The increasing number of foreclosures, combined with an even larger loss of jobs, has placed many pet owners in dire straits. Forced to move, or faced with a choice between feeding their family or the family pet, many dog owners have abandoned or surrendered their dogs. While in the last two decades, the number of dogs euthanized by shelters has steadily decreased, that number is again on the rise.
In the past few years, using “adopt-a-thons” and weekend “adoption” clinics, shelters and rescue organizations have re-homed larger number of dogs than ever before. However, since these types of events are geared towards impulse “buys”, many of these dogs are going into homes where the new owners are unaware of the commitment, both financially, emotionally and in time that is required to meet the physical and mental needs of their new dog. Is it any wonder that when times get tough, the dog hits the road?
People who take the time to research the best breed for their family and lifestyle, who connect with a responsible breeder who screens his or her puppy buyers and educates buyers on the responsibility associated with obtaining a dog, are less likely to feel their dog is expendable, and because responsible breeders will take back any dog they breed, these dogs are less likely to end up in shelters or with rescue groups if a dog owner’s situation turns dire.
While no one wants to believe their job is at risk, that they or a family member may face significant health problems, their home may be foreclosed or that they might even die, significant life-altering events are a fact of life. Everyone who owns an animal, large or small, needs to have a contingency plan in place if something were to occur where it is impossible to continue to maintain that animal. Letting a horse starve because you can’t afford hay is not an option. While your dog might be happier eating a lesser quality kibble and staying with you, a forced relocation may make it impossible for you to keep your dog.
No one should feel guilty about calling the breeder of their dog if their situation requires placement of the pet they spent forethought on obtaining. A breeder often knows of people who are looking for an adult dog of that breed and may be able to help transition your dog into another home with the least amount of trauma to both owner and dog.
Even if you didn’t obtain your dog from a reputable breeder, most rescue groups and some shelters, now have contracts that require you to return the dog to the group or shelter. If you have such a contract, please respect it and let the group or shelter know that your situation has changed and you can no longer provide for the dog.
If you obtained your dog from another source, however, and returning the dog is not an option, then there are some basic considerations to keep in mind.
While there are people who will tell you that charging a fee for your animal will ensure it goes into a good home, money is not the best criteria to determine whether the home you place your pet is suitable. Simply paying a fee does not guarantee that the person is going to be a responsible dog owner. The first thing you need to accept is that the amount of money you have invested in your pet is not going to be recouped. Your goal should not be to make money on the deal, but rather to ensure that the match between prospective owner and dog is a good one and likely to result in a permanent placement.
Long before you ever find yourself in a position to need to re-home your dog, you should take steps to ensure that if you need to do so, a good placement will be possible. Socializing your dog so that it is acceptable of people is critical. No one is interested in taking on an older dog with serious behavioral issues, and it is unrealistic and unfair to expect anyone to feel responsible for your dog. Basic training so that your dog has good manners will make your dog more appealing to someone looking to provide a home to an older dog. If your dog has behavior problems, understand that, again, the chances are good that no one else is interested in taking on those problems. Address behavioral problems when they first occur. It will make the time you spend with your dog more enjoyable as well as make it easier to re-home the dog if needed in the future.
If your dog has serious health issues which require an ongoing financial commitment, realize that your best choice, while difficult, will be to make the decision to humanely euthanize your dog.
Well-mannered, trained dogs, which are well socialized to people, will often find a new home with friends or family. If this turns out not to be the case, the following may help you locate that great home.
Start by answering the following questions about your dog and family:
1. What is your dog’s underlying temperament (is he/she quiet or rambunctious)?
2. Does your dog enjoy or simply tolerate children.
3. Has your dog been exposed to babies, toddlers, and children under the age of seven? If the answer is no, look for a new home without the added stresses of babies, toddlers or children under the age of seven
4. Does your dog need more grooming than regular brushing or nail trimming? If yes, look for a home that has experience with the type of grooming required or the finances and willingness to have the dog professionally groomed
5. Has your dog lived in a household with another pet? If so, did the dog interact appropriately with that pet? If not, re-homing your dog into a household with a cat or another dog may not be an appropriate placement. There is a big difference between a dog that enjoys occasional interactions with other dogs and one that is willing to share the time and attention of its owner with another dog. Think carefully before you place a dog that has never lived with another dog into a household with an existing dog.
6. How much exercise does your dog need (this may not be the same as how much the dog is currently exercised.) Placing an active dog in a household with a retired couple that is not physically active is not a good choice. Conversely, placing a dog that would prefer to be a couch potato with someone who wants a jogging companion is also not advisable.
7. What is the dog’s current household like? If the dog is used to a single person, a family may be overwhelming for the dog. While some dogs may adjust, keep the dog’s underlying temperament and prior exposure to children in mind before making a placement with a family. If the dog is used to a family, and enjoys the activities of family life, it might not be happy in a home with a single person.
8. Is your dog used to sleeping on the bed and being on the couch? Is your dog usually kept outside or inside during the day? Find out how a prospective owner intends to maintain the dog and whether the expected changes are going to be radical. While some dogs are flexible about major lifestyle changes, other dogs find major changes traumatic which can lead to behavior problems that the new home may not want to deal with.
Being honest about your dog’s past, with regard to health issues, dog’s past, with regard to health issues, behavioral problems and how well socialized your dog really is, will help you determine what type of home you should be looking for. Once you have identified the type of home that will be the best fit for your dog, then you can make good decisions about where to re-home.
Talk with your veterinarian (your dog has received regular veterinary check-ups and is current on vaccinations, right?). Maybe a client has recently lost a beloved dog similar to yours and is looking for another companion
Talk to your co-workers. Perhaps they, or a neighbor, has been talking about getting a dog and would be thrilled to get a well-socialized, trained dog that needs a new home.
Talk with friends and family. The dog may find a new home with someone where you can still spend time with your dog; or you may find that someone is willing to keep your dog in the interim while you get back on your feet.
Surrendering your dog to a rescue group or shelter means you have no input on where your dog is placed or even if your dog is placed. “No kill” shelters or rescue groups that warehouse dogs for long periods of time are detrimental to the emotional and mental health of dogs. Think carefully before consigning your dog to this fate. If you opt to relinquish your dog to a rescue group or shelter, find out what their placement policies are, that you agree with those policies, and make sure you are comfortable with where the dog will be housed in the interim.
Don’t wait until the last minute when you have no time to find the right home and are willing to accept any home for your dog. Your dog trusts you and deserves better. Re-homing your dog is going to be traumatic, more so for you if you have done your job with socializing and training your dog. Dogs that are well-adjusted will make the transition to a new home with relative ease, and you will know that you loved your dog enough to make the transition.