Ask Yourself These 9 Questions to Define Your Pet's Security and Love

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

pet rehoming

Story at-a-glance -

  • Over a million dogs and cats are rehomed in the U.S. every year
  • For loving pet parents, the decision to rehome can be excruciating, which is why it’s so important to think things through and plan carefully before adopting
  • For those who are considering rehoming, there may be programs available through local shelters or rescues that provide temporary assistance to get you over the hump and allow you to keep your pet
  • When searching for a new forever home for your animal companion, it’s important to make a good match so your pet will continue to receive the love and care he or she deserves

If you’ve ever found it necessary to rehome a beloved pet, you know how incredibly difficult it can be. Sometimes, life throws things at us that make giving away a pet the kindest thing we can do. It might be the loss of a job or a home, being diagnosed with a serious illness or some other unanticipated, life-altering event.

“One major misconception about giving up a pet is that the pet parents no longer care about their pet, which is often not true,” says Colleen Doherty, senior director of the ASPCA’s community engagement program, in an interview with The Dodo. “In many cases, pet owners who rehomed their pet because of cost or housing issues would have kept their pet if they had access to resources.”1

Over a Million Pets Are Rehomed Every Year

According to a 2015 report by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) titled “Goodbye to a Good Friend: An Exploration of the Re-Homing of Cats and Dogs in the U.S.,” over a million households in the U.S. re-home a cat or dog every year.2

The report revealed that in some cases, families face a life crisis that precipitates the rehoming of a pet. However, nearly half of those surveyed reported they gave away their pet due to the animal’s behavior or an expensive medical problem. Over 25 percent said they rehomed due to their own health challenges or allergies, while 18 percent cited housing issues.

The ASPCA report reinforces the importance of doing some careful research and soul-searching to determine if you’re truly ready and willing to care for an animal before you adopt (or shop). About 6.5 million dogs and cats enter U.S. animal shelters each year, but only 3.2 million are adopted.3 That’s why it’s so incredibly important for new and prospective pet parents to be prepared to provide a lifetime of care to their animal companions.

9 Things to Consider Before Adopting a Pet

1. Do you have time every day to devote to a pet? — Even relatively low-maintenance pets require attention from their humans, so if your life is already very busy or you’re not home much, a pet may not be the best idea.

Many animals, especially dogs, exotic birds, and yes, even cats require lots of daily interaction with their humans. Pocket pets and other animals who live in cages or other enclosures need supervised time outside their habitats each day. Without social interaction and stimulation, pets tend to develop behavior and emotional problems.

2. Do you have the energy to dedicate to a pet? — In addition to spending time with you, your pet also needs and deserves to be exercised, played with, trained, groomed and cuddled. If you come home every night exhausted, you should think seriously about whether you have the energy reserves you’ll need to offer an animal companion a good quality of life.

3. Can you afford a pet? — Caring properly for a pet can put a dent in your bank account. You should think realistically about whether you can afford the cost of a high-quality diet, toys, other supplies, obedience training, wellness visits to the veterinarian, etc.

In addition, your pet could get sick or injured, and you should have a plan in mind for how you’ll pay those vet bills in the event something serious happens to your animal companion.

4. Is everyone in the household sold on the idea of a pet? — It’s ideal if everyone in the family or household is onboard with getting a pet. Otherwise, resentments can build, and relationships can suffer. It’s a good idea to involve all members of the household in the decision-making process, openly discuss concerns and determine who will have primary responsibility for the pet’s care.

5. Does your prospective new pet come with emotional or behavioral “baggage” you can accept or commit to dealing with? — Behavior issues are the No. 1 reason pets are dumped at shelters. Most of these animals didn’t have the best start in life. For example, they weren’t socialized at the ideal age, were over-vaccinated or endured traumatic events that created behavioral quirks you will need to be prepared to deal with.

Combine a lack of healthy socialization with the potential for negative, fear-based training or a neglectful/abusive first few months, and you have the recipe for a lifetime of dysfunctional behaviors and responses to everyday life in the animal you just adopted.

