Tough Money Times: When You Can No Longer Keep Your Pets

by Karalyn, Inside Out!

Howdy, folks.  My name is Justice.*

While this may not seem like a topic for a business blog, it’s a reality many are facing as a result of tough economic times.  Many folks are having to make the tough decision to give up their beloved pets — either for financial reasons or because a change in housing is necessary.  I have worked for many years with dog rescue groups who saw occasional owner surrenders.  These turnovers were generally the results of poor choices or poor training methods which resulted in dogs which were deemed too difficult to handle by their original owners.

In recent months that has changed and we are receiving numerous calls from heartbroken owners who are no long able to keep their pet with them due to issues like home foreclosure, lay-offs, or the need to move in with other family members.  Parting with their beloved pets is often tantamount to giving away a child.  And while many who are reading this may say they would NEVER part with their pet, we must face the fact that at times in our lives things may truly be outside our control.

My purpose here is to help those on both sides of the transition by giving you some guidelines to work with.

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IF YOU MUST PART WITH A PET:

  1. If you got your pet directly from a breeder, please contact that breeder first.  Tell the breeder of your situation and the need to rehome the pet.  Most responsible breeders are concerned for the welfare of the animals they bring into this world.  Many will take the animal back until a new home can be found.  Other times they will help you in your search for a new home.  If your breeder offers to take the pet while looking for placement, please cover transportation arrangements yourself.
  2. If your pet is a specific breed, contact the breed rescue for your pet rather than taking your pet to a local all-breed shelter. Different breeds have different needs and characteristics.  Breed-specific rescue groups are aware of those needs and are better prepared to find and screen appropriate homes.  They will also follow-up to make sure the placement is a good one.
  3. Make sure you have copies of all medical records concerning your pet and be prepared to turn these over to the receiving party.  Not only does this help with any future medical treatment which may be required, it may also avoid repetitive vaccination which is necessary if there are no VAX records.
  4. If at all possible, please make sure your pet is current on all required vaccinations and spayed or neutered (dogs and cats).  While rescue groups realize this may not be possible, please remember that all animals must have the required vaccinations before placement in new homes.  Additionally, responsible rescue groups will seldom place a cat or dog which is not spayed or neutered.  These medical treatments cost money and most rescue groups are non-profit organizations who are extremely short on funds.
  5. When turning over your pet, be prepared to complete a surrender form, officially turning your pet over to the receiving agency.  This is a necessary legality to protect the organization from any future problems.
  6. Please put together a resume for your pet:  list your pets accomplishments; personality traits (fence jumper?); likes or dislikes, how he/she gets along with other animals, children, etc.; what the pet eats and how often he/she is fed; whether he/she has ever been involved in a biting incident.  Also include all relevant medical information:  is the pet currently under medical treatment?  If so, for what and what is the current treatment/prognosis.  Please be truthful here.  If the pet requires medical treatment that you are unable to provide, being honest with the receiving party will give them the opportunity to seek a home that is able to provide that care.  Finding out about a medical condition after the fact does nothing to help the pet’s transition, as it only results in hard feelings on the part of the organization, which has taken on responsibility for the animal’s well-being.
  7. If your pet is currently on medication, please include (at a minimum) a week’s supply of current medications.  This will give the organization time to have the pet vetted, without interrupting the current medical regimen.
  8. If your pet has his/her  own blanket, please send that along.  If you feel the need to wash it first, do so several days in advance and allow the pet to sleep on it.  That way it will smell familiar and be of comfort to the pet during transition.
  9. Providing an old T-Shirt or sock which has been worn by the owner (i.e., dirty) will also provide the animal with a “smell of home” during the transition time.
  10. If there is a special toy, please include that with the blanket, etc.  Animals find comfort in continuing to have these things in their lives.
  11. Make sure your pet has a well-fitted collar and leash.  If, for sentimental reasons, you wish to keep these items, please purchase replacements if at all possible.
  12. Plan to provide a week’s worth of food for your pet.  Obviously, if you feed a a raw diet, this will probably not work.  But if you feed your dog or cat kibble, or your bird likes a particular type of seed, these should be provided in order to avoid digestive upsets.
  13. Please understand that you are releasing the dog for placement and, as such, you will no longer be entitled to have contact with the pet in its new home.  Rescue groups seldom allow interaction between the original owners and the adoptive families for obvious reasons.  You may receive an update or two from the placement organization, but please understand that such information is provided at the discretion of the organization.

For those of you thinking of adding a new pet to your family, please consider the following:

