Facing the reality of giving up your pet is simply devastating, but unfortunately, it’s sometimes the best route for you both. Our pets often become our children, and it is our responsibility to ensure they have the best home possible. Though it’s unthinkable to imagine your baby in another home, serious medical situations can arise that may lead you to realise that yours is no longer the best home for him.
This guide is for those facing that heartbreaking dilemma: people suffering from Alzheimer’s or other debilitating diseases, those with mental or physical disabilities that prevent proper pet care, terminally ill patients, and caregivers of these individuals. It will help you determine the signs that it’s time for a change, how to find your pet a new home, resources for finding the right adoptive family, and tips to making the transition easier. Though the process is never easy, it will put your mind somewhat at ease to know you did everything you could to find your pet the best home possible without resorting to surrendering them to a shelter.
You adopted your pet with every intention of giving him a home forever, so the thought of finding him a new one has likely never crossed your mind. However, the effects of your medical condition may not only be affecting you. Some pets may even mirror the declining condition of their owners. Poor hygiene and worsening behaviour may be a clue that your pet needs a change.
Other signs that it may be time to find a new home for your pet include:
- Physical inability to exercise him properly
- Inability to drive or use public transport to purchase food and supplies or take him to the vet
- Injury while attempting to care for him
- A depletion of energy due to medical treatment, making it increasingly difficult to provide care
- A worsening or newly-developed physical or mental disability preventing adequate care
- Your condition has changed your lifestyle so much that your pet is noticeably unhappy due to lack of attention, exercise or other care
If you or someone you care for fits any of these criteria, re-homing may be your best option. Though it’s difficult to accept, don’t delay after coming to this conclusion. You’ll want to find your companion a new home while you are still well enough to do so.
If your pet isn’t already neutered or spayed, have this done before attempting to re-home him or her. Ensure they’re up-to-date on all vaccinations and have a clean bill of health from the vet. This will give them a healthy start in their new home, and undoubtedly better their chances at adoption.
Before re-homing, it’s important to address any potential behaviour problems your pet might have. If they have ever shown serious signs of aggression or bitten someone, speak to a trainer or professional behaviourist to work through the problem. Even if a specialist shows great progress, don’t withhold this information from their new owners. Provide the contact information of the trainer and remind the owner that the first few days in their new home will be an adjustment, so uncommon behaviour may temporarily surface. Remember: unexpected signs of aggression could cause your pet’s new owners to return them to you or worse yet surrender them to an overcrowded, noisy shelter. Do your best to ensure their new home will be safe, happy, and forever.
If you signed an adoption contract when you first got your pet, you may be required to return it to the same person or organisation. Some rescue groups specify that an animal must be returned regardless of how much time has passed, so contact the organisation if you’re unable to find the contract.
Ultimately, asking a loved one to adopt your pet is often ideal, especially since he or she is already familiar with them. Even if they can’t take him in, friends and family (or possibly even your dog sitter) are also great resources for potential adopters. They might know a friend or coworker who would be interested and can act as a valuable reference.
The Blue Cross has a scheme that connects pet owners with adopters while allowing the animal to stay in his original home until he’s adopted. Within Scotland, the Dog Aid Society also offers a similar re-homing service while the dog stays in his original home. This also allows you to meet the new owner and find out more about where your pet will be living.
Seek out animal rescue groups in your area and find out which ones like the RSPCA have fostering programmes. If you can’t keep your pet until the adoption is final (and no friends or family can give temporary care), a foster home vetted by a rescue is your best alternative. Don’t forget that there are many breed-specific rescue organisations. The RSPCA can help you locate shelters and rescue organisations in your area.
Veterinary offices and trainers are another valuable resource; they might not know of any potential adopters off-hand, but they may offer to advertise within their offices.
Another important reason to reach out to rescue organisations is that though they may not have an available foster family to take in your pet, they may help you interview adoption candidates to find the right home. It’s helpful to be a part of the re-homing process and to speak to interested parties yourself. It’s one of the best ways to put your mind at ease post-adoption that your pet will be loved and cared for by a compassionate family.
