Re-homing a pet doesn’t make someone a bad pet owner

Sometimes good, loving pet owners must face the difficult choice to re-home a dog or a cat.

I interviewed three women who were willing to share their re-homing stories. I hope this post will show that finding a new home for a pet is rarely easy, and it’s often done out of love.

It’s so easy to criticize pet owners for their choices, but we rarely know or fully understand the complexity of the situation.

The following are three examples.

Hershey the chocolate Labrador retriever

Several months after their chocolate Lab passed away, Berni Harkins and her family adopted a chocolate Lab puppy from a rescue group.

They named him Hershey, and Harkins said they took him everywhere such as on camping trips, to friends’ homes and on vacations.

“Everyone would compliment how cute and well behaved he was,” she said.

Re-homing a chocolate Lab

“Everyone would compliment how cute and well behaved he was.”

However, it was a different story when those same friends came to visit.

“As soon as someone would ring our doorbell or enter the house, Hershey would go crazy,” Harkins said. He would bark viciously and had to be crated.

Harkins said she convinced herself Hershey was just doing his job to protect the home and the children. However, one day while playing in the yard, Hershey bit a neighbor boy in the arm, leaving two puncture marks that required stitches.

Chocolate Lab with boysMonths later, a different neighbor boy tried to walk in the front door and Hershey jumped on him and bit him, Harkins said.

While the second bite didn’t require stitches, Harkins said the law required her family to quarantine Hershey for 10 days. After that, if Hershey ever bit someone again, the family would be required to have him killed. No exceptions.

“After talking to all of our neighbors, everyone was afraid for their kids to play with our boys, and no one wanted Hershey to stay here, including my husband,” she said.

This was especially difficult for Harkins because Hershey had been there for her through the loss of her father and her brother.

“Hershey was my constant rock during that time,” she said. “He never asked for anything. He just sat with me as I cried and knew I needed him by my side, and that is what he did 24 hours a day.”

Still, after the second biting incident, she decided to email the rescue group she adopted Hershey from, and a woman named Debbie Frye volunteered to take Hershey. Frye explained she had three other dogs, lived on 3 acres, had no young children and even owned one of Hershey’s sisters.

“It seemed like the perfect and only solution,” Harkins said.

“It seemed like the perfect and only solution.”

Re-homing a LabSo, she and her family later made the five-hour drive to Virginia to bring Hershey to his new home

Today, Frye keeps in touch with Harkins by sending cards and updates. She even invited Harkins and her family to attend a dock diving competition Hershey was in.

According to Frye, Hershey and his sister, Puma, are usually “joined at the hip.”

“I don’t have one ‘brownie’ following me all over the house,” she said. “I have two.”

And while she never intended to have four dogs total, Frye said taking in Puma’s brother during his time of need was “just meant to be.”

Missy the cat

Cynthia MacGregor decided to re-home her cat Missy several years ago.

“Missy forgot her litterbox training and began peeing all over our Manhatan apartment,” she said.

“It was a sad day for us when we gave her to her new owner …”

“It was a sad day for us when we gave her to her new owner, but the woman in question had a house in Brooklyn with a backyard,” MacGregor said.

In her new home, Missy would be able to be outside where she could go to the bathroom without getting scolded.

“At least she wasn’t going to be put down, nor would she continue to create problems in our apartment,” MacGregor said. “It was sad but necessary, and assuredly the least bad of all possible outcomes.”

Since Missy was going to a good home, MacGregor said no one criticized her decision to re-home her cat.

“Re-homing an animal can be just as emotionally difficult as putting a sick animal down,” she said. “In some ways it’s even more difficult insofar as that you know that the animal is, tantalizingly, still alive and out there somewhere, but no longer with you.”

To other pet owners who may be going through a similar situation, MacGregor said they should allow themselves to go through a period of mourning.

“It’s normal. It’s natural. It’s all right,” she said. “Allow yourself to experience the grieving process.”

Pickles the pitbull

Amy Andring and her husband adopted a pitbull from a rescue group a few years ago.

Pickles was only six months old and the friendliest dog, Andring said. The puppy had a skin disease called mange at the time, so they had several vet appointments to clear that up. They also hired a professional trainer who helped Pickles learn simple commands and leash manners.

“Even though we only had her for a little over a month, I loved Pickles so much and would’ve done anything for her,” Andring said.

Re-homing a pitbull

“Even though we only had her for a little over a month, I loved Pickles so much …”

But she and her husband began noticing some odd behaviors with their dog.

“Her paws started getting really raw and we didn’t know why,” she said. “Then it ