I can’t afford my dog



Volunteers involved in dog rescue are some of the most passionate, caring people when it comes to animals. But we can also be fiercely uncaring when it comes to the owners who surrender dogs.

You can’t afford your dog? Here’s news for you: dogs cost a lot of money! You should’ve thought about that when you picked out your puppy.

He’s too big and untrainable? Guess what? All German shepherds are big! Try obedience classes.

In reality, though, some circumstances require good owners to surrender their animals. I know I would probably live in a cardboard box before giving up my dog, but I have had a month or two where paying vet bills and buying dog food were very low priorities. I think we’ve all been there in one way or another.

Sure, dogs are a 10- to 15-year commitment, but you can’t predict life.

No one plans on losing a job (or two). No one plans on losing a vehicle or a home.

You can’t predict a life-threatening illness or an accident. You can’t predict losing a spouse. You can’t predict a natural disaster.

Basic care for a dog can easily cost $1,000 per year. If the dog has any medical problems at all, you can easily double that number. Add training, grooming and boarding costs for the year and you can add another $1,000. Dogs are expensive, especially if you have more than one.

If you love your dog but for whatever reason you just can’t afford her, below are some suggestions for finding temporary financial help. Sometimes it is in the dog’s best interest to find her a new home. Further down, you will find tips for re-homing your dog.

How to get financial assistance for pet care

1. Take advantage of local resources.

If you are unsure what your community has to offer as far as help with dog care, start by contacting your local dog rescue or humane society. Rescues and shelters are overwhelmed with homeless animals and will take the time to help someone if it means he will be able to keep his dog.

2. Ask about ‘dog food banks’ and similar programs.

In my community of Fargo, N.D., there is a program called Kibble Kitchen organized by 4 Luv of Dog Rescue. According to the rescue, the goal of Kibble Kitchen is to prevent dogs from going hungry. Food is distributed on an as-needed basis to those who apply.

Some food banks provide pet food and some do not. If you are unsure whether a food bank in your area distributes pet food, call and ask.

3. Contact the breeder or rescue where you purchased the dog.

A responsible rescue, shelter or breeder will assist you in any way they can with your dog. Contact the rescue or breeder where you got your dog and describe your situation honestly. The rescue or breeder may be able to provide temporary foster care or they might recommend other programs and resources that could help.

A responsible breeder or shelter will also be willing to take your dog back if it is in the dog’s best interest. In this case, don’t expect to be paid anything, and don’t assume you will get the dog back.

4. Find your dog a foster home.

Another option is to find your dog a temporary foster home on your own. No one wants to announce their financial problems to the world, but within your close circle of family and friends, there may be someone who would love to take your dog for a few months. If you know a family thinking about getting a dog, this could be a great opportunity for them to “test the waters.”

5. Look for free or discounted vaccination clinics.

The PAAWS Project in Fargo provides affordable spaying, neutering and vaccinations to those who qualify. Certain rescues and shelters in other areas provide discounted services as well.

How to find my dog a new home

The reality is, sometimes we do have to find new homes for our pets. Here are some tips for making this process a bit easier:

1. Realize that finding a dog a good home takes time.

The sooner you accept you have to give up your dog, the better. It can take weeks or months to find your dog a good home. You don’t want to be forced to suddenly give up your dog because you have no other choice. That’s how dogs end up killed in pounds. Plan ahead and accept reality for the dog’s sake.

2. Do not plan on making money off your dog.

Profiting from your dog is the wrong reason to give her up. Finding her a good home should be your priority. Remember that re-homing the dog will save you thousands of dollars over time. If you surrender your dog to a rescue or shelter, it will likely ask you to make a donation.

3. Remember that dogs adapt easily to new homes.

It’s the humans who bring emotion into a situation. Dogs are animals, and they have a tremendous ability to move on and live in the moment. Within a reasonable amount of time, any dog will adapt to almost any environment.

4. Interview potential adopters.

Put together a list of questions to ask potential adopters such as: Have you owned a dog before? How much exercise do you believe a large/small dog needs? How often are you home? Where will the dog sleep at night? Where will the dog be when left home alone? Are you going to continue training the dog? Why do you want a dog? How do you discipline a dog?

