What to do if your beloved pet needs a new home
You may be sure you’d never give up a beloved pet. But sometimes life happens, like it happened to Katrina Glover.
She and her cats were living the good life in the Bronx, New York, when someone found a cat outside in the harsh winter weather. “A friend said she wanted the cat, so I took it in,” says Glover. “She never came and got him.”
Busy with work and school, she waited a bit too long to neuter the young male, and he got her females pregnant. Eight well-loved, well-cared-for cats had become nine with four litters of kittens. Then she lost her job, her mother died of cancer, and she fell into depression.
“My cats at some point became the only reason I got up every day,” she says. “Every bit of money I got went to take care of the animals. I wasn’t taking care of myself mentally, emotionally or anything.”
She was overwhelmed and at risk of losing her apartment when someone suggested that the ASPCA could help. They provided vet care and helped her through the process of surrendering some of the cats. But it wasn’t easy.
“When I called ASPCA for the first time, I cried the whole phone call,” she says.
There are more cases like Glover’s than you probably think.
“The vast majority of people who are looking to relinquish or re-home their pets really don’t want to, but they feel like they have no other alternative,” says Matthew Bershadker, president and CEO of the ASPCA.
The stereotype of someone whose impulse-purchase puppy no longer matches their designer handbag is not the reality, says Sharon Harmon, president and CEO of the Oregon Humane Society. “I hear those frivolous reasons less and less. They stand out, but they are uncommon,” she says. “For us, the No. 1 reason is cost of care, when we ask people why can’t they keep their pet.”
The ASPCA finds that of people surrendering pets, 46 percent cite the pet’s health or behavior problems as the reason, 27 percent says it’s family and human health issues, and 18 percent cite housing issues.
“What’s quite heartbreaking about this is that when we talk about health issues, we’re not talking about chronic disease or major surgery,” Bershadker says. Rather, it’s often lack of access to affordable basic treatment.
Shelters working to keep pets and families together are doing more now than just low-cost spay and neuter. They may offer pet food to get owners through a hard patch, provide veterinary care and advice on behavior problems, and sometimes even assist with housing issues.
With this help, many pet owners decide to keep their animals. One joint program that ASPCA established with two Los Angeles County animal shelters — Baldwin Park Animal Care Center and Downey Animal Care Center — has helped over 7,500 pets stay in their homes since 2014.
That’s good for families, for pets and for shelters. “Not only does it keep that family together and keep that pet in that home, it frees up limited resources for other animals that really cannot stay in the home or are victims of cruelty or natural disaster,” says Bershadker.
There will still be situations, though, where an animal will be best off with a loving new owner. These might include family changes — the owner dies or goes into a nursing home, a new baby has allergies — or if two pets are truly not getting along despite good training advice.
“I think it’s a very personal, individual decision, but if one animal’s quality of life is so diminished because the other one won’t let it relax and enjoy life, I think that’s a situation where the owner might want to think long and hard about whether one of those animals might do better elsewhere,” says Bershadker.
If you do decide that re-homing is the best solution, both directors, perhaps surprisingly, agree: Don’t go to the shelter first.
“Try to re-home it on your own first, using your own network,” says Bershadker. “You know this animal better than anyone else. You know what kind of home he or she is going to thrive in better than anyone else.”
And even the best shelter can be stressful for animals — cats, especially, easily get sick, and dogs may not show their best qualities to potential adopters.
There are now websites where you can post your pet’s profile and meet adopters directly, much like a dating site. Private rescues where animals are kept in foster homes are another possibility, but, Harmon says, do your research carefully. Many of these are great; others have been the subject of cruelty and hoarding investigations. Don’t just trust what they post online — “anyone can do a great social media site,” she says. Look deeper.
But do remember that your local shelter may be able to do more for you than you realized. “We’re so much more than an adoption agency,” says Harmon.
And while you may never expect to need that help, neither did Glover. In fact, in better times, she donated to the ASPCA herself.
So next time you’re looking to adopt a new pet, don’t assume that animal was thoughtlessly discarded.
“I think about Tuna, and I think about Dragon and Ladybug,” says Glover. “When you have to make the choice of who’s staying and who’s going — you think about the fact that these animals have grown up with you, you’ve watched them from when they were born till the moment they took their first steps till they started running around. It was the hardest decision I ever had to make.”