1. Your animal is not a “donation” to the shelter.
Caring for animals costs the shelter more money than it earns in adoption and relinquishment fees. And in most communities, more animals need new homes than can be found for them. No matter how cute and wonderful your pets are, the shelter would prefer not to have them.
2. Are you truly ready to permanently sever your bond with your pet?
Surrendering your animal to a shelter is not a retractable act. It’s not a temporary fix. It should be your option of last resort. If you have no other options, you can trust that a good animal shelter will treat your animal humanely, even though they cannot guarantee that your animal will go on to have a wonderful story-book life with a new family. That’s the best that a shelter can promise.
Shelters do not exist to provide temporary respite for pet owners with problems. When you commit the act of animal relinquishment, you are proclaiming that, for whatever reason, you are not in a position to responsibly and permanently provide care to that animal. When the shelter screens applicants for adoption, they are looking for someone who is in a position to provide just that. “I changed my mind” is not likely to constitute sufficient evidence of a new-found ability to care for your pet. In addition, shelters don’t have sufficient resources to care for animals on a revolving door basis. If you have other options, pursue them before you surrender your animal to a shelter.
3. Giving up responsibility means giving up power.
If you want to retain a say in what happens to your animal, you aren’t ready to surrender him/her to a shelter. When you surrender an animal to a shelter you are transferring the financial burden of caring for your animal to a public charity. That charity now has to determine not only what is best for your animal, but what steps are necessary to maintain the health and safety of all other animals in the facility, the shelter’s staff, and the shelter’s volunteers. The shelter must also protect its reputation for adopting out healthy and temperamentally sound family pets. By relinquishing the animal to the shelter, you give up the right to determine what is best for that animal.
4. An animal shelter’s top priority is the welfare of its entire animal population, not the welfare of any one animal.
Some medical conditions that are considered minor and treatable for a pet living at home can be devastating in an animal shelter environment. Animals living in close proximity to each other and under stressful conditions are less able to fend off pathogens than animals living in homes. Medical personnel at animal shelters have to be vigilant and proactive in diagnosing contagious medical conditions and preventing them from affecting other animals at the shelter.
When you surrender an unhealthy animal to a shelter you are placing other animals at risk. While good shelters use sound protocols to reduce disease transmission, the risk of disease outbreak is always present and when you surrender any animal to a shelter (even a healthy one), you put him/her at risk from exposure to other animals.
5. Your animal’s behavior may be different at the shelter than what it was at home.
The environment at an animal shelter is foreign and stressful to most animals. They have been separated from their pack. They are surrounded by strange scents, sounds, other animals, and people. They are housed in kennels or cages with limited opportunities for exercise and interaction. Everything they know is gone. Their routine is drastically changed.
While some animals adapt to the change within a few days, others have a hard time handling shelter life and display behaviors that you never saw at home. Shelter stress can cause an animal who at home was slightly reserved with strangers to become an animal that displays extreme fear in meeting people. It is impossible to predict how your dog or cat will respond to the stress of being left at a shelter.
6. If you could not solve your animal’s behavior problems, are you being realistic in expecting somebody else to take them on?
If your pet already has behavior issues, they are not likely to improve or go away while the animal is living at the shelter. And how many people that you know want to adopt an animal that has behavior problems? Would you adopt an animal that is soiling the house, can’t be left home alone, attacks other animals, or nips at strangers?
If you are having problems with your pet’s behavior, resources are available. It’s important to take action as soon as a problem arises because most behavior problems will get worse if steps are not taken to address the behaviors and the underlying cause. Start with a call to your veterinarian – many behavior problems arise due to a medical condition.
7. Lying about your animal’s health, behavior, or the reason you are relinquishing the animal puts your animal at risk as well as shelter staff, volunteers, and the public. The shelter needs as much accurate information about your animal as you can provide.
If you’re giving up the animal because of a behavior problem, let the shelter know. However, if you’re giving up the animal because you just don’t have time or money to provide for him/her, don’t exaggerate the animal’s behavioral issues to assuage your guilt.
Omitting information about your animal’s behavior problem is not only unfair to the shelter, but is unfair to the family that may eventually adopt your pet. And, it puts your animal at risk of once again being returned to a shelter.
8. Understand the policies of the agency you are surrendering the animal to.
There are animal shelters that call themselves “no kill” but still euthanize “unadoptable” animals. There are animal shelters that call themselves “no kill” and don’t provide humane outcomes for the animals they take in. Don’t rely on labels. Depending on the shelter’s intake policies (do they take all comers regardless of health, age, or temperament? Or do they turn animals away that are not adoptable or because the agency is full?) “Unadoptable” can serve as a catch-all term for a wide range of health and behavioral issues. And, the term’s definition can change based on whether the shelter has empty kennels or is full to capacity. If it matters to you, ask the shelter staff how they determine adoptability.
9. Shelters require you to read and sign relinquishment forms for a reason. Read them!
If the form states that your animal may be euthanized, believe it. If you cannot live with that possibility, do not surrender your animal to that facility.
10. When you surrender an animal to an animal shelter, you are asking a group of compassionate people to take on a burden that you are unwilling or unable to bear yourself.