You should also ask for references (check them!) and do a home visit. If someone has a problem with any of these, then he should assume he will not be getting your dog!

5. Provide as much information about your dog as possible.

The more honest you are about the dog, the easier it will be to match her up with the best home. Be honest about the training (or lack of training) she’s had, her energy levels and how she interacts with other animals. Think about the details people would want to know about her. Is your dog afraid of fireworks? Does she have separation anxiety? Does she pull on the leash? Is she food aggressive? Is she dominant? Does she know any tricks?

6. Do not plan on getting the dog back.

You are the one giving up the dog. Once you find her a new home, the dog is theirs. Do not expect to get the dog back once your financial situation improves. Do not expect to stay in contact with the dog’s new owners unless they suggest it. Do not drop by unannounced to check on the dog.

For more on this issue, see my post on should I stay in contact with my dog’s previous owner?

7. Surrender the dog to a credible, no-kill rescue group as your last resort.

Shelters were designed to rescue dogs from the pound. They were not designed to take in unwanted pets from individuals, and they are already stretching their resources. Expecting a rescue or shelter to take the dog off your hands is irresponsible. It is your job to find your dog a new home.

If you surrender your dog to a pound, just assume she will be euthanized.

8. Advertise on Craigslist, rescue sites and the newspaper.

“Advertise” by word of mouth first, because once you put an ad in the classifieds or on Craigslist you could get bombarded with tons of interested adopters, many of them less than ideal. But if you have a large dog or any kind of “bully breed,” you may need some extra help finding her a home. Many rescues will allow individuals to post dogs as “courtesy postings.” That’s how I found my mutt Ace.

9. Expect to grieve.

Pets are family, and re-homing a dog will be like losing a family member. Don’t expect to move on as though nothing happened. Take your time to grieve, and remember your dog has gone to a good home because you took the time to find her that home.

10. Adopt another animal once you are financially stable.

Re-homing an animal does not make you a bad person no matter what anyone says. It certainly does not mean you should never adopt an animal again. There are way too many dogs and cats without homes. Look forward to providing a loving home for a dog or cat in the future.

Have you ever found a new home for your dog or cat? What advice do you have for others? Where can someone go if he needs help affording dog care?

Ace the black lab mix outside in front of yellow flowers

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  1. jan on August 5, 2010

    Two of my dogs came from people whose life circumstances had changed, rather than than they couldn’t afford them. I offered both of them invitations to visit us, but they thought it would just be too hard to do.

  2. Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 5, 2010

    It would be hard. I’m sure it helps that they know the dogs are in a great home!

  3. Jessi on August 5, 2010

    Before we adopted Charlie, my dog, we set aside money to make sure if anything ever happened we would be able to take of him, but so far we haven’t touched it!

  4. Ludwig on August 6, 2010

    Hi Jessi, kudos to you!

    We live in Singapore (a small island republic in S.E. Asia), though we are a world class city in many ways, I am sad to report that pet civilisation has a long way to go. I agree that there are good owners who are forced to give up their pets as in this article; I am witness to such sad cases before. What really irks me is that most people here are just down right irresponsible, they give up their dog bec it has out grown it’s adorable quotion! How is that even possible??!! They moan when slap with a $200 vet bill, when their children enrichment cost $2000/mth! They often use financial difficulties as an excuse, but in a blink of the eye, they went ahead with a new pregnancy, go for a vacation, buy a swanky new car and/or moved into a snobbish upmarket district!! Despicable!
    I opt not to have any children of my own because I believe in helping those who already here and needed love. We calculated that with the kind of money needed to sustain a child annually will allow us to provide the best care & pampering for 4small breed and 3 big breed dogs. That’s 7 lives saved as oppose to creating one! I know, I am weird, but I won’t have it any other way. Shedding or not, these four legged kids are the BEST!
    I have set aside ample funds for my kiddos, and any extra will head for the shelters who don’t believe in putting a cute waggy tail to sleep. I am not praying for all to be this crazy, but I sure am appealing for all to have a heart :)

  5. Judith on August 6, 2010

    Another place I have seen ads posted are at the local dog parks and independent dog supply stores.

    I might also try talking to your vet. I know my local vet practice has helped place dogs a couple of times.

  6. Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 6, 2010

    Great idea Jessi. More people need to do that.

  7. Sarah on August 6, 2010

    Ludwig, all my kids have four feet too! Jessi, thats a great idea I’ll have to do that too.

  8. Jana Rade on August 7, 2010

    Life can bring some major blows. Back in my country there are people who lose their kids this way (they are taken away from them because they cannot afford to take proper care of them after losing a job and becoming homeless).

    I think it is important to make a distinction between an owner having to surrender their dog and an owner who just gets rid of their dog.

    I think your list of places where one can find help is great and hopefully will help some people and their dogs.

  9. Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 7, 2010

    All of my kids definitely have four feet.

    You’re right, Jana, that it is important to make the distinction between an owner having to surrender their dog and an owner who just gets rid of the dog. Most people are probably somewhere in the middle. They give up the dog out of convenience when really they probably should’ve never had a dog to begin with.

  10. Apryl on August 9, 2010

    Yeah, this is an interesting subject. I’ve seen people have very minor changes in their lives and they decide that they just don’t want to deal with a dog anymore. They indeed give it up out of convenience as you mention. Too often I see situations where someone treats a dog (or a cat) like it’s disposable or an accessory that they can just give away when they’re done with it. These people shouldn’t bother having a dog (or cat) at all.

  11. Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 9, 2010

    Yeah that is a huge problem :(

  12. Amanda Steiner on August 9, 2010

    Good post Lindsay! I agree that most animal lovers aren’t very sympathetic when people need to give up their pets, but stuff just happens! I often wonder what would happen to my dog if I was hospitalized or had a major crisis; especially since I am his main care giver. I think the F-M area has some good resources to help owners and their pets: the Kibble kitchen from 4 luv of dog, Jazzy & Mumbo’s pet/owner thrift store, the F-M Humane society offers microchipping and have recently launched “Safe Paws” for victims and their pet escaping abusive situations. They also have a list of pet friendly housing on their website :)

  13. Allison Brown on August 9, 2010

    Thank you so much for writing this post – I think it is an important topic for all dog owners to consider. I agree that while some dog owners don’t realize the financial commitment they make when they get a dog, there are others that are actually responsible dog owners that become unable to care for their dogs due to financial hardship. This post provides some great information for people who find themselves in this terrible situation.

  14. LizzyDrue on August 9, 2010

    What I don’t like seeing is the people who give up their older dogs because they are starting to get arthritis and can’t do stairs anymore. I’ve seen a couple of dogs like that who have gone through our pound. If I had the money, space, and time there would be a whole pack of older dogs at my house living on cosequin and rymadil. As it is I go home and hug our two rescues and thank the people who gave them up so they could bless my life.

  15. Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 9, 2010

    Great ideas, Amanda! I forgot about Jazzy and Mumbo’s pet/owner thrift store (in Fargo). They offer all kinds of affordable pet supplies for those in need. They will help owners pay for any kind of pet care. All you have to do is donate something in return. Here is the web site: http://www.jazzynmumbosthriftstore.com/

    And for anyone who wants more info on the Fargo-Moorhead Humane Society’s microchipping or the Safe Paws program should visit: http://f-mhumanesociety.org/

    Thanks for the comment, Allison. I hope the post helps someone.

    Lizzy, I know what you mean. I totally want to adopt every old dog I see. Some of them wait so long to be adopted because no one seems to want an older dog. I have a soft spot for old retrievers with gray faces because they remind me of my old golden.

  16. Great points! Whenever I talk to people I try to point out that dogs cost AT LEAST $1,000/year. I have yet to say that to someone who did not gasp in mock or real horror. Like you say- dogs are very expensive.

    Great post!

  17. Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 11, 2010

    Thanks! Yeah, people don’t seem to understand the cost of owning a dog.

  18. Hege on August 25, 2010

    Great post! When I took my dog from a dog shelter, I made sure there was a backup home for her if something happened before adopting her. But that’d have to be a real emergency; I would, too, live in a cardboard box before I gave her up, and then it’d only be because another home could provide something better for her than I could.

  19. Lindsay Stordahl Author on August 25, 2010

    Yep, that would be the only reason for me to give up my dog as well – if I knew there was a home that would be better for him.