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  1. Take stock of your current lifestyle and home.  Be very honest.  What can you really afford in the way of a pet?  What kind of pet can your space/home/work hours truly accommodate.  Do you already have pets?  Do you have children?
  2. What breed/type of pet is best suited to your lifestyle?  There are many websites offering information on different breeds and their specific need.  The AKC has a wonderful board and I notice they have a new program listed on their website for meeting various breeds of dogs and cats.  You should definitely visit this website.
  3. Once you have decided on the pet and breed, check the internet for an appropriate rescue group for your choice.  If you don’t see anything local, check the AKC website as each breed has a rescue group listed.  Contacting the rescue group directly.  They will know who is handling rescue in your area.
  4. Be prepared to complete a (sometimes lengthy) adoption application, including references, your local veterinarian’s information, etc.  A home visit is usually arranged by rescue groups.  This allows them to ensure you and your home is a good fit for the pet they wish to place with you.
  5. Rescue groups usually charge a placement fee (anywhere from $100 – 500).  While your pet may not have needed medical treatment, spay/neuter or vaccinations, another one may.  And pets pulled from shelters (i.e., dumped at the shelter or picked up as strays) often require extended medical treatment before they can be placed.  As nonprofits, these organizations operate on small budgets.  Vet bills for a particular pet may be excessive.  Your adoption fee helps to cover those costs.
  6. Many older dogs* arrive in rescue — often this happens when their owners are forced to go into facilities where they cannot keep their pet.  Or the dog may need medical treatment and the owner doesn’t have the funds or doesn’t want to deal with it.  Older dogs often have the added advantage of being calmer and better trained.  Please DO consider giving an older dog a good forever home.
  7. Homes with small children are NOT ideal for many dog breeds.  Children move quickly, often squealing in loud, high-pitched voices, arms flapping.  For animals with strong prey drives, these children may be seen as small prey.
  8. NEVER leave young children alone with a pet.  Interaction should always be supervised for the protection of the animal as well as the child.  Even if you think your children are dog saavy, for instance, something very small could set off an incident.  Please be pro-active for the safety of your children AND for the safety of the pet involved.
  9. Contrary to popular opinion, rescues do NOT always come loaded down with emotional baggage.  Dogs live in the present.  Cats are very independent.  The foster families will be able to give you useful information on pets they are fostering.  Rescues seem to know they’ve been given a 2nd chance and they often are closer to their new families than pets which were originally purchased as babies.
  10. Be prepared to introduce your new pet to resident pets on NEUTRAL ground.  I lived at the back of a cul-de-sac, so we always did introductions out in the street circle.  A nice walk with new and old pets on-leash often reduces friction.
  11. Give your new pet time to adjust to the environment.  Crating is good as the pet has a place where he/she can retreat when things are overwhelming.
  12. When introducing a new pet into your family, feed all pets in separate locations.  I feed mine in crates when a new one comes into the group.  Never give high value treats (such as raw bones) to the group as a whole.  By doing so you are inviting a food fight — never a good thing.
  13. Watch animal interaction carefully during the first few days.  It is generally best to crate/separate them when you are not around.
  14. Arrange to join a basic obedience class with your new pet.  Even if the dog, for instance, appears well-trained, attending a class together will reinforce the dog’s knowledge, enforce YOU as the alpha in the home and make sure you are all on the same page with instructions/hand signals/ways of communicating.  Check with your local Humane Society or Animal Control Facility to find a class if you are unfamiliar with trainers in the area.
  15. Make sure the new pet knows you are in control.  Check online for “Nothing in life is free” training materials.  In essence, the animal needs to understand that all things come from you and require something from him first.  Most behavior problems are a result of poor or nonexistent training/obedience.  A well-trained dog generally has a well-trained owner.  NILF comes from a program established by the Denver Dumb Friends League and it is universally recognized as a useful training tool.  Folks laugh, but even my Indian Ringneck Parakeet must perform a specific routine before he gets his daily peanut.  NILF is not hurtful; it is simply what most of us would expect from our children:  responsible behavior and acknowledgement of who is really in control of the household.
  16. Most rescues are housebroken or have some degree of house training.  For those working outside the home, this is an advantage over getting a puppy.  Pets will learn your particular household habits and rules more quickly from other pets in the home.  If you have a dog you are unsure of, put him on a leash and attach the leash to your belt — that compels him to stay with you and he learns to adapt to whatever situation he encounters as you move about.
  17. Be prepared to keep your new companion on his/her normal diet for a few weeks — some animals transition to new foods quickly, some do not.  And a few have food allergies that must be taken into consideration.
  18. Plan to have your vet do a check-up of your new pet within the first 30 days.  If there is a reason you feel you cannot keep your new pet, most rescue organizations provide for refusal within the first 30 days of adopting the pet.
  19. If, down the line, you are unable to keep your new pet — PLEASE contact the organization that placed him/her with you.  Many rescue groups require that you return the pet to them.  Others may help you find a new home for your pet.  This ensures that the pet does not end up in a shelter.  Shelters are already overrun with animals and some breeds of dog, for instance, do not do well on personality testing done by shelters.  In those cases the dogs are often euthanized without any effort being made for placement.
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In the end, remember that taking on a pet is a commitment — a real responsibility.  Be a responsible pet owner:  make sure your pet is spayed/neutered; keep your pets confined or on-leash — don’t let them roam the neighborhood unfettered; make sure your pet has proper medical treatment and is kept well-groomed.  Grooming problems can lead to health problems.

Giving an older pet a home is a wonderful way to help.  Older pets offer a calmer way to bring a new pet into your household.  And it breaks the heart of most pet volunteers to see these older pets languish in facilities because everyone wants a puppy or a kitten.

Feel free to contact your local rescue groups for more information.  I can tell you from personal experience that we all need more foster homes, volunteers, and folks willing to adopt a pet.  All of the rescue groups I know of are totally volunteer operations.  If you can’t take a pet in, you can certainly help through doing reference checks (by telephone), home visits, transporting rescues, helping at fund-raising events, or contributing in other ways.  Get involved and help make these tough economic times easier for folks giving up their beloved pets and the pets in need of new homes.

If you wish to learn more about Giant Schnauzers, please visit Southern California Giant Schnauzer Rescue, Inc. Rescue is a cause well worth your effort.

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*  Justice is available for adoption.  He is around 8 years old and his foster Mom says he’s a real sweetheart.  Please visit SCGSR to learn more about adopting Justice.

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