may also have resources to help you keep your pet.
Ensure the facility is legitimate before surrendering your dog to a rescue or shelter. Research the location and ask to see the operation prior to dropping off your dog. Look for cleanliness and observe the condition of the animals in their care. The shelter may require an intake evaluation and interview with you, as well. Be upfront about your pet’s medical or behavioral concerns and your reasons for surrender. This helps staff get to know your dog and find the best home possible.
Be honest about your dog’s bite history, especially. Keeping aggressive behaviors or a bite history a secret is dangerous. If you rehome your dog yourself and he bites someone, you may be held liable. Many shelters will not accept an animal with a bite history; if they do it may be only for the purpose of euthanasia. Finding a suitable home for a dog who bites requires a savvy, experienced professional. A rescue with a strong track record in rehabilitating aggressive dogs may be willing to accept a dog with a bite history, but there are no guarantees.
How to Avoid Surrendering Your Dog
Many local shelters, rescue groups, and veterinarian offices provide resources as an alternative to surrendering a pet. Because the cost of caring for an animal in a shelter can be more expensive than giving assistance directly to families in need, many animal shelters provide limited food and supplies in an effort to keep pets in their homes. In addition, low-cost vaccine and spay/neuter clinics can lessen the burden when it comes to preventative care for pets.
In the case of natural disasters, a house fire, or other emergencies, assistance—including temporary boarding or food and supplies—may be available through the Red Cross or other disaster response agencies. Military members can reach out to Dogs on Deployment for temporary foster homes if they are deployed. If you struggle to find a landlord who accepts animals, shelters and vet’s offices may maintain a list of dog-friendly housing options.
If pet health concerns or financial challenges arise, reach out to your veterinarian to discuss payment plan options. Vet’s offices may have funds for low-income families who need assistance with their pet’s medical bills. Some providers cover the full cost of care, while others provide treatment at a lower rate for families in need. If no funds are in place, CareCredit may offer financing solutions that allow for monthly payments within your budget.
Combat behavioral challenges with dog obedience training or extra exercise. Shelters may offer low-cost obedience classes or training consults. Contact the veterinarian to ensure that your dog’s behavioral issues are not caused by underlying medical concerns—this includes changes in behavior, aggression, or destructive behaviors. Spaying or neutering may help ameliorate some behavioral problems.
If you worry that your dog doesn’t get enough attention, consider a doggy daycare or a lunchtime dog walker who can spend some quality time with your canine companion.
Whether you’ve reached the decision to surrender your dog, or you’re trying to figure out how to keep your dog—this is an upsetting process. Reach out to friends and family to share what’s happening. You’ll need their support through the experience and after you have said goodbye.
Here’s an interesting story out of England. I was initially going to post this as a canine-interest “Wow, look at the size of this dog!” story (he’s over seven feet long) until I read the comments below the story from readers in the Daily Mail. There seems to be a lot of debate about whether Samson’s owners, Ray and Julie Woods—pensioners who say they don’t have the money to pay for surgery on the dog’s injured foot—should give up the animal that they have taken care of and loved since they adopted him seven years ago. In 2008, the couple went public with a similar plea to raise funds for surgery on Samson’s leg, and the required funds came pouring in.
What do you think? Does the Woods’s inability to pay large veterinary fees make them unfit to take care of Samson, a dog whose size would make him very difficult to place in another home? Or does their obvious affection for and daily care of the large dog make them good owners who just happen to be on a fixed income? What do you think?