Your dog is a part of your family, and making the decision to give her up can be heartbreaking. But sometimes, because of financial reasons, lifestyle changes or specific pet behavior problems, it’s the best decision for everyone. Taking your dog to an animal shelter is much better than leaving her somewhere to fend for herself—a death sentence for most dogs and illegal in most states. However, your dog will likely find the shelter environment stressful, and, depending on the policies of the shelter, she may be at risk for euthanasia. Thousands of companion animals are surrendered to shelters each year, and there simply aren’t enough resources to care for all of them. A good alternative is to try finding a new home for your dog yourself. This solution will be easiest on her—and easiest on you, too, since you’ll know that your dog is in good hands.
Do You Really Need to Re-home?
There are many reasons why people consider giving up their pets, including unexpected financial difficulties, moving to a new home, conflict between pets in the household, the upcoming birth of a child, busy work schedules and frustrating pet behavior problems. Although some of these problems are challenging or impossible to overcome, others may be easier to resolve than you think. It’s important to thoroughly consider alternatives to re-homing before making your final decision.
Each year, millions of dogs are relinquished to shelters or re-homed because of behavior problems. Unfortunately, many pet parents don’t realize that a number of problematic pet behaviors can be managed or modified. For example, if your dog’s destructive chewing and rambunctious behavior are driving you crazy, effectively transforming her into a polite member of your family may be as simple as increasing her daily exercise, teaching her some basic obedience and providing appropriate things for her to chew. (Please see our articles on Training Your Dog, Exercise for Dogs, Enriching Your Dog’s Life and Destructive Chewing for more information about these topics.) On the other hand, if you’ve recently adopted a dog who seems intent on eating your cat for dinner, re-homing the dog with a cat-free family might be the most prudent course of action. To determine whether or not you should attempt to modify your dog’s behavior problem, seek advice from a qualified animal behavior expert, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). To learn about locating and choosing one of these experts, please see our article on Finding Professional Help.
Moving or Housing Problems
Whether you’re moving across the country or just around the block, relocation can be overwhelming. However, the following tips may help you avoid having to leave your dog behind:
- If you rent and you’re worried about finding a landlord who allows pets, contact a humane society or animal shelter in your area. These organizations often have lists of local pet-friendly housing options. You can also try visiting a site dedicated to helping people find apartments and rental homes where pets are allowed:
- http://www.petrent.net/ (for people looking for housing in New York City, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego)
- Make your dog her own “resume” to give to prospective landlords when you submit rental applications. Include a description of her personality, her history and a charming photo. Many landlords are impressed by a list of previously taken obedience classes or certifications, such as therapy-dog certification or the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) designation, so be sure to include those. You can also offer letters of recommendation from past landlords, trainers or your dog’s veterinarian.
- Consider asking a friend or family member to temporarily keep your dog if you feel that you can’t give her the attention she needs during your move. After you’re settled in, your dog can join you in your new home.
- If you have no other alternatives, you can board your dog at a kennel or vet clinic until you’ve completed your move.
There are many practical ways to provide your dog with adequate exercise, mental stimulation and attention—even if you have a busy schedule. Spicing up your dog’s daily routine can be as easy as taking a 20-minute trip to the dog park before work, dropping her off at a dog daycare once or twice a week, hiring a dog walker, asking a family member to visit her during the day or giving your dog her meals in food-puzzle toys. Please see our articles on Daycare for Dogs, Enriching Your Dog’s Life, Exercise for Dogs and Dog Parks for more information and additional ideas.
The Re-homing Process
If you decide that you do need to re-home your dog, follow the guidelines below to maximize your search efforts and help your dog make a smooth transition into her new home. Keep in mind that finding the right person or family for your dog may take some time and effort, but your patience and hard work will pay off in the end.
- Prepare your dog Before you get started, spay or neuter your dog if you haven’t done so already. Also make sure she’s healthy and up-to-date on her vaccinations. It’s a good idea to print her veterinary records and keep them handy so that you can give them to her new pet parent.
- Take some good color photos Focus on illustrating your dog’s most adorable qualities and her favorite activities. If she’s crazy about fetching, for example, take a picture of her happily posing with her favorite ball.
- Provide detailed information Write a paragraph or two about your dog. Explain why she needs a new home, describe what kind of home would be best for her, and outline her likes and dislikes. Be sure to list your favorite things about her. Mention the most entertaining and endearing aspects of her personality. Be creative! It might help to write from her perspective: “Hi, my name is Daisy and I need a new home! I’m a lively Boston terrier mix who loves playing tug and cuddling with oversized stuffed animals. I don’t get along well with cats—but I adore kids…”
- Spread the word After you’ve taken a few great photos of your dog and written a brief description of her, you can start searching for her new home.
- E-mail everyone you know and ask them to forward your message to their friends and family.
- Put up posters and fliers at pet stores, dog daycares, dog parks, veterinary clinics, boarding facilities and pet grooming salons. Be sure to include your telephone number or e-mail address so that interested parties can easily reach you.
- Make a bandana or a t-shirt for your dog that says, “Adopt me!” Then you can take her on walks to show her off. Go to outdoor cafés, parks where people walk dogs and other areas with high foot traffic. o Place an ad in your local newspaper. Include the best photo of your dog and your written description of her. When people see the ad and contact you, screen applicants carefully. (Please see Choosing the Right New Home, below.)
