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When Pet Surrender Is Your Best Option

It is sometimes perceived that people who surrender their pets to a shelter don’t care about them or want what’s best for them. In pet rescue, a field that is frequently overburdened, underfunded, and rife with compassion fatigue, our brains may adhere to the most convenient scapegoat. But that same overwhelm and lack of resources is not exclusive to the shelter worker; it may plague the surrenderer as well.

Those surrendering their pets would often prefer to go another route but are lacking in time, money, energy, and/or support.

If You’re Looking to Rehome Your Pet  

Depending on where you’re situated both geographically and socioeconomically, you may have been clued in to resources that exist expressly to:

A) help you avoid rehoming by solving the issue(s) at hand or,

B) help you rehome via a private program, which usually entails listing your pet on one or more platforms, networking them within your social circles, and hanging on to them while you find the right fit.

But what if both A and B fail? What if a prime factor in the equation involves a distinct lack of the abovementioned resources: time, money, energy, and/or support?

Some in our community experience crisis to the point where they cannot do what is considered best for their beloved pets, and surrendering to a shelter becomes the only responsible option available.

When this is the case, there is information that can be shared with the shelter that will increase your pet’s chance at a thriving next chapter:

Tip 1: Provide Thorough History

Some shelters will take care to provide you with a vetted surrender form to complete prior to bringing in your animal. Not only should you complete this form, but try to be as thorough as possible.

Close-up photo of a dog's face
Those surrendering a pet would often prefer to go another route. (Photo by Marek Prygiel on Unsplash)

If there are areas that allow you to elaborate on your pet’s health, behavior, and habits in your own words, by all means take advantage. Not only will this detail demonstrate that your pet was cared for and well-known by you, it will also allow shelter staff to determine the best pathway for placement options.

If your shelter does not provide such a form, search online for a surrender form other shelters provide. Some are accessible without needing to contact those shelters, so you can create your own document to accompany a pet during the surrender intake appointment.

Tip 2: Be Objective

This step can be tricky because some of us might tend to become overly emotional or emotionally shutdown in times of crisis. But a document that waxes on about how sweet or loving your pet is can come off as disingenuous and doesn’t provide the shelter with the pertinent information it needs. Instead, include the traits that make your pet wonderful but state them as if you were watching them happen and give examples:

  • Instead of “he’s so loving” consider “he approaches strangers eagerly, including children, and rubs up against them.
  • Instead of “she’s very easygoing” you might qualify that with “she’s always adapted to change easily, including three family moves and my grandmother moving in with us last year.

Be objective and honest, as well, about any behavior issues you may have observed, and include timelines and whether there was an attempt to address them. Instead of “he gets excited when meeting new dogs” try “he gets along with dogs but ever since about 8 months old he began rushing them on leash and sometimes barking, but once he approaches fully, he settles. He got into a scuffle with another dog a year ago due to the leashes getting tangled, but there were no injuries and both dogs seemed OK after.

Tip 3: Circulate Intel

The best-case scenario involves your shelter immediately sharing your provided history with relevant staff, but some shelters do not yet have these systems in place. Do some legwork to ensure this information is passed on. Prior to your appointment, try to obtain a general email address for the behavior/medical /intake divisions of your shelter and send your pet’s history to them.

This approach is preferable to providing a single hard copy at your appointment, which may mistakenly end up behind a desk where pertinent staff will never see it. If you can only provide a hard copy, bring multiple copies so they can be distributed easily. Do not plan on only giving a full oral history at the time of your appointment. Most public-facing shelter staff neither have the time nor the skill set to appropriately pass on detailed information about your pet, who may be one of many being impounded that day.

Tip 4: Clearly State Your Capacity for Follow-Up

It cannot be overstated how much this piece may end up mattering to the life of your pet. If you’re able, make it clear that you’re willing to be contacted by shelter staff. This communication may involve follow-up questions regarding the history you’ve provided and it may also involve a courtesy call if your pet is at risk of euthanasia. Our situations are ever-changing and that call may come when you have found yourself in a better or different place.

In many municipal shelters there must be a log of all calls regarding an animal, and an animal who has a lingering advocate is far more likely to find placement than one whose guardian is never heard from again.

Tip 5: Try to Be Gentle with Yourself and Others

Lastly, if you’re reading this post, it’s unlikely that you don’t care about the pet(s) you’ve shared your home and life with. Of course you care.

We’re all just trying our best in a world that is often unfair and unkind, so exercising compassion for people involved in the shelter system – both clientele and staff alike – will improve our community relationships and the collective care of our animals.

About the Author

Little King Trash Dog logo
Leo “LT” Taylor has worked and volunteered in San Francisco shelters for 13 years. They are currently enrolled in the prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers, and are in the midst of launching their own training business – Little King Trash Dog Behavior Consulting and Training – named after their deaf former shelter dog, Lemmy, who was found evading people and digging through trash cans in SF’s Golden Gate Park.
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