Make posters and advertisements to spread the word about your pet in need. Include his name, recent coloured photos, breed, and endearing personality traits. Note his training skills and housebreaking status, and any guidelines for a new home (no small children, other pets, experienced dog owner, etc). Be honest about the needs and traits of your pet; even the most well-intended “spins” on an undesirable quality or tricky medical condition could lead his adopters to return him to a shelter, and that’s the last thing you want.
Hang posters at vet offices, pet training facilities, loved ones’ work environments, and rescue organisations, requesting permission as necessary. And don’t forget to utilise one of your biggest advertising assets: the internet. Creating a Facebook page can be another great way to circulate your pet’s photo and information.
Although your goal is obviously not to make a profit from the adoption of your pet, you may opt not to offer him for free. This can potentially attract the exact opposite kind of candidate that you’re looking for: companies looking for animals to test products on, those involved in dog fighting rings, and other animal abusers. Even if you do give him away to a qualified adopter, people tend to put less value on anything they’ve obtained for free. Your ideal candidate should be beside herself with love and excitement to take in your dog and happy to cover the cost. If someone isn’t willing to pay a nominal adoption fee, he or she may not be willing to cover other required expenses for pet care.
As you speak with potential adoption candidates, don’t rush to set up visits or official interviews. Ask a few basic questions—Why are you interested? Do you have other pets? What kind of a living space do you have? Do you have references?—and then let candidates know you’re still taking names and will be in touch. This will weed out impulse callers who may not truly be ready for a pet, plus it gives you an out if you get a funny feeling about someone. Trust your instincts; they’re usually right, especially when it comes to your beloved companion.
There are several key areas you’ll want to cover in your interviews. First, ask questions that provide insight into their experience and responsibility with pets:
- Have you ever owned a pet? If you no longer have him, what happened to him? Look out for answers like it ran away, was hit by a car, died by preventable disease or was surrendered to a shelter.
- How long have you had your current pet?
- Is anyone in the home afraid of animals or an allergy sufferer?
- Are you thinking of moving anytime soon? If so, will the pet come, too?
- Do you have a plan for where the pet will go if you go on holiday?
- Are your current pets up-to-date on all vaccines, and are they spayed or neutered? Other pets being fixed may not seem relevant if yours is, but it demonstrates pet responsibility and eliminates reckless backyard breeders from your list of candidates.
- How often will the pet’s waste area (i.e., litter box) be cleaned?
You’ll also want to ask questions that ensure your pet’s physical environment will be appropriate:
- Do you own your own home or rent
- Does your home have an enclosed garden? Fenced gardens aren’t always vital, but this question can also give you insight into how much priority the candidate places on exercising your pet.
- Will you allow a home check?
- If there are other pets in the home, what kinds and how large are they? Ideal sibling pets will be similar in size and species, but this really depends on your own pet’s experience with other animals.
Next, confirm your pet will be in a safe, loving environment with the appropriate kind of family:
- What are your family’s expectations of the pet? For example: If they’re looking for a dog they can take hiking but yours suffers from arthritis, it’s not a strong fit.
- If there are small children in the home, do they have any experience with pets, and will parents supervise appropriately and take the bulk of responsibility for the pet? Pets are a great way to teach kids about responsibility, but they shouldn’t be the sole caregivers. You also want to ensure that no harm will come to animal or child due to a lack of supervision.
- Where will the pet stay while you’re at work?
- Do you plan on crating, and for how long each day? Reasonable crating can be helpful in acclimating a pet to a new environment or routine. However, you certainly don’t want him spending 8 hours a day caged, so use your best judgment.
- How many hours per day will the pet be left alone? Most older cats and dogs can handle being alone for the length of a normal working day (8 hours) but need a pee break every 4-6 hours. Young puppies and kittens shouldn’t be left alone for more than 4 hours a day.
- Would you be willing to adopt during the weekend or holiday time to help him transition more easily?
- Will the pet be going outside at all? Allowing a dog to be indoor and outdoor is acceptable so long as he isn’t left outside on a regular basis while the family remains inside or away from home.
Finally, test your candidate’s knowledge of pet care, training, and discipline:
- Do you realise that cats can live for 20 or more years, and dogs for 15 or more years? This may seem obvious, but unfortunately, not everyone realises that pet ownership is a lifelong commitment.
