Saturday, August 2, 2008

Options for Rehoming an Animal, if You're Interested in What's Best for the Animal

Back in February, there was a front page newspaper story out of Burlington, NC about a college student who was being kicked out of his apartment complex due to a barking dog. This dog happened to be a beautiful 2 year old pit bull. He relunctantly decided to rehome his dog and stay in the apartment. He figured his best bet for finding the dog a new home would be to turn him over to the local animal shelter. There could not have been a worse decision if the goal was to find him a new home, and tragically he was euthanized only one hour after the paperwork was signed. I think the blame for this tragic story lies in multiple places. The public is obviously largely uninformed about the realities of local animal shelters if they think that's the best way to find a new home for their animals, so some of the blame lies with the student for being ignorant to the facts. However, I believe that the animal shelter was negligent in not clearly detailing what was going to happen to the dog. I think if the student had been told there was a possiblity the dog would be put down within one hour, he would have never chosen to leave him there.

Being the animal lover/advocate I am, I was understandably horrified by the senseless tragedy this story told. In response to the story I wrote an editorial to the paper who published it, and my editorial was quickly published behind it. It went like this:

Two weeks ago I had to put my dog Hannah down. She was 14 yrs. old, had breast cancer, and was in a lot of pain. My choices were: 1) constant surgery, or 2) put her out of her misery now. I made the tough decision to go ahead with it, knowing she would never understand all the surgeries and pain. As sad as this was to do, I felt at peace with my decision knowing she would never suffer again.

The story in the Times News last Wednesday about the Elon student who turned his dog in to the Alamance Co.  Animal Shelter broke my heart. It is all to indicative of society's casual, dismissive and uninformed views when it comes to pets...if we decide we can't keep them, there's always the local animal shelter that will find them a new home. It'd be great if it worked that way. But it doesn't.  85% of animals who are taken to shelters in NC are euthanized, which comes to about 250,000 animals annually.

I know the Elon student had a change of heart and went back to get the dog, so obviously he cared about his dog.

Owning an animal is a privilege that brings a lifetime of joy and unconditional love. The decision to have a dog or any animal is also a lifetime commitment, not just for a year or two while the puppy is still so cute and playful. It involves sticking it out through diarrhea and vomiting, paying whatever it takes to make sure the animal is well cared for and healthy, and a physical commitment to exercise...every day. And, when the dog has lived a long, full life, yes, it involves you having to make the difficult decision to humanely put him down when he tells you it's time.

It is a real shame that the bulldog mentioned in last Wednesday's story was put down after only one hour of being turned in by his owner. What a waste of a great dog. I hope people will think very hard about whether they're truly ready for a lifetime commitment to a dog, which is what the dog is offering them.

This story has weighed heavily on my heart and mind for some time. My goal in this post is to inform the public about the best ways to go about rehoming an animal you can no longer keep, after considering all options and finding there is just absolutely no way you can keep it. There is an obvious need for education on the subject, so here goes:

1) BACK TO WHERE HE CAME FROM. Go back to the place you got the dog. Was it a breeder? Even if you've had the dog for years, a responsible breeder will care what happens to any of the dogs they've bred, and will make every effort to help you find another home or possibly even take it back to live with them. However, if you do not feel comfortable giving the dog back to the breeder for some reason, don't. There are other options. If it came from an animal shelter, DO NOT JUST TURN YOUR DOG IN, thinking it will be rehomed. As the story above showed, most will not make it if turned in to a shelter. That said, there is probably something in your adoption contract that says whether you must return the dog to the shelter or rescue group you got him from if for any reason you can't keep him.

