Surrendering & Rehoming: is it the Right Thing to do?
In Canada, there are approximately 7.9 million pet dogs and in the U.S. there are 78 million dogs in people’s homes. As great as it sounds that all these dogs have found homes and these humans have found dogs, it’s not always the fun, happy and easy going bond we imagined. No matter how prepared we are, there are some things we just can’t prepare for. I think it’s safe to say that when we start thinking about getting a dog, we have an idea in our mind of what our life with them will look like. The walks, the adventures, the cuddles. It can be disheartening when the dog you brought home is not the dog you imagined spending the next few years with. Over the next few days, weeks, months or even years, their behaviour changes, their needs change, your life changes, your situation is different than what it was 6 years ago. It wasn’t something you planned, but here you are. Rehoming and surrendering pets is a tough subject. It’s an emotional decision for those having to make that choice and for some reason, it’s met by a lot of shame and guilt by people from shelter workers, trainers, random internet commenters, perhaps your own family members. This just makes things harder for the family who are already struggling and may keep the dog in an unsuitable situation because of the judgement and lack of support the family faces.
The thing is, rehoming and surrendering pets is providing for that pet. It is pet care. It is taking animal welfare into consideration. It is being responsible. No matter the reason or the situation, when a person is no longer able to (or no longer wants to) care for their pet, leaving them in the hands of someone who will provide for them, is the best place for that animal to be. This is a controversial topic. I understand the anger to a certain extent. We tend to believe that as pet owners, they are the animals’ family, their home and the animal needs to stay there. However, the reality is, many pets are struggling in their homes and staying there is detrimental to their well-being and that of the humans. Having a dog, or any pet, can be so much fun. They not only bring you joy, they bring companionship, they get us active, they provide us with a social life (how many dog people have you met just because of your dog?), they are a source of comfort, they give us a feeling of safety, and so much more. As much good as they bring, there can be a lot of obstacles and stress as well, especially if the dog is struggling with the human world.
I work with many families whose dogs are struggling. I see they love their dogs, but I also see how worried they are, how stressed they are, and how weighed down they are by their dogs’ struggles. Having a reactive dog means you’re always on guard when walking them, making sure there are no triggers around. Having a puppy means going through the puppy stage which involves peeing inside the house, nipping, crying, insecurity, taking them out every couple of hours, puppy proofing the home so they don’t chew everything up, and so on. Separation anxiety means being unable to leave your dog alone without them having a panic attack. This can be mentally and emotionally draining for the humans having to live through this 24hrs/day 7 days a week, for weeks, months and even years.
While yes, training can help with all of this, none are cured overnight and not all dogs are able to overcome their difficulties. Just like humans! Not all of us are able to get over things, or heal from our traumas, so we manage them instead. And others just keep living in dysfunction. Because getting over shit is hard. There are so many dogs who, only after being in their home and environment for some time, do we learn the environment is not adequate for them. From dogs who live in the city and become trigger stacked by all the commotion, to dogs that live in a child free home who now live with a baby and don’t like kids, there are a lot of things we don’t know about our dogs likes and dislikes, and their stressors, until we encounter it.
There are families who’ve gone through hard times, lost their jobs, became ill, had to move and it affected their ability to care for their dog. Laws allowing landlords to ban dogs from apartments and the absurd increase in the cost of housing can turn a person from being able to provide for their dog, to struggling to make ends meet.
And yes, there are those who simply just don’t care about their dogs. However, if they’re rehoming or surrendering to a shelter, they are demonstrating some care for the animal.
I’ve seen posts and comments on social media from shelters, shelter employees, trainers, dog owners, shame dog owners who surrender their dogs or rehome them. The problem with doing that is it’s elitist and ableist. That thinking doesn’t take into consideration physical, emotional, psychological, and financial difficulties a person can encounter, and not overcome in a matter of days, or months. Many of lifes' obstacles can take years to overcome, if it’s possible to. This thinking also doesn’t take into consideration the dogs’ wellbeing. Why would we want dogs kept in environments that aren’t suitable for them? Why do we want animals to remain in homes that are unable to care for them? Why would we want pets to be kept in homes that don’t want them? Why would we want the animals we love to become burdens onto others instead of companions?
Surrendering and rehoming means coming to the difficult decision that you aren’t able to provide for your beloved pet and have to give them a chance with someone who can. It means realizing what your own limits are and are respecting them. It also means that you see your dogs limits and are respecting them as well.
Amelie Koury is the owner and operator of Bon Chien Good Dog. She works as a dog walker and pet sitter and manages the Bon Chien Good Dog website and blog. She is responsible for bringing in guest bloggers and contributors to share their knowledge and expertise with readers. A self proclaimed "dog nerd" and "behaviour geek", she regularly is taking courses, attending workshops and seminars to further her knowledge and improve her work and relationship with the animals she works with. She is a member of the IAABC.. Amelie lives in Montreal, Quebec with her dog Boss.
Sources and further information
Goodbye to a Good Friend: An Exploration of the Rehoming of Cats and Dogs in the U.S. Open Journal of Animal Sciences, 2015. Emily Weiss, Shannon Gramann, C Victor Spain, Margaret Slater
Canadian Animal Shelter Statistics Humane Canada
Some Animal Rescues Warn Pet Surrenders are on the Rise as Pre-Pandemic Life Returns Paige Parsons, CBC News
Some Brits are Abandoning Their Pets as Cost of Living Skyrockets Jennifer Hassan, The Washington Post
More Pandemic Pets are Ending up in Shelters, Is there a Fix? Experts Weigh in Heidi Lee, Global News