When You “Have” to Give Up Your Dog

“A dog is a commitment for life.”

“I’d sleep in my car before I’d give up my dog.”

“Would you give up your children?”

Dog at the Sacramento County Shelter

Dog at the Sacramento County Shelter

The quotes above are all things that animal advocates tend to say on social media sites whenever there is a post about someone who needs to give up his or her dog. Because I am with a Pit Bull rescue organization, I get hundreds of emails every year from people who need to “surrender” or “donate” their dogs to us. Whenever possible, I try to steer people to resources that might help them either keep or responsibly rehome their dogs.

And, while I do think that dogs are a 10-18 year commitment and many people give up dogs for just plain selfish reasons, I also recognize that there are situations where people legitimately need to rehome their pets (and when doing so would be in the best interest of the pet). Of course, anyone who is just taking the easy way out after getting tired of his dog is still going to give up the dog, and telling that person he shouldn’t do so isn’t going to make him keep the dog (and even if he did, the dog would likely be woefully neglected).

Therefore, I’m writing this blog post so I can offer this link to anyone who does email me about needing to surrender a dog and to give resources to anyone searching about how to rehome a dog.

I’ll start with the most important piece of advise first….

Be Sure You Can Commit Before You Get a Dog

Don’t get a dog if you’re not in a position to commit to the dog for the next 15 years. Yes, I realize circumstances change, but if you know your situation is precarious and unpredictable, don’t get a dog. This applies to many college students, military personnel (especially those subject to deployment who don’t have family sticking in one place to care for the dog), those with unpredictable employment or serious financial problems, and people facing serious health issues with an uncertain future and little family support (and I’m saddened by such circumstances, but the reality is, it’s likely not a good time to take on a 15 year commitment). I recognize there are exceptions to every rule, so if you must comment about how it worked out for you, that’s perfectly okay, but realize these are some of the most common situations in which people end up needing to rehome pets. If you feel like you need a dog in your life during such a period of time, consider fostering.

Recognize it can be hard to find a good place to rent with a dog, so if you aren’t absolutely willing to take some crappy, tiny house in a terrible part of town, if that’s what it takes to keep your dog, don’t get a dog. Of course, if you’re sure you’re going to be in your current residence for at least 15 years, then great, but the reality is, most people cannot realistically be sure about that. The future is not predictable.

Finding housing is especially difficult for owners of certain breeds like Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. Securing a nice place to live can take time and be filled with frustration. Housing issues are the number one reason folks give for needing to give up their dogs. In fact, we created a PSA on that very subject. Yes, you can find a place to rent with a Pit Bull. I promise. I’ve done it myself. It just means you might need to live somewhere you’d rather not, at least for awhile.

Don’t get a dog if you currently have existing pets and it’s a deal breaker for you if the animals don’t absolutely always get along in the future. In that case, stick to one pet. If you’re not willing to separate or crate and rotate or make some adjustments to your place via baby gates or kennels just in case your animals don’t always feel the love toward one another, it is best if you stay with a one animal household. If you decide to forge ahead anyway, even if pet conflicts are a deal breaker, at the very least be absolutely willing to keep BOTH animals until you can responsibly rehome one of them with the right person.

Choosing to Rehome Your Dog

Even if you are the best owner and you thought carefully before getting a dog, sometimes things do happen (terminal illness or other unexpected medical issues, among other things). If you have to rehome your dog, please try to do so in the most responsible way possible for your circumstances. My suggestions below are guidelines.

1. Rehome your dog yourself, as I mentioned above. Don’t try to give the dog to a shelter or rescue. If you are rehoming your dog due to conflicts with other animals in the home, please take the time to rehome one of the pets (ideally, the easier to place pet). Of course, if you have three or more pets and one is the problem, then you may have to rehome that more difficult one. Recognize it can take a long time to rehome a dog, especially one that doesn’t get along well with other animals.Make sure you keep the problem dog away from your other animals while you search for her new home. That means getting a SECURE crate (see this one if you have an escape artist), and putting that crate in another room for anytime when you’re away. Consider an outdoor, shaded kennel (dig proof, with a top) if you need to be gone during the workweek. Crate and rotate. Be diligent. Do that for as long as it takes while you market your dog on Facebook, Instagram, and yes, even Craigslist. Of course, make sure your pet is chipped, vaccinated, and spayed or neutered prior to rehoming him or her.When you do get someone interested, screen that person. Interview him or her on the phone and ask for a couple of references (at least one professional like a veterinarian, groomer, or even coworker). Check out their home (take along a buddy if you feel unsafe doing so alone). Let the person have a trial adoption period with their new pet and charge a low but reasonable rehoming fee. Of course, be willing to take the dog back if it doesn’t work out with the new owner.

