Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pet rehoming revisited...

The topic of pet surrender and rehoming is a sensitive one, and emotions run high among all of us in animal welfare when we discuss this topic no matter what point of view we hold. We wrote a piece awhile back in response to a box of cats abandoned on the street at our shelter, and we described the steps we believe should have been taken by the individual relinquishing those animals. But we did not address the broader complexity surrounding relinquishment and the human-animal bond, the issue at the heart of all animal surrender. In all cases of relinquishment, a breakdown of the human-animal bond plays some part—sometimes small, sometimes large—in the decision to no longer care for a pet.

We can sometimes be quick to assume that individuals surrendering animals to shelters do so with cold hearts and little regard for the animals’ well-being. An important study in 1998 by Natalie DiGiacomo, Arnold Arluke, and Gary Patronek1 paints a more complex picture. All relinquishers interviewed in the study struggled with their decisions for some time and sought alternatives before bringing their pets to the shelter as a perceived last resort. DiGiacomo, et al.’s findings have helped those of us who face these situations daily to be more aware of the complexity of the decision to relinquish. The purpose of the research, and our reference to it, is not to justify relinquishment but to better understand the perspectives of those relinquishing animals. Much like each animal we care for is an individual and we can’t make assumptions about their personality based on appearance or assumed background, each person’s decision to surrender an animal is individual. Sure, some surrenders are done with haste and disregard for the animal(s)—likely the case for our box of kittens, for example—but we need to make the difficult and deliberate decision to live by what we preach and treat each case individually.

With that in mind, we provide the below steps that should be taken when one feels he/she can no longer care for a pet. Again, each case is unique, and acknowledging that relinquishment is an option at all is a difficult pill for us to swallow. But we in animal welfare play a critical role in helping our community be better educated about pet care and the human-animal bond, and we at BEBHS aim to work cooperatively with members of our community and network to reduce relinquishment of all kinds.

Guidelines for Re-Homing Your Pet
  • First, think about why you need to re-home your pet. Are you moving? Is someone in your household suffering from allergies? Does your pet's behavior give you cause for concern? Really think this through, as the decision you make will have a profound impact on this member of your family that you love. 
    • If you're moving out of state, check out this website for suggestions on how to make the move with your pets in tow safe for all.
    • If you're moving locally, here's some great information from our friends at the East Bay SPCA on how to find pet-friendly housing.
    • For those of you with allergy concerns, this blog is a great resource on how to live with pet allergies.
    • And if you're concerned about your pet's behavior, try working with a trainer or attending obedience classes to improve behavior and communication between you and your pet.
Obedience training can help!

  • If you've thought it through and come to the conclusion that re-homing your pet is in the best interest of you and your pet, try to find her a new home by utilizing your network and your network's network. Act early! Do not wait until a move or other life event is imminent to find a new home for your pet. Talk to everyone you know about your pet and ask everyone you know to talk to everyone they know. Get the word out there and hopefully someone will be able to help. Use email, Facebook, Twitter, and any other social network you can.
  • If your network isn't proving fruitful, try finding an adopter yourself. You can post ads on Craigslist, at your vet, and in the local pet store. Coffee shops and libraries also have bulletin boards available for the public---walk around shopping districts and you will find an abundance of places to post your ad.
  • When you get a response to your ad, make sure you're screening all potential adopters to ensure your pet is going into a good home that meets his or her needs. 
    • Some questions to ask potential adopters:
      • First, get the person’s name, address, and phone number so you can verify that the information provided is accurate.
      • Why they want this pet?
      • Where the pet will spend most of his/her time?
      • Are the other people in the potential adopter’s household aware and approving of their desire to acquire a pet?
      • Does the potential adopter rent or own his/her home? If renting, ask that they've verified with the landlord that pets are allowed, and that no species, size or breed restrictions will prohibit the pet from living in their home.
      • Have they had pets before, and if so how long they kept them?
      • Are there children in the household, and if so discuss the circumstances so that you can determine whether your pet will be comfortable with the potential adopter’s children’s activity levels.
      • Are there other pets in the household and will those be receptive to an additional pet in the household?
      • What is the potential adopter’s activity level and can it matches the pet’s?
      • For cats, ask whether they plan to declaw the cat.
      • Ask for the phone number of the person’s vet. Call the vet and explain your situation and ask about the person’s history of care, vaccinations, and preventative care.
      • Ask for personal references. Call those references, explain that you are considering rehoming your pet with the potential adopter, and ask the references if they were rehoming their pet whether they would be comfortable placing their pet with the potential adopter.
      • (These questions are a starting point…ask away!)
  • If you've exhausted all of the above without success, start looking into rescue groups and animal shelters. Go here for a fairly comprehensive list of shelters and rescues in the Bay Area. 
  • As a last resort, if you've exhausted all of the above options and feel you have no other choice, your local municipal animal shelter will take in your pet. Go while they're open and give the person handling your intake as honest and complete information about you and your pet as possible. The more they know about your animal from the start, the better equipped they will be to help him/her find a home Make sure you go to the shelter that serves your area. Berkeley residents should go to Berkeley Animal Care Services, Oakland residents should go to Oakland Animal Services, and residents of Contra Costa County should go to Contra Costa Animal Control in Pinole or Martinez.

1 DiGiacomo, N., Arluke, A., & Patronek, G. (1998). Surrendering pets to shelters: The relinquisher's perspective. Anthrozoos: A Multidisciplinary Journal of the Interactions of People & Animals, 11(1), 41-51. 

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