  20. Lara Hubbsom on September 1, 2010

    I am in this position right now with my Lab. This was very helpful. Thanks

  21. Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 2, 2010

    I’m glad I could help.

  22. Pat Armesto on November 9, 2010

    Hi Lindsay. I found your site because I am thinking of returning my dog to her breeder. I have two dogs. Jupiter is an 8 yr old boxer, Hayley is a 5 yr old cavalier king charles spaniel. I recently placed my chihuahua, Pixie, with a friends mother. When I got the dogs I was married. I’m now divorced and supplementing my income with my savings because I can’t cover the bills. I’m 62 and really afraid I will wind up with nothing if I try to hold onto the house. I can’t place Jupiter ever. He’s old and I just couldn’t dream of it. But Hayley is young and I feel she could find a really nice family, maybe even with another Cavalier she could play with. But I still feel like a monster. I miss Pixie a lot. They have promised that she will come back to me if for any reason the mother can’t keep her. Since these are friends, I always know how she is which is wonderful. Anyway, between a rock and a hard place, as they say. Pat

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 9, 2010

      Only you know what is right for you and your dog. People seem to be almost obsessed with the idea that you must hold onto a dog for its entire life. The reality is that sometimes our lives change, and re-homing the dog can be the best option for everyone involved. I am sorry you must make such a difficult choice, but I know you would only let Hayley go to someone who would give her the very best.

      • Pat Armesto on November 10, 2010

        Thanks for your reply. You’re a very compassionate person with dogs and people! Hayley would go back to her breeder and I know she would find a good home. It’s just very hard to face. I think I will talk it over with the woman who boards them for me, just so I can think it over some more. She can tell me how she is with her when I’m not around. You tend to think your dog can only be happy with you. This is dreadful…
        Thanks for replying to my post. Your response was very helpful. You must do a lot of good work out there. I’ll continue to enjoy your site.

        Patty

        • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 10, 2010

          Honestly dogs adjust to a new environment so much better than people do. Hayley will always love you, but she will also love her new home. She will move on much easier than you will. Not sure if that makes you feel better or worse, but that’s just one thing that makes humans and dogs different.

          You may be interested in my post on Does My Dog Miss Me? Some of the comments are interesting, too:

          http://www.thatmutt.com/2009/07/31/does-my-dog-miss-me/

          • Pat Armesto on November 10, 2010

            Great article. I agree, we project so much onto our pets. My dogs love my petsitter so much, that I feel guilty taking them home! I usually stop at McDonalds to make it up to them. Of course, this is all going through my head, not theirs.
            Your advice is excellent. When are you writing your book? Thanks again
            Patty

  23. Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 10, 2010

    Thanks for the encouragement! Working on a few book ideas and need to be more disciplined with my time :)

  24. Nita on September 14, 2011

    Oh my gosh I am so glad I found all of you. I have been struggling with the idea we may have to give up our dog… Life changes has really hit us hard and now after finally losing our house we haven’t been able to find another house where we “qualify” financially AND that will take our dog over 30 pounds. It’s so devastating but we haven’t started looking to rehome him yet. We keep hoping but time is running out. We have to be out by Oct. 1st. Sad that the US has come to this.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 14, 2011

      I hope you get to keep your dog. If not, I wish you the best in finding him a loving home.

  25. sue on November 13, 2011

    we have 3 girls (10, 5 and 2) and they have been bugging for a dog for sometime now! (actually the older two were asking for one but we had a 3rd child instead!! LOL) … anyways…my hubby works 4.5 hours in the daytime, and I head out for a 6hour shift in the evenings – this allows us to NOT pay for daycare – we live in co-op houseing in Ontario Canada, so our rent recently was reduced due to our circumstances. Although we have had to visit food banks, we have been trying to make ends meet – a co-worker of mine has a Shitzu that just had puppies (3 days ago) and she says they will be ready to go on Christmas Day. She was not plannig on breeding it is just her daughter moved in with her shitzu and well,… 5 puppies!! Anyways, she is offering one to us at $300.00 but said we could pay her monthly – I am SERIOUSLY thinking bout it, but hubby doesn’t seem that keen on it. I already called a vet to see how much a puppy would cost us monthly and she wants me to come pick one before they are all spoken for. I’m not sure WHAT to do!! We had a dog for 10 years before we had children and I miss him dearly! The kids seem ready for one, it’s just the financial side of it! I’m afraind that Mum and Dad (hubby’s parents) might lecture us! He is their only child and they ahve been helping us out alot lately so they might not like this idea :o( Any advice?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on November 13, 2011

