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Tips for Responsibly Surrendering a Pet

By Dr. Sarah Wooten

When actress Lena Dunham rehomed her pet dog, Lamby, there was an uproar about her decision. Surrendering a pet is an all-around heartbreaking experience. Under what circumstances should a pet be surrendered, and how exactly is the process done safely and responsibly? University of Tennessee professor and small animal behavior expert Dr. Julia Albright, DVM, MA, DACVB has this advice for pet owners who are considering surrendering a pet due to behavioral issues.

Things to Consider When Surrendering a Pet

Animals live in the present, Dr. Albright says. As a human, you understand that a foster home or pet shelter is a temporary solution, but your pet doesn’t understand that. All they know is that their favorite human and home are gone.

If you are considering surrendering a pet to a rescue, one thing to consider is that the most “busted” animal cruelty operations are those that started off as rescues and rehab centers, Dr. Albright says. Well-meaning people get in over their head, and the animals can suffer because the money for the operation ran out. If you are surrendering your pet to a rescue, please be a responsible owner and visit the physical location where your pet will be living before you part with your pet. Be sure to ask pointed questions about the care of the animals.

Most pet surrenders are due to aggression. If you are rehoming a dog or cat because of aggression, then you must disclose the behavioral history to anyone that you are relinquishing the pet to, Dr. Albright says. If you rehome the pet and the pet bites someone, you may be liable. If you take your pet to a shelter, unless it is a no-kill shelter, pets with a history of aggression are usually destroyed due to liability issues.

Seek Out Help From Professionals

If you are surrendering a pet because of other behavioral issues, such as house soiling or separation anxiety, many pet shelters and national organizations like the ASPCA have behavior hotlines or other resources. They can help pay for training and behavior and can help you sort out whether the pet has a training issue that can be solved or an emotional issue that requires different intervention, Dr. Albright says. There are about 80 board-certified veterinary behaviorists around the country, as well as knowledgeable certified applied animal behaviorists that can offer help. You can also check out good training organizations that require those who are certified to have a basic knowledge of learning theory and to continue their pet behavior education. When choosing a behaviorist, look at the letters behind their name. In addition to DACVB and CAAB, look for IAABC and CPTD-KA.   

Surrendering a pet is stressful to both humans and pets alike. If you are experiencing mental or emotional stress from rehoming or surrendering your pet, then seek the help of a qualified individual. There are veterinary social workers available to help you navigate the often twisted emotional path of pet surrender.