What to Consider Before Surrendering a Pet

A few weeks ago, I heard a family friend was giving up their dog. I had met their dog, and the thought of the dog being surrendered filled me with sadness. However, I understood his choice, and it wasn't just about the humans involved, a new home sounded like what was best for the dog as well. While I can't even bear to imagine a world where I had to re-home my beloved pup, the truth is there are some circumstances we just can't control, and sometimes, surrendering or re-homing a dog is the best choice you can make.

Black Dog against white backdrop
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According to the ASPCA, 6.5 million pets enter shelters across te United States each year, and some of those are pets that were surrendered or abandoned by owners that couldn't keep them. A 2015 study published in the Open Journal of Animal Sciences found that over 1 million pets were re-homed or surrendered each year on average.

Of the people surveyed, the study found that the majority of pets were re-homed due to pet problems (47%), which includes behavioral problems, pet health problems, and the overall cost of maintaining a pet. In fact, 26% of those who re-homed their pet for this reason cited the high cost of pet health care as their biggest concern. Other reasons for surrendering pets included family situations (27%), such as family health issues or new family members, and housing issues (18%), such as moving to a home that doesn't allow pets or moving to a smaller home. And that makes sense because money, health, and home are some of the most important things, and biggest stressors in our lives. When one of those goes awry, it can turn your entire life upside down.

Money and your pet's health

Veterinarian checking a dog with stethoscope in a veterinary clinic
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Since the cost of vet bills was cited so often in the survey, and for so many of us, money is a huge factor in determining the kinds of lives we lead, we figured we would start there. Owning a pet can be a large financial responsibility, and we hope you knew that when you got them, but even if you did, unexpected expenses can make maintaining your pet too much of a financial burden. Also, veterinary expenses can add up, particularly if your pet develops a severe condition.

You have to consider money and finances very carefully as you think about how to care for your pet. If your money troubles will negatively impact your life and wellbeing, or that of your pet, then you may have to consider making a tough decision. Try to consider any ways to cut back on other expenses or earn more money, but obviously life isn't always so simple. Under the weight of too many financial burdens, both you and your beloved pet might suffer.

However, there are a few options you might want to consider first. Talk to your local animal welfare organization, because they might have programs that can help. For example, the ASPCA in Los Angeles has a safety net program to help struggling pet families with medical expenses. Or if your dog is aging and you worry about future major bills, consider pet insurance to protect against massive unforeseen bills. If you have a looming expense, consider crowdfunding on a site like GoFundMe or Waggle, which is designed specifically for pets with large medical bills.

Pet behavior problems can sometimes make it impossible to keep a pet.

Mischievous dog sitting next torn furniture
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When we bring a new pet into our lives, we try to get to know them and understand if they'll fit in, but we can't really know for sure until we experience living together. Some animals tend to be more aggressive or destructive, they might not get along with family members, or they might not get along with your other pets. Rather than living in a constant battle or risking harm to your family or other animals, sometimes the best course of action is to find a new home for your pet.

However, you should know that training from a professional really can make a massive difference in changing behavior. If you're dealing with pet behavior that puts you at the brink of re-homing your pet, then working on that behavior probably isn't something you can do alone. Get in touch with your vet or local animal services organization to learn about options that could help you and your pet.

When family concerns make it difficult to keep your pets

7 month Fraternal Twin Baby is Nose to Nose with a Bernese Mountain Dog
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The second most common reason that people re-home their pets is because of family concerns, like human health problems or family changes. If you or a family member has a health problem that makes keeping a pet difficult, then that's a completely understandable decision. A pet can't live a happy life if its humans aren't well enough to care for it. Another possible problem is a big change in a family like a new baby or a divorce. While you should try to make the new situation work, sometimes that's not possible, and you have to look at other options.

The biggest advice we can offer is to ask for help in these difficult times. The people who love you probably don't want to see you separated from your pet any more than you do. According to the study, most people who re-homed pets due to family problems left their pet with a family member or friend, so check with those closest to you to see if perhaps your fur baby could find a home with someone you know. Or, if what you need is help walking or looking after a dog, or extra training, you might be surprised at how many of your loved ones would be willing to help.

Major housing changes can make life with a pet much more difficult.

Blue Heeler puppy laying on welcome mat on porch
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As a responsible pet owner, you want to provide a safe and happy home for your pet, and when that housing situation changes, it can be a major burden. According to the study, for pet owners that rent their homes, housing difficulties ranked highest as their reason for surrendering or re-homing a pet. Of those that re-homed their pet because of these issues, 43% cited landlord issues, 39% cited space issues, and 18% had other housing-related issues.

Unfortunately, not all homes are pet-friendly, and when you're in a dire situation, you may not have the luxury to choose according to your pet's needs. Also, if you have a larger pet and have to make a major change in the size of your home, or maybe you had outdoor space, but that changed. Obviously, you want to provide the best possible home for your pet, and when that changes, your pet may be happier somewhere else.

Young woman hugging her dog
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We hope, if you're reading this article, that you've gotten a few ideas about how to keep your pet with you. We hope you can find a way to get through a tough time. But if you can't, then sometimes surrendering or re-homing is the only realistic option. And we hope for the best for you and your pet.