      I suggest taking your time to think about this decision which would mean not getting one of these puppies from your co-worker. There are plenty of other dogs out there and $300 is not cheap. You will also have to have this pup vaccinated, spayed, possibly de-wormed and so on. It’s also cheaper to get a dog from a shelter or pound (usually) because it will up to date on vaccinations, already spayed/neutered and hopefully already trained. I suggest taking the time to look at several adult dogs and find one that would fit in well with your family. Don’t fall for the first dog. This could be a good learning experience for your kids, too. And there are always free dogs on Craigslist. Take the time to call about some, ask about proof of vet records, the dogs behavior and level of training and so on.

      That’s my advice! :)

  26. Erica on February 27, 2012

    My name is Erica. My husband, 2 kids and I decided we wanted to adopt in July of last year. We went to our local SPCA and adopted a great dog. Her name is Diamond. Everything was ok for a few weeks and that is when I started to notice some medical issues that she has. She has really bad skin allergies and has to be treated constantly for bacterial infections on her skin. Also, she seems to get UTI’s often. We have taken her to be seen quite a few times for these conditions and our finances were good then. Until recently, Diamond has gotten a ear hematoma and we took her to the vet. We are really tight for money right now but I didn’t want her to suffer. The SPCA recommened surgery because they say draining the hematoma is only temporary as it more than likely will come back. I told them I couldn’t afford the surgery right now. We are having money issues and can barely keep my home. We just dished out $1800.00 to keep from being evicted because we were back up in rent. So, after we explained this to the SPCA they decided to drain the hematoma for us so we could keep our dog, but the warned us that is it a high possibility it would come back. We had it drained on Thursday and they bandaged it up, put on an E-Collar and sent us home. We paid HALF of what the surgery quote was, which was $135.00. We were just happy that we could take our dog back home and not have to give her up. We started her on her pain meds and antibiotics on Friday and left the bandages and collar on all day. Friday evening she shook herself so much she removed the bandage to where we had to take it off cause it was obstructing her breathing but we left the collar on. We woke up Saturday morning to discover the hematoma had returned that fast! I was so disappointed but I knew it was a possibility. Also, this time the hematoma seemed to actually hurt her more than before it was drained. So, I called the SPCA and decided we could see what they said. They said she has to have the surgery. Total the surgery is going to cost $245.00 which we really do not have right now. I have 2 kids, all these bills and rent and my husband is the only one working right now but I thought we could schedule the surgery and maybe we could swing it if my husband does some overtime or some side jobs. So we scheduled the surgery and had to put down half of the money for the surgery. We did. So the SPCA said to make sure we keep a close eye on it. It will come back bigger this time and it did and to watch her cause she could shake or scratch and cause it to pop open. Which is EXACTLY what she did this morning. I called the SPCA right away and they said she needs to be seen right away. I told them, I just paid $135.00 on Thursday and $122.50 on Saturday for half of the surgery to schedule it and I can’t, just can’t afford to bring her back in to see them and pay MORE and then have to pay another $122.50 on March 7th for the surgery, not including meds and etc. To top this all off, I got some unsettling news in the mail about more money we have to pay out for taxes. Which is in excess of $3000.00 and I don’t have that kind of money laying around. With all this and the situation with my dog Diamond, I feel like I have NO other choice but to take her back to the SPCA where we adopted her from. I can’t re-home her. It states in the adoption papers that I signed that if it becomes and issue and we can’t take care of her she has to be relinquished back to them. I am at my wits end and terribly sad. My children, husband and I love our dog but we don’t know what else to do. We have only had her for 7 months and have become extremely attached to her. She is a wonderful dog. Very affectionate and loving has the temperament of a gentle giant. I wish there were another way, but my finances just won’t allow me to budge. I wish I could have forseen all this before we adopted but you never know when issues with money will arise. I feel so terrible. Any advice?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on March 4, 2012

      If you qualify for Care Credit, you could give that a shot. I used a line of credit through Care Credit last March for about $1,800 for my dog. There was no interest on it if I paid it off in six months. Of course, if your credit is not so good this won’t be an option.