2) IS YOUR DOG ADOPTABLE? Next, you've got to consider what your dog's potential adoptability odds are. If the dog is old or in bad health or has any behavioral problems, it will be much harder for you to be able to find a new home for him. Your dog's chances will greatly increased if he is 4 yrs. old or younger, knows some basic obedience commands, is friendly to people and is adaptable to new situations. What would you think if you were meeting your dog for the first time? This is where you will have to step up as the responsible owner and get him ready to meet new potential adopters. Consider these points:
• It may require you to take him to a basic obedience class to get his manners tuned up. 
• You definitely will want to have him bathed and groomed and presentable to new
     prospective families. Make sure you throw his old ratty collar out and dress him up 
     in a brand new sporty one to spruce up his overall look. This small act can make a world
     of difference in how he is received by new people meeting him for the first time! 
• Now would be a good time to take him to the vet as well to get all of his vaccinations up
     to date and make sure he is in good health.
• Remember that spaying or neutering a dog will go a long way in helping reduce 
many behavioral problems, and will give your dog a healthier future, not to 
mention the possibility of saving his life. Some animal rescue groups and SPCAs 
offer low cost spay and neuter surgeries. Check with your local rescues in your
area to inquire about where you can have the surgery performed for a reasonable
• Please consider microchipping your dog before finding him a new home. Not only
could this save your dog's life, but prospective owners will look at this as a real 
plus, and it may help them choose your dog over another they may be 

3) ADVERTISING: Consider placing a classified ad to let more people know he's available. 
Don't forget to make use of the internet as well. There are lots of ways to get the word out to 
people who may be looking for something specific, and using such avenues such as 
and similar sites will help you in your search for a new home. Include a description of your 
dog, his needs and your requirements for the home you're looking for, and your phone 
number. Emphasize your dog's best points. Is he good with kids? Is he trained? You may want 
to charge a fee for the adoption, so you can weed out people who may not have the best 
intentions for your dog, and to offset some of your costs you've put into him. Do not list your 
ad as "Free to a good home". This will attract the wrong type of people.

4) FLYERS: Take some flyers that include a cute picture and great description of your dog
around town and hang them up. Your veterinarian's office would be a great place to get him

Finally, when the calls do start to come in, be sure you screen the interested parties as
stringently as you were during your adoption process when you initially got the dog.
• Ask questions like: Do you have a fenced yard? How will the dog get his exercise every day?
What happened to your last dog? Where will the dog stay during the day? If the weather is too
hot or cold, you know you don't want him to live outdoors 24/7.
• Ask the person for references such a their veterinarian's name and number and call it 
to make sure the person is a responsible animal owner. Ask for 2-3 other personal references 
as well and call those too.

When all references have checked out, make an appointment to have the prospective new
owners meet you and your dog. If at any time you get a bad feeling about them, no matter
what.....DO NOT GIVE THEM THE DOG! There'll be other potential homes, and you would
always wonder if the dog was ok if you gave it to a person you didn't have a good feeling

When you do find a home you feel the dog will have a good life with, tell the new owner that
if for any reason it doesn't work out, they should call you and you should be willing to take 
the dog back. Tell them you want to keep in touch and that you'll call them in a few days to
see how things are going. Tell them to call you with questions or problems.

These are the ways that are in the best interest of your dog if, after long and careful
consideration, you come to the decision that he must be rehomed. Some people would say
that the animal shelter should be the last resort for the place to take your dog to be rehomed.
I would say that it is not even an option, and I cannot stress enough that by turning your dog 
over to an animal shelter, odds are it is most likely going to be euthanized. Don't get me
wrong, animal shelters are doing all they can do to help animals find homes. The problem is
that there are just too many animals in the world and not enough homes. By law, animal
shelters have to keep stray animals that come in for several days to give owners time to find
them. However, an owner-surrendered animal is not protected by the same law and can and
will be destroyed to make room for others who are.

These are the realities! So, take great care in selecting a new home for your dog. You are the
only one he has looking out for him and you're responsible for his success.

I hope this posting has helped inform people about the realities of shelters and helpful info 
on ways to rehome an animal. Good luck to all of you who decide that you have to give up
your animal. They're counting on you to make the right choices for them. Give them the
best chance by following the advice above.