Rehoming: What to Do If You Can’t Keep Your Dog
Nobody who adopts an animal companion ever wants to give him up. But if you can’t keep your dog anymore, here’s how to find him a good home.
Nobody who opens their heart and home to an animal wants to give their companion up. Life doesn’t always cooperate. In my recent experience, here are instances in which animals could not keep their homes: an elderly dog whose guardian was terminally ill; a cat whose dander was contributing to life-threatening asthma attacks in the family’s young child; a young dog whose occasional aggressive behavior was manageable until a baby came along. Also, military service members being deployed may need to find their pets temporary or permanent homes. And people who have lost their own homes to foreclosure may not be able to find a place to stay that accepts animals.
This week, where to look for help if you can’t keep your pet and no friend or family member is willing or able to take him in. Even though I’m The Dog Trainer, pretty much everything I have to say applies to any pet.
Tip #1: Talk to Your Dog’s Breeder or Rescue Group
An ethical breeder will take back any dog she has bred – in fact, your contract of sale may require you to return a dog you can’t keep. She should also have provided for situations – illness, for example -- in which she is genuinely unable to care for dogs she’s produced. Responsible shelters and rescue groups also require that adopters return dogs to them.
Tip #2: Spread the Net Wide
What is social networking for? Post on Facebook and any other social media you participate in. Ask family and friends to share the info. If there is a bulletin board at your workplace, post your dog there. Ask your friends to do the same at their jobs. Let your dog trainer know your situation.
If your dog is pedigreed, contact breed rescue groups. You can find them by doing a web search on the breed name plus the word “rescue.” Be aware, though, that careful rescue groups will probably refuse to place dogs with histories of aggressive behavior. Foster homes are in short supply, both among breed-specific and general rescue groups, but many groups will give a “courtesy listing” on their website. Offer as large a donation as you can. You can look at this as a bribe, I guess, but rescue groups are chronically short of money, and they’re doing you a favor.
Speaking of money …
Tip #3: Buy Time If You Can
If finances aren’t the reason you need to rehome your dog or you expect your situation to change in a month or two, perhaps a trusted sitter or boarding facility, or a rescue group member, can care for him while you straighten things out. This may well be the best choice if you really only need transitional care. You’ll have to pay for boarding, of course, and as with a courtesy listing on their website the rescue group should get a donation. Or can a friend or family member give your dog a familiar place to stay if you cover expenses?
Don’t be too surprised if the people you approach are hesitant, though. Dogs are essentially abandoned more often than you might think by guardians who profess only to be seeking temporary care.
Tip #4: Help for Service Members
Some groups offer temporary care specifically for the pets of military service members being deployed. The American Humane Association lists several on its website; you can find others with a Web search, using the terms “military pets foster program” (without quotation marks). I don’t have personal knowledge of these groups, except for the AHA; check finances and references before entrusting your pet to any of them. Your individual branch’s Family Programs directorate may be able to advise you, too. For example, the Army’s Family Programs website has a page of pet-related links.
Tip #5: Check Out Potential Adopters
Your goal is to find your dog a loving, lifelong home, not just four walls, a roof, and a water bowl that might or might not get washed with soap and hot water every day, right? Ask for references from job and vet, or at least from friends. Visit the potential adopter at home if possible. Ask what happened to their previous pets. (You might remember that last question from adopting your own dog. If three dogs in a row were hit by cars, it’s a big clue that somebody is careless with their animal companions’ lives.) Ask how they might handle common misbehavior, so you don’t accidentally give your dog to someone who hits or shocks their pet.
If everything’s copacetic, make an agreement with your dog’s new adopter about what will happen if, heaven forbid, they can’t keep her either.
Breaking the Adoption Contract
I mentioned earlier that if you adopted your dog, your agreement may require you to return her to the rescue or shelter you got her from. These contracts are often violated, sometimes out of concern for the animal’s welfare. For example, even sweet-tempered dogs have a hard time finding homes if they are also old and large. If you adopted your dog from a large urban shelter, and have to return her years later, she may not be adopted again. (As I explained in an earlier article, “kill shelter” and “no-kill shelter” are misleading terms, and a dog isn’t necessarily better off in the latter.)
I had clients who could no longer keep their aggressive dog after a change in their family circumstances, even though she’d made a lot of progress. Unfortunately, the rescue group they had adopted her from employed a behavior “expert” who used coercive methods that are associated with increased aggression. My clients concluded that if they abided by their contract, they’d endanger both their dog and public safety. Unable to find their dog a new home, they sadly euthanized her.
Before you break a “must return” clause in your adoption contract, you may want to speak with a lawyer. The Dog Trainer can’t give legal advice!
Rehoming a Dog with Behavior Problems
If your dog’s behavior problems make it impossible to keep her, you may face painful decisions, as my clients did. First, as a colleague of mine points out, given that you can’t deal with your dog anymore even though you love her, how many people who don’t have a bond with her are likely to be willing to take her on?
Second, if your dog’s problems include aggression, then it’s important to know that of all behavior problems, aggression makes dogs most vulnerable to abuse in the name of behavior modification. If you do manage to place your dog, you can no longer protect her.
Be scrupulously honest with potential adopters – anything less is unfair to them and to your dog and puts everyone at risk. However, some behavior problems are relatively mild, or can be managed easily in a different home. For example, most dogs can learn non-predatory behavior toward cats they live with, but a few can’t; the otherwise terrific dog who’s a menace to your Kittychai may do well in a cat-less home. On the other hand, a dog who aggresses toward children can be very tough to place safely – few people have lives completely devoid of contact with kids, and only a fraction of those people will ever be willing to take on a difficult dog.
Whatever the reason you need to rehome your dog, work on this project as hard as you would in looking for a new home for yourself. And though you’ll miss your dog, you don’t need to feel guilty. Most rehomed dogs bond to their new guardians quickly and adjust well. Rehoming is not abandonment! On the contrary, it may well be the kindest, most responsible thing you can do.
You can follow The Dog Trainer on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini. I’m The Dog Trainer on Facebook, and you can also write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Though I usually can’t reply personally, I welcome your comments and suggestions. And you can find lots more helpful ideas in my book, The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet. Thanks for reading!