- If the pet has an accident, what type of correction will you use? There are various acceptable answers to this, the key being to show patience and consistency. And a general familiarity with pet training doesn’t hurt, either!
If you think you’ve found the right candidate, request appropriate forms and documentation:
- Valid photo I.D.
- A (redacted) bill proving residency
- Lease agreement specifying that pets are allowed in a rented home (the landlord can also act as a reference to verify this)
- Documentation proving that all other pets are up-to-date on vaccinations
After the interview, you’ll want to conduct a home check. Home checks are important in verifying the given address and confirming that any details the adopter has given about it are accurate and meet your expectations. If you’re unable to perform one yourself, a caregiver, loved one, or rescue organisation rep can go in your place. (Whoever does the home visit should bring a buddy; never perform one alone!) Meet everyone currently residing there, including children and other pets. If the initial visit meets your standards, you may want to follow up with a second visit to see how your pet responds. Whether it’s during the home visit or at another time, everyone in the household should meet your pet before committing to the adoption.
If the home visits go well, references check out (ideally about three, including a vet), and you have a confident sense that you’ve found the right parent for your pet, come up with an adoption contract. You can create your own from scratch, or modify a contract like this one to fit your needs. Collaborate with the adoptive family to come up with reasonable requirements and stipulations, and sign a copy for each of you to keep. If you’re dealing with serious or terminal health issues, ask a loved one to co-sign and keep a copy.
When the time comes to hand over responsibility, do your best to put on a brave face. Too much negative emotion may confuse and upset your pet. It may even make him so nervous that he becomes unwilling to leave with his new owner, no matter how much they previously bonded. Smile through your tears as much as you can, tell him what a good boy he is and how much you love him, and let him go.
Though you’ll pass on many of your pet’s supplies to his adopter—like his food and water dishes, favourite toys and bed—consider holding onto a keepsake that will remind you of him. Stripping him from your life completely may actually make the process more painful. A blanket or collar will give you something tangible to hold onto during particularly lonely days, and serve as a reminder of the loving home you provided him for so long and the care you took in finding him a new one.
Talk to the adopter about keeping in touch via email or text message to receive updates on your pet. Though tempting, avoid making repeated visits to his new home. Though it may ease the pain in the short-term, ultimately it will be more distressing to your pet when your visits abruptly stop. Usually, the best way to minimise your grief is to make the transition as quickly as possible and let him adjust to his new home without continually confusing him.
If you’re having a particularly tough time making the transition, write your pet a letter. Putting your feelings into words can be extremely therapeutic and ease the guilt you may feel. Tell him how much you miss him and wish you could have kept him. Recount your favourite memories together. Tell him how difficult it was to give him up, but that you did it to ensure him the best possible care and handpicked his wonderful new home.
You may choose to pass the letter along to his new family, or to keep it for yourself to read over on especially rough days.
Do what you can to keep yourself distracted in the days and weeks that follow your pet’s re-homing. Exercise as much as you are able to, even if it’s just a short walk down the street. Make it a point to stay social, connecting with others face-to-face as often as possible. Pick up a new hobby or learn a new skill, and participate in loved activities whenever you can. Most importantly, embrace every opportunity to laugh or smile.
If you’re the caregiver of someone who’s recently had to give up a pet, do your best to stay supportive. Act as a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on, but be mindful not to let your dependent slip into depressive behaviour. Keep an eye out for depressive symptoms including fatigue, social withdrawal, loss of appetite or weight loss, loss of interest in hobbies, and neglecting personal care. Don’t be afraid to talk about the pet; though it may seem insensitive, it’s often helpful to the grieving process to reminisce. Schedule regular social activities even if it’s just a video call with a relative, and don’t be deterred if your dependent refuses. Gently insist on staying as active and social as possible, but don’t force too much too soon.
Giving up your pet is a devastating situation but when his well-being and your own are at stake, it may be the best choice for everyone. No one will ever replace your spot in his heart, no matter how many years pass. Let go of your guilt and remember that though it broke your own heart, you gave him the best opportunity for a full, happy life.