Are you committed to a lifetime of “damage control” when it comes to positively addressing negative behaviors and phobias that your newly adopted furry companion may arrive with? And can you trust everyone in your household to participate in positive training to correct behavior issues?

Knowing your every response will fuel or diffuse unwanted behaviors can be daunting, so having a positive trainer or behaviorist on hand will be crucial in helping you deal with unwanted behaviors in a way that enhances your relationship with your adopted pet. I strongly recommend low-stress welcoming techniques the minute your new addition arrives home.

6. Will your existing pet (if you have one) accept a new pet? — You definitely need to plan ahead if you already have a pet and want to add another to the household. Most animals can learn to get along or at least tolerate each other, but there are situations in which it’s just too dangerous or stressful to keep two poorly matched pets under the same roof.

If possible, introduce your existing pet to your potential adoptee in a neutral setting and see how they interact. If it doesn’t go well, I encourage you to consult with an animal behavior specialist before throwing in the towel on adopting a second pet. Often it just takes some time and a few helpful tips to put an existing pet and a new one on the road to a harmonious relationship.

7. Are you prepared to prioritize your pet over your belongings? — Pet ownership means there will be the inevitable accidents and other messes in the house, furballs on your furniture and bedding, and the random destroyed slipper or other personal belonging.

If you can’t tolerate the thought of a less than perfectly clean house, you might want to reconsider the idea of pet ownership. Even the most well-behaved, well-trained animal companion makes the occasional mess or forgets his manners.

8. What kind of relationship do you want with your pet? — It’s important to think about how you’d like your new pet to fit into your lifestyle. For example, if you do a lot of traveling and want to take your pet along, a small dog is probably a better choice than a large breed or a cat.

If you plan to jog with your pet, some dogs are better suited to long runs than others. It’s also important to think about what you can offer a potential pet. If, for instance, you’re the outdoorsy type who enjoys hiking and camping, those activities have tremendous appeal to certain dog breeds, such as retrievers and retriever mixes.

Ideally, you do plan to include your pet in many of your leisure time pursuits, so it’s important to give the subject some careful thought.

9. What changes do you expect in your life in the next five, 10 or 15 years? — While we can’t predict the future, most of us have a vision for our lives that extends years down the road. Regardless of the type of pet you’re considering, you’ll be taking on a multi-year commitment. It’s important to be reasonably sure your lifestyle will be as pet-friendly in five, 10 or 20 years as it is today.

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Finding the Right New Home for Your Pet

If you find yourself in a situation that necessitates rehoming your pet, Doherty recommends first checking local shelters and rescues to see if there are any stopgap programs in place. These can include temporary foster homes, pet food banks, help with veterinary expenses, behavior training and pet-friendly housing.

If you find there are no suitable options, keep moving forward and take action before you reach the desperation stage. Write a list of your pet’s specific needs and give some thought to the kind of household and family that would suit him best.

“People can be very successful in rehoming their pet to friends, family and neighbors, but when they are unable to do so, shelters and rescue groups are the next best option,” Doherty told The Dodo. “We encourage everyone to consider all their options, and what is best for their animal, should they have to rehome their pet.”

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) suggests sharing your pet’s story and photos on social media, and posting flyers in veterinary offices, schools and other high-traffic public locations.4 Also consider contacting community organizations in your area that can help you connect with local families looking for a pet.

It’s important to meet potential adopters face-to-face to discover whether they might be a good fit for your pet. Explain your pet’s personality and needs and ask questions about the adopter’s lifestyle. For example, if your dog is accustomed to having someone home during the day and the potential adopter works 10-hour days, it may not be a good match.

It’s important to be candid about the lifestyle your pet is used to, as well as any behavioral or medical issues. The goal is to find your furry family member a new forever home, not a temporary stopover on the way to who-knows-where, so you need to be upfront with potential adopters, and vice versa.

Once you have a good prospect in mind, set up a meet-and-greet with your pet and let them spend time together in a low stress setting. In a worst-case scenario, work with a no-kill shelter or rescue organization in your area. Giving up a pet is always difficult, but as with all things in life, preparation is priceless, so do everything in your power to find a home for your companion in which she’ll receive the love and care she deserves.