2. Board your dog until you can figure out something better.
This can be an expensive and impractical solution in the long term, but some folks have had luck putting a call out on social media and offering a flat monthly fee (say, $200/month) to someone willing to house their dog for a few months. That gives you some time to find a new place to rent or make other arrangements for the dog. Just make sure you screen the person carefully.

3. Show them the money!
If for some reason time is not on your side and you cannot board your dog, then shell out as much money as you can and offer it to local rescues willing to take your dog. Research the rescue. Make sure the rescue is legitimate and treats dogs well, and when you find one you trust, offer them as much money as you can to take your dog. Does this sound crass? Absolutely, but running in the red is often a reality of rescue work (especially Pit Bull rescue).  Let me dampen your hopes, however. A reputable rescue won’t take a dog it otherwise would not have taken just because money is attached. Chako gets offers to take dogs that come with sponsorships or other money all the time, and we rarely take them in because we almost always run full or have another dog slated to take an opening foster space. However, if a rescue happens to have an open foster space, and there are two dogs that are equally a match for that one foster space, then, yes, the donation might just make the difference. Plus, it’s your dog, and you should offer up some money to help the organization with expenses like food, vet care, advertising, etc.

4. If all else fails, surrender your dog to a shelter, but…
Please don’t surrender a senior dog to a shelter. Don’t surrender any dog, of any age, to a high-kill shelter. I know this isn’t easy to hear, but the truth is simple and brutal. It is far kinder to give your dog a fantastic couple of final days with you, in her home, eating hamburgers and doing all her favorite things, then to force her to spend her final days scared and alone in a crowded, noisy shelter wondering why she is there and when you’re coming back. If, on the other hand, you are lucky enough to live near an animal shelter that has a low euthanasia rate, talk to the staff when you surrender your dog. Ask if you can sign up to volunteer at the shelter. If the shelter is okay with that (and most will be), visit your dog and others as many times in a week as you can. Take him for walks. Play ball in the exercise yards, etc. But here is a caveat to remember: once you surrender your dog to the shelter, that dog becomes the shelter’s property. Recognize the shelter might have to make a tough decision about the dog you surrendered. If they do, that’s not the time to throw a fit over the shelter’s decision. Ultimately, it was your decision to give up your dog.

I hope this advice helps. Yes, all of the advice I’ve given involves some tough decisions and hard work. Hopefully, if you’re reading this blog, you believe your dog is worth that effort. Good luck.

5 thoughts on “When You “Have” to Give Up Your Dog

  1. Suzanna

    Thank you for your thoughtful advice. I would like to add one piece if possible and that it to parents who buy dogs as pets for their children. This includes being a responsible parent and counseling and older child or teenager against getting a new dog, if the family can’t commit to care for it long-term. We are now going on 1 1/2years of caring for a dog that belongs to a friend of my son’s. The young man and mom lost their home and had to split up, finding new jobs and housing. He had no place for the dog and my son offered our home as a temporary solution. The dog is a sweetheart and we are happy to help out, but the young man has no sense of urgency to find a new place where he can take his dog back. I feel like we’ve almost become enablers, but I want to be sure the dog is safe so I haven’t given him a deadline to take her back. In the meanwhile, you can also see as happy as she is with us, how much she misses her owner, when he comes to visit then leaves without her, or takes her for a few days then brings her back. The dog’s well-being is my primary concern, so she has a home here as long as she needs, but I want parents and young adults to realize as you said, dogs are a long-term commitment!

  2. Michelle

    My husband and I are moving from WV to FL this summer. We have two pit bull sons. Our plan is to live in an RV with them until we can find a place to rent. Keeping a commitment to them is important to us. They have never known a family other than us…with some planning we will keep it that way.

    1. Chako

      Michelle, good luck, and that is so refreshing to hear (not to mention, a really awesome idea).

    2. Amy M

      Awesome Michelle!
      We moved from FL to CA a few years ago. Packed up everything, plus our 3 pits and made the long drive. We didn’t have a place at 1st, but looked everyday for a few days and made it work!
      It’s definitely not easy, but its not impossible. It’s all about persistence..
      Not everyone has things go perfect and it’s hard *not* to judge (when people seem to easily give their animals up), but I try my best not to..

  3. gabriela

    If anybody knows a good good good family or foster for my pitbull chocolate lab mix . he’s 3 and very kind . very vocal but kind. Loves to cuddle. I love my dog and thought I had a perminant home,but the owner wants it back . I live in a hotel rite now and he deserves more than what he has rite now if u can help let me know .

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