Our pets are family. In fact, many pet parents will say their pets are their “kids,” or even their soul mates. They are our sidekicks, therapists, snuggle buddies and so much more. Pet parent love is fierce, and if you are one, you have probably said this a million times:
“I would never give up my pet, no matter what!” No one thinks they would ever willingly give their pet away or drop them off at the animal shelter, but the reality is, it happens.
If you participate in social media even a little bit, it’s not uncommon to see these types of posts come across your newsfeed:
You may be thinking, how in the world could someone give up a cute little dog like this?
According to the national database Shelter Animals Count, more than three million pets entered U.S. shelters in 2017. Of those, 770,857 were surrendered by their owners. While that number may be difficult to comprehend, a look at the local data sheds a bit more light on statewide and local trends. The chart at right shows statistics, statewide and for the four county shelters that service Southern California.
Understanding why people give up their pets isn’t easy, but many times it’s not a reflection of the human’s character. It’s the result of a lack of resources to pet owners.
The Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science published a white paper entitled, “Human and Animal Factors Related to the Relinquishment of Dogs and Cats in 12 Selected Animal Shelters in the United States.” A total of 3,772 owners were interviewed about their decision to relinquish their animals to the shelter. Through this study, twelve broad reasons for surrender were defined:
• Animal behavior (biting, house soiling, running away, incompatibility with other pets)
• Pet illness
• No time for pet
• Landlord not allowing pet
• Too many animals in household
• Cost of pet maintenance
• Owner having personal problems
• No homes available for littermates
In response to owner-surrendered pets, some shelters have created petretention programs unique to their communities’ needs. One example is Downtown Dog Rescue, which services the South Los Angeles area; another is OC Shelter Partners, serving Orange County. Both organizations have a physical presence inside the shelter and intercept owners coming in to surrender their pets without judgment. The owner and pet retention counselor discuss and work toward a solution that will keep the pet in its home. This could be something as simple as speaking to a landlord about their pet policy, or finding a free spay and neuter clinic. Pet-retention programs range in size and scale, but they all have one goal: to keep pets out of the shelter and with their families.
As hard as it is to imagine giving up your pet, when faced with extraordinary circumstances, some owners feel they have no other choice. Sometimes circumstances can be easily overcome, but often, pet parents facing this agonizing decision have limited time to find a solution. And if there are no visible, easy to- find solutions within their communities, owners often surrender their pets, thinking it’s their only option.