      I am sorry you must face such a difficult decision. If you have to give up your dog, know that it is not your fault and you didn’t do anything wrong. These things happen. I hope you will be able to open your home and heart to another dog in the future.

  27. Joanne on May 3, 2012

    My neice left 2 dogs for me to sit for about 6 months. I informed her I can not afford to care for 2 dogs. She said to bring the down for xmas. I did and she did not take them back. To make a long story short. I have 2 dogs. I can only afford 1 and only because she is tiny. I need to know how can I separate these 2 dogs or should I just give up both?

  28. Kelly on June 25, 2012

    I have an 11 year old dog that I need to find a good home for, even though it breaks my heart. I’m a single mother now, with a child that has medical issues, and not only can I not afford my dog…I have not time to spend with her. I would rather see her go to a new home and get the attention she needs than have her home alone all of the time. This dog has been my child for 11 years, and the thought of giving her away is so totally depressing that I can barely even accept the idea, but she’s old and she needs attention that I can’t give to her anymore. I’ve tried everything to find her a home, with no luck. I’ve tried friends, I’ve tried Craigslist and rescues, with no luck. I’m not going to lie. I’m desperate. I want her to have more than I can give her, because she absolutely deserves to have the one on one time she needs. She’s a beagle mix, very well trained and loving with not health problems at all. She still has the energy of a puppy. Does anyone here have any suggestions? It is literally killing me that she’s so lonely and isn’t getting what she needs. I am in a circumstance that I currently can’t change, or I would. The idea of letting her go a year ago would have seriously made me laugh, because she’s family…and it’s because I want the best for her that I’m willing to give her to someone who has time for her…but how do I find that person? Why is it so difficult? Any and all suggestions would be welcome, but please don’t judge me as I’m doing enough of that on my own. Thanks.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on June 25, 2012

      Sorry that you must re-home your dog. That has to be very hard, but I know you are doing what is best for your dog.

      Have you had anyone interested at all? Are you making sure not to be too picky about who could adopt her? I only ask because I don’t know. I am not trying to make any assumptions. I know you want her to go to the best home, but it will be impossible to find someone who will treat her exactly the way you want her to be treated.

      Have you contacted all of the no-kill rescue groups in your area? One may be willing to take her and find her a home. Others may be willing to list her on their web site to help you find her a home. You could also contact all of the beagle rescues you can find nationwide. They might have some suggestions.

      May I ask where you live?

  29. greta on September 13, 2012

    i have had my three year old female German Shepherd since she was three months old. when my husband and i got her, we lived on 48 acres of country land and had plenty of money to care for her. then he left me, i had to leave the area for work reasons, and i took my dog with me. she has been ith em ever since, but i have since lost my job and my apartment….i have nowhere to go except for a friend’s house and her big dog is aleady enough for her, she says. i am heartbroken. i am crying as i write this. i have already found a family to take my dog…a family who lost their female german shepherd to cancer last year…and want another one. but it is so hard. friends say i am being selfless. my dog deserves more than being confined to a tiny yard most of the day and then being taken for a walk at night. i play with her,i love her…btu she doesn’t get nearly enough exercise….and i can’t keep her here anyway….but i feel horrible and want to just cry and cry….has anyone else ever gone through this?

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on September 16, 2012

      So sorry to hear about your tough decision, and thank you for sharing so openly. Thankfully I have never gone through anything like this, and I can’t imagine what it must be like. Only you know what the right decision is, and I encourage you to accept whatever decision you make. You have done nothing wrong, you love your dog and she will be able to adapt either to her knew home if that is what you choose. Try not to feel guilty, no matter what anyone tells you.

  30. sapiro, heather on June 20, 2013

    never use craigs list!!!! that is where dog fight managers pick up the opening acts for their sordid, disgusting practice. If you want to consign your pup to hell, this is the place to start!!!!!!!!!

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