But there are genuine and heartrending reasons for having to part with a beloved pet that leave their owners distraught and heartbroken.
In the midst of what may be a devastating experience, it is all too easy to forget some essential steps that need to be taken to protect your dog; as well as preserve your personal integrity.
What follows is my guide to how to get it right:
CALLING UPON THOSE YOU TRUST
Reaching out to friends can seem like the most obvious thing to do when trying to find a new home for a dog. Knowing your dog will be going to someone you trust, someone who knows the animal, and whose circumstances you believe you are aware of, may seem like a comforting option for new ownership. But even then, it is vital to ask yourself some testing questions about your friends in order to ensure your pet is going to a safe and happy future:
Do you have evidence that they already love the dog?
When your friends have met your dog, have they been effusive and loving, or merely accepting? You surely want someone who will focus upon the dog and cherish it as their own family member; not somebody who is doing you a favour because of your friendship?
Are they dog owners, or are they real dog lovers?
I wrote a blog about this one some years ago (Dog Owners VS. Dog Lovers) There are a lot of people who are almost perfunctory dog owners; and there are those who adore their dogs. Which you are will have determined your dog’s expectations. Is the person you are intending to rehome your dog with the same as you?
Do they have enough time to look after the dog properly?
Your dog wants/needs someone who will be able to give your dog at least as much time as you did; hopefully more. The dog will already have an expectation level based upon their experience with you, and if they get less time with their new person, it will be a hardship for them.
Will the dog be left alone for long periods of time?
For all the reasons above, be very careful with this one. This is particularly the case if your dog has lived with other pets and is used to constant companionship. Anxieties and feelings of abandonment can easily surface if they are left for longer than was previously the case.
Will the dog have companionship?
If your dog has lived with a companion, think very carefully before you allow it to go to a home where it will no longer have one. The loss of it can result in undesirable behavioural responses.
(NB. If your dog is one of a bonded pair, even though your circumstances may allow you to keep one, it is tantamount to an act of cruelty to separate them. If you really care about your dogs, rehome them together. Breaking up can cause dogs untold agonies, and even result in premature death.)
What other animals (of any kind) do they have in the household; and will your dog get on with them?
This may seem rather obvious, but it’s crucial. Too many rehomings fail because the new owners discover that their existing pets do not get on with the new dog. Guess which one gets slung out? At the very least, you should make arrangements that if things don’t work out, you will be the one who will take the dog back and work on its next rehoming. If anything else happens, things will get majorly traumatic for your dog.
Can they afford the dog's upkeep?
This is a brutal but necessary question. It’s all very well if someone loves a dog, but can they actually provide for it. It’s not just a matter of food, but sundry costs and vet bills. Will your friend put the needs of the dog before their own, like you would?
What type of environment will your dog be going to?
Let’s not pretend about this one. Dogs love the outdoors, and the countryside is infinitely more appealing to them than an urban environment. They may get used to the latter, but if your rehoming choice is going to take them from the rural to the urban, they’re simply not going to be happy about it.
Do they have a fully fenced yard?
If your dog is used to a large yard and a safe environment to play, apartment living, will totally suck. And a smaller contained area than they are used to may well create the desire to seek out larger spaces. A place where a dog is safe should be high on anyone’s list of criteria.
What will the dog be fed?
If they won’t get the food they’re used to in their new home, this will be potentially upsetting and difficult for them, at least in the short term. Slightly more importantly, if your dog is used to a raw food diet, you are probably aware of the shortcomings of kibble. To make a transfer to it is unacceptable.
Will the dog get enough exercise?
Again, this is an area of pre-existing expectation. If a dog has been regularly walked and exercised, anything less can lead to depression and other undesirable changes in temperament.
Will that person give your dog time to adjust?
Make no mistake, if your dog was happy with you, it is about to be immersed to a (temporary) world of confusion, upset and possibly, grieving. A significant percentage of rehomings fail within the first few weeks because new owners are not prepared to give dogs time to adjust or accept what they consider ‘behavioural anomalies’. These might not happen, but is your friend the sort of individual who will be tolerant of things that fail to meet their expectations?
Of course, these questions need not be asked directly of your friends. You can answer them yourself if you know the person well enough.
In doing so, you need to exercise a (possibly) alarming degree of honesty with yourself about the situation your pet will face.
Do not let yourself be seduced by the convenience of finding a home quickly. If you really care, you want your dog to go somewhere where they will be valued and loved with the same strength of feeling that you offered them.
Don’t short change your dog and settle for a sub-optimum situation just because it seems expedient. Be idealistic and even try to find a better situation than you were able to offer. Don’t let ego get in the way!