- Charge a fee Unless you’re placing your dog with a friend or relative, charge an adoption fee. Doing so is likely to discourage anyone with malicious intentions. If an individual wants to adopt your dog for the right reasons, a nominal fee should not deter him or her. If you like, you can ask the person to make out the check to a local animal shelter. In addition to assuring yourself that you’ve chosen a good adoptive home for your dog, you’ll help other animals who need new homes.
Choosing the Right New Home
When an interested party contacts you about your dog, the first step is to conduct a thorough telephone interview. Ask many questions, including the following:
- Why are you interested in my dog? What specifically attracts you to her?
- Where will the dog live during the day?
- Where will she sleep at night?
- What kind of activities do you want to do with the dog? Do you plan on training her? If so, how?
- Where will you take the dog for veterinary care?
- Do you have any other pets? Do you have a family or roommates living with you?
- Have you ever had a dog before? If so, what happened to him or her? You can also ask to see veterinary records for previous pets to verify that they received proper care.
- What would you do if you had to give up the dog for some reason in the future? Let the prospective adopter know if you’re willing to take your dog back in the event that things don’t work out.
If you’re satisfied with the prospective adopter’s answers to your questions, you can move on to the next stage in the re-homing process:
- Arrange a meeting The person should visit you and your dog at your home, meet you somewhere in public, or invite you to visit his or her home. It’s important to see how the person interacts with your dog—and how your dog reacts to him or her. Does your dog seem to like the person? If a family is interested in adopting your dog, does your dog seem to like everyone in the family, including any young children?
- Ask for the landlord’s contact information If the prospective adopter rents a house or apartment, it’s a good idea to verify that he or she has permission to keep a pet.
- Get references Ask for written or verbal references from the person’s friends, neighbors and, if possible, a veterinarian. Do these individuals readily claim that the person will be a responsible and loving pet parent?
Be sure to carefully evaluate all potential new homes. If you feel uncertain about someone who’s interested in adopting your dog, trust your gut. Wait for the right person to come along.
Moving to a brand new home can be very stressful for a dog. The following tips will help make the change as easy as possible for everyone:
- Though it’s not feasible in every situation, it’s ideal to give your dog opportunities to get to know the person who’s adopting her. If possible, follow the steps below to help your dog ease into her new life. After completing each step, it’s best to wait at least a few days before moving on to the next one.
- Take your dog to visit the adopter at least once or twice. Spend some time playing or just relaxing in your dog’s new home.
- After a visit or two together, let your dog spend some quality time alone with her new person. Drop off your dog at the adopter’s house for a few hours. When you return to pick up your dog, avoid a big, excited greeting. It’s fine to pet her calmly, but you want her to think that visiting her new friend is the part that’s wonderful and exciting—not being reunited with you afterward.
- Next, arrange a sleepover. Instead of leaving your dog with the adopter for only a few hours, let her spend the night with him or her. Return the next morning to pick up your dog.
- After she’s spent a night with the adopter, try leaving your dog in her new home for an entire weekend.
- When your dog has had time to make friends with the adopter and seems comfortable spending time in her new home, she’s ready to make a permanent transition.
- When it’s time for your dog to join her new pet parent, make the hand-off as uneventful as possible. Your dog may feel more anxious if parting with you is a long, drawn-out process and you’re obviously distressed. For her sake, try to remain calm and upbeat—even if you’re sad about having to say good-bye.
- Give the adopter all of your dog’s toys, her favorite treats and her dog bed or crate. The presence of familiar things and smells might help her feel more comfortable in her new home.
- Send your dog to her new home with enough of her regular food to last for at least a week. Abruptly changing to a new food can upset a dog’s stomach and sometimes causes diarrhea. If your dog’s new pet parent wants to feed her a different kind of food, the switch should be made gradually to avoid stomach problems.
- Ask the adopter if you may call in a few weeks to follow-up. Finding out how your dog is adjusting will ease your mind, and your dog’s new pet parent should be happy to give you a quick report. However, it will be easiest on your dog if you resist going to visit. She needs to learn that her new home is permanent.
- Some animal shelters and humane societies, such as the Richmond SPCA in Virginia, offer helpful re-homing services. (Visit the Richmond SPCA website for detailed information about their Project Safety Net program: https://www.richmondspca.org/Page.aspx?pid=270.) Try contacting one of these organizations in your area if you need help re-homing your dog.
- You can post a pet classified ad for your dog at www.petfinder.com. Follow this link to learn more: http://www.petfinder.com/classifieds/classifieds.html. You can also try posting an ad at www.craigslist.org, an online service that offers free pet classifieds by region.
- If your dog is purebred or looks like she might be (some rescues will take breed mixes as well), try contacting a breed rescue organization. Many of these groups will allow you to post your dog’s picture on their website. Some may even offer to provide a foster home. Follow this link for the American Kennel Club’s list of breed rescue groups: http://www.akc.org/breeds/rescue.cfm.
What NOT to Do
- Do not take your dog to a neighborhood, wooded area or park and “set her free.” Domestic dogs are very different from their wild ancestors and can’t fend for themselves. If left alone, your dog may starve to death, encounter dangerous predators or get hit by a motor vehicle. If you can’t re-home your dog for some reason, please take her to a local humane society or animal shelter.
- Do not re-home your dog or relinquish her to a shelter without disclosing all relevant information about her behavior. For example, failing to tell a prospective adopter or a shelter that your dog has an aggression problem—especially if she has bitten someone in the past—can endanger well-meaning people who are just trying to do the right thing by adopting a dog.