ANECDOTE | ANIMAL ADVOCACY
Good Intentions Gone Wrong — Rehoming Pets
Life Happens. You’re not the monster people believe you to be.
Sometimes giving up a pet is a better option than keeping them in an environment they’re not thriving in. Please stop judging them.
I get it. People grossly abuse, neglect, and abandon their pets, and give up their dog because they got a puppy (or cat/kitten) — if you’re going to judge, this is the time.
I’m not talking about these people. I’m talking about everyone else.
Shelters and rescues exist as a bridge to find a better life for an animal, yet when people turn to them, they are vilified by people who know nothing about their situation.
Having worked in an animal shelter, I often heard from potential adopters, “How could someone give this pet up,” in a judgemental tone. I love having the opportunity to humanize this “villain” and express my gratitude for the person who had to make the difficult decision to do what was best for their pet. Their face softens. Other times I see an eye roll (rightfully so, I join them in that) as I talk about the poor life this animal had in its prior home.
It’s situational; not one size fits all.
These stereotypes are often fueled by social media, which has become a breeding ground for attacks because it lacks space for conversation and meaningful discussion.
When a pet is posted by an owner in need of rehoming or a shelter advertising a pet up for adoption that includes a vague backstory — both with intents to find the pet a loving home — the majority of the comments are self-righteous points of view about how they would never give up a pet. Comments are filled with judgment and assumptions about what a terrible person this is — not worthy of ever having had a pet — a complete digression of the post's intent.
If you are not familiar, some examples I pulled from Facebook:
Shelter advertising a pair of bonded 15-year-old cats:
“This story is so sad. I wouldn’t give up my animals for anyone… Humans are disgusting.”
Shelter responds: “There are often heartbreaking reasons why pets are given up, and this is such a case. The former owner of this pair has been at the shelter repeatedly to bring special food for them and leaves them in tears.”
My heart breaks into a million pieces for them.
Shelter Post: “It’s always heartbreaking to see a dog lose their family, and it’s even harder because the dogs never understand what they did wrong. Sadly, X’s owner had to move and wasn’t able to bring him along… We’re hoping that the power of social media will help X find a new home quickly, as a shelter is certainly no place for a senior pup who just lost his whole world! He is so sad and misses his family.”
“So sad. I just found out I’m allergic to dogs, but I would never, NEVER give up my two dogs. Even though they are slowly killing my sinuses.”
Good. For. You. How does this apply to this post?
“Then they shouldn’t have moved. People that do this don’t deserve animals.”
“People like this shouldn’t own an animal. I don’t care if your moving and can’t bring your dog. Then move somewhere you can. That’s just what we do.”
“Don’t know how people can leave an animal behind when they move. Find a damn place that accepts animals or find a home with family or a friend…WTH is wrong with people. I would NEVER abandon my fur babies. SMH…”
It is hard to find affordable housing that accepts pets, not to mention breed restrictions. What if you are relying on a shelter? The street? Assisted living? A domestic violence haven? Family that doesn’t allow pets? As if they don’t feel bad enough — to say they don’t deserve animals? Falling upon hard times doesn’t equate to a bad pet owner.
“Poor baby, I couldn’t ever leave my pups behind if they can’t go. I don’t go if I had to live in my car to keep my babies…”
Owning a car can be a luxury for a lot of people. Not to mention, if you saw a dog living in a packed full car or on the streets with its owner in extreme weather, I think you would report them.
“My daughter put in an application today; if we can get him, we will. An animal should never be treated like this. This is terrible... He will certainly be treated well here.”
Why do we assume the dog was treated poorly? He clearly misses his family.
Shelter Response: “We have no idea why X’s parents moved…X and the bear he was left with look well cared for, and given his temperament, he was probably very well-loved so let’s find them a home that gives them the same.”
“Giving up a pet” has become so polarized. We lump people who circumstantially rehome their pet into the same category as those who abuse and neglect and fail to see anything in between.
We must change the narrative around rehoming because, quite frankly, it’s dangerous. I worry we’ve created a climate of shaming people away from seeking help.
In my experience fielding surrender calls, I’ve observed different reasons for rehoming:
There are devastating circumstances that leave people’s hands tied, and they have no choice but to give up their beloved pet. I’ll never forget speaking to a man who I could barely understand through his tears. His dog was ill, and he maxed out his credit cards trying to save him, already spending his last $2,000 in medical treatment. He tried every financial resource for pet retention, but none could help. He hoped that the shelter could take his dog and care for him because he was out of options and didn’t want him to die. Still, there will be those who argue he shouldn’t have gotten a pet if he couldn’t afford it. There is so much privilege in that thought process.
Gets a pet and realizes it’s too much for them. Yes, we can say they should have done their research, should make it work no matter what, but what’s done is done, and that doesn’t equate someone with being a horrible human. We fail to remember that not everyone has the same relationship with their pet that others do, and it just is. The reality is that everyone has limitations, both financial, time, and emotional. I’m glad they are taking steps to find a placement better suited to their pet’s needs instead of simply not dealing with it and keeping it in the basement or alone in a yard all day. I don’t believe these decisions are ill-willed. I call them “good intentions gone wrong.”
Not a Good Fit/Returned Adoptions
People seek to adopt for companionship, but not all pets are the comforting presence they expected them to be. Sometimes people realize it’s too much for them. They may not have the emotional strength, time, or money to work with certain behaviors. And that’s OK. The majority of these people come in crying and embarrassed and feel like the worst person in the world. Despite the shame and embarrassment they bring with them when returning a pet, I admire them for being strong enough to do what is best for all.
Moving somewhere they are truly unable to bring their pet, the owner's health, incarceration, deployed, went to jail, baby allergic to the pet, or mental or medical issues leaving someone unable to care for the pet... the list goes on. All that matters is that the pet can’t be given what it needs. Until you have had the unfortunate fate of an abrupt lifestyle change, and then on top of it losing your pet, you can sit and troll from behind the safety of your computer, but if you had to look at that person in tears, you might feel differently.
Behavior of pet
Toward owner, children, other pets…These behaviors are not something everyone can work with, and sadly, not something every animal can overcome. Can you imagine your dog biting your child or killing your other pet? There is a lot of grief involved in these decisions.
I’ve even spoken to low-level hoarders who realize they need help. They started with good intentions but got in over their head. This is frequently a larger mental health issue, yet most people might as well wish death upon them. Yes, they’ve left a huge mess to clean up, and it is incredibly frustrating. Even so, in my limited experience with this situation, I’ve heard tears in their voice: embarrassment, helplessness, sadness over losing the pets.
I’m not compassionate for all situations.
And, of course, literally doesn’t care about the pet. Dumps, abandon to fend for themselves, moving, and doesn’t want the burden of bringing their pet or giving up because of a new puppy or kitten (yes, this is a huge pet peeve of mine). This is where my judgment and anger kick in, appropriately.
A real-life rehoming experience
Allison left a bad marriage that she had stayed in longer than she should have because of her pets. When she eventually left the marriage, the only option she had was to move in with family who were allergic to cats. She lived in the basement with the cats for the month she was given to find them a home, but she knew ultimately, having nowhere else to turn and her life just having fallen apart, she had to make sure they were safe in a more stable home than she could provide.
This was not a decision she took lightly — it was heartbreaking. She lived for her pets, went without to put their needs first, and fostered over 30 cats in her lifetime (owned 4). Her mind was dominated by thoughts of what people would think of her if they knew she was “giving up” her cats. She saw how people who rehome were treated. Slogans like “pets are for life, no exceptions.” So, she disappeared before she had the chance to be judged.
She searched for a new family on her own. She visited the new owner’s home and sent them off with beds and toys and gift cards as she was so appreciative and wanted to start their new life off right. And she felt like the most awful person in the world. But was she?
This is why we have to stop attacking people for rehoming. Allison stayed in a bad marriage because of the animals. She only wanted the best for them, even if it meant sacrificing her own needs. This is not OK.
As an Adoption Counselor, I felt privileged to witness pets and families start their lives together. Nothing made me happier than the “Gotcha Day” picture filled with smiles and excitement. And nothing broke my heart more than a person who loved their pet being forced to part with it, often unable to speak through their tears.
I’m not naïve enough to say that there are always positive outcomes when a pet is turned over to a shelter. I know countless animals are euthanized daily for lack of space. Speaking for the area I live, the shelters have amazingly high adoption rates. We have many rescues that pull animals from rural areas all over the country. We don’t have enough dogs right now for the number of applicants (adoptions have SOARED during COVID). But I’m digressing — it has nothing to do with this post's intent, nor is it an area I am qualified to speak about.
This essay merely offers another perspective to consider before elevating someone to criminal status for rehoming their pet. I think people who are being attacked need to hear that someone understands and empathizes with their situation and sadness for their loss. Many will disagree: And that’s OK, we are all entitled to our own opinions. I only hope that differing opinions are expressed as just that and hold the cruelty. And as hard as it is, try not to look at the comments — the meanness may break your heart—adult bullying at its best.
I adopted my soul dog 15 years ago after his family’s apartment threatened to evict them when they found out they had a dog. He was clearly loved. They left him with a note letting me know that he loves ice cubes, fetching, and wasn’t fond of plastic bags. He wasn’t abused or neglected. They were far from terrible people, and I am grateful to them for surrendering him to the shelter, which resulted in me becoming his mom — we shared an incredible life.
Coming full circle from the first sentence of this essay: Sometimes, giving up a pet is a better option than keeping them in an environment they’re not thriving in. Please stop judging them — and consider thanking them.