Friends or those we know seem like a good option for rehoming for your dog. But it must be noted that if you knew somebody who fit the bill, if they really wanted your pet, they’d probably have stepped forward and volunteered a home as soon as they were aware of your predicament, without being asked.
If you have to ask them, be absolutely sure that if they say “yes”, it isn’t just because they feel obliged to.
CASTING YOUR NET FURTHER AFIELD
The chances are, you may well have to go beyond your immediate circle of friends. This certainly heightens your chances of getting a great home, but it also has pitfalls.
Here are some points to consider:
Keep your activities within your control
At such a stressful and upsetting time, it’s easy to want to accept all the help you can get. However, allowing somebody to act on your behalf, when it’s not made wholly clear that they are not the owner, can lead to confusion and bad feelings. Nobody can give an account of your dog like you, so it is not advisable to let anybody act as your agent, or speak for you. They may empathise totally with what you are going through, but they may inadvertently cause great confusion with potential new owners, even leading them to feel misled or deceived.
Be careful of somebody who knows somebody
If friends can’t directly help you, they may often know others who can. However, under no circumstances should you assume that the (hopefully ultra-careful) criteria you are applying in selecting a suitable new home will be shared by your friends. It is important that if you know somebody who knows somebody, that you do not give the third parties any quarter in your subsequent assessment of them as owners for your pet. Trusting is folly, unless the person you trust is someone who is already intimately involved in dog rescue and knows not only the third party’s circumstances, but also has a detailed awareness of the problems that can beset rehomings. And even then, check them out for yourself to be sure.
Using social media
Whilst social media makes finding a potential new home infinitely easier than in days gone by, it also opens up risk that needs to be mitigated, as outlined below. But even if this were not the case, when lots of people see a posting, be aware that many will fall in love with a picture and respond unthinkingly, on impulse. You are as likely to get as many time wasters as you are genuinely interested parties using this route. If you accept and expect that many of those who say “I would love to help” won’t actually be able to/really want to, you probably won’t be disappointed.
If you’re going to place a ‘home sought’ plea, be very careful about the words you use. Above all else, you must be honest about the dog. If it is problematic, has issues, has previously caused problems, or is ‘trouble’ in any way, tell potential owners up front. Don’t fall into the trap of imagining that if you conceal it, everything will be alright when they find out later. Many rehomed dogs are summarily ejected from their new homes because new owners are taken by surprise. This can put them off offering other dogs a home in the future and does your own pet no favours. It is far more likely to end up in dire straits this way, than if you had told the truth in the first place. Not only will honesty help sort out the serious from the frivolous enquirers, you may uncover homes where people are prepared to deal with issues, or have the experience to cope with them. They will accept the dog for what it is, having not been attracted to a disingenuous and idealised version of your pet.
Avoid Kijiji and Craigslist
Any of the well-known buy/sell sites on the internet attract huge numbers of visitors. They seem like the obvious places to post an advertisement for rehoming a dog. But more than any other type of sites, they will attract casual opportunists, who are looking for a quick and easy fix for a shortfall they feel they have in their lives. Most insidious of all are the predators who stalk such sites, looking for bait dogs for dog fighting rings. If you are not aware of such things, be aware that they are very real and a growing travesty.
Posting on other people’s pages
There are many independent rescues and individuals that maintain Facebook or other social media sites about dogs. Some may appear to allow posting upon their pages. However, they may do so inadvertently, because their regulators are not knowledgeable enough about security settings to stop this. Just because you can add your listing, it doesn’t mean that you should! It is highly discourteous to simply post a dog without seeking permission first. An organisation that feels it will be able to help will be only too willing to assist in a posting that meets their standards. They will likely be very helpful to you if approached respectfully, and even have opportunities for rehoming you would not otherwise have come across.
Keeping an open mind
Advertising on the internet will expose you and your dog to all sorts of people whose situations and circumstances may previously have been beyond your imagination. It is important to keep an open mind and not assume too much, lest you miss opportunities for your dog that are outside your scope of experience, but nonetheless present opportunities for an exciting and rewarding life for them.
Working with rescue groups
Even if you are not physically surrendering your dog to a rescue, by far the best thing to do (and a much safer option) is to work with a local rescue group to find the right home for your pet. Not only will they be only too aware of all of the pitfalls of social media, they will likely have a good knowledge of the local situation, and the circumstances of many of those who might offer a home. They may also know those are actively looking for pets. And you can guarantee that their standards will be very high. They are the last people who would want to place a dog in further jeopardy.
None of this should put you off using social media. It is a direct and powerful method of finding a good home. But the seeming speed with which it may occur is no substitute for the overriding need to protect your dog, which can only be achieved if you do proper due diligence on your potential new owners.
DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE
If you are lucky enough to receive offers of support from numerous sources, it is very important to not go with the first seemingly good situation, and be thorough in your research of the home your pet will go to.
Having sorted the ‘wheat from the chaff’, as a minimum this should include:
Speak at length with the person to establish their circumstances and motivation. What do your instincts tell you about the person? Have in front of you a list of the questions posed in the first section, and be sure that you get answers to all of them, so that you may reach a reasoned and well informed decision later on.
Gather substantive evidence about suitability
Insist on getting the following references:
- Vet references (If they have/have previously had pets)
- Personal references (At least three people who will testify to the type of home they will offer and what sort of life your dog can expect)
- Police references. (If this seems extreme to you, ask yourself why not? When people apply adopt children, it’s the first thing that’s taken. Too many people who have been banned from keeping animals or who have a history of abuse use rehomings as a way of getting animals. Yes, it will cost them to get a reference, but if they’re keen enough…
(The only exception to this should be if the person is able to provide references from a dog rescue, who will likely already have pre-qualified and have extensive knowledge of them.)
Make sure that you get:
- Information about the type of home your dog is going to. If you can’t actually visit, ask them to send photos of both the interior and exterior. Better still, ask for video footage.
- Assurances about where the dog will be sleeping.
- Awareness about the potential owner’s day-to-day habits. Some, such as smoking in a home, can damage dogs as well as humans.
Do not be afraid to ask for these things. It’s not an imposition. If they’re really serious about taking your dog, and if they are really caring people, they will not mind at all. In fact, they’ll be only too pleased to provide you with evidence that they will care for your dog.
Some people rehoming request that new owners have experience of the breed being adopted. This is not strictly necessary, but it is a good idea to find our whether or not the person is familiar with any breed characteristics or peculiarities. In interviewing them, don’t give it all away. Find out what they really know and what research they’ve done about your type of dog.
If they have previously owned your breed and no longer do, why is this the case? Be aware that many people with previous experience of one breed have switched to another for good reasons. Yet it may be sentimentality causes them to abandon their reasoning and offer a home to another.
Bear in mind that with dogs, size does matter. If a person has only had small dogs, and yours is a large or giant breed (or vice versa), what differences do they expect? Are they prepared for what challenges they will face?
TO CHARGE OR NOT TO CHARGE
Mention the words ‘free to a good home’ and don’t expect anything good to come of it. A dog that is free is all too easily regarded as dispensable later on.
However, if you seek a truly good home for your dog, it’s a good idea to be flexible about whether you charge. Trying to ‘recoup your losses’ is an extraordinary act of thoughtlessness when your pet’s welfare should be your primary consideration.
This must be decided circumstantially. Not wanting to pay is not automatically a sign of a less-than-ideal home.
MAKING A COMMITMENT
Deciding where your dog should go should not be rushed. Due diligence alone can take a considerable time. You may feel a sense of urgency, but don’t forget that your dog’s future depends upon the decisions you make now; if you make the wrong choice, the cost will be to them. Some dogs go through multiple homes, just because people do not follow the guidelines set out above.
If you have any doubts about a home, the chances are you're making the wrong decision. Everything should feel right about your choice, as much for your sake as your dog's. If you are making a sub-optimal choice for the sake of expediency, be honest with yourself about it, and if necessary start all over again.
If, before you finally hand your dog over, you have second thoughts, don't go through with it. You will regret it.
SHOW YOUR GRATITUDE
There is little that is more disheartening for a potential adopter than to come across a request for help, respond to it, then be ignored; or involved initially, then be left out of the loop in the final decision.
If you have gone the social media route, it is important to thank everyone who showed interest, irrespective of how many there may be. A few seconds of your time to express your gratitude for their offers of help, irrespective of whether you regarded them as time wasters, will retain their goodwill and willingness to offer their home to other needy dogs in the future.
When you have finally found the right home for your beloved dog, if you have taken all of the steps outlined above, you may rest assured that you are one of the exceptional ones.
You may mourn your pet’s loss, but try not to be too hard on yourself. Take comfort in the knowledge that by not taking short cuts, or doing what was simply expedient for you, you have demonstrated that you truly cared, and did everything possible to protect them. You have done your best to ensure their future happiness and wellbeing.
Will following all of these guidelines make your life harder? Will it mean that the process of rehoming may take infinitely longer?
The answers is a big “YES” to both questions.
But if you’re not deceiving yourself, and you truly love the dog you are having to give up, it’s the least you can do for them. If you don't have the time to do all of these things, make time. If you can't find the 'right' home within the time frame you need, the dog is better temporarily placed in a kennel or foster home, than in a rushed decision 'wrong' home.
And all of the above is probably the bare minimum necessary to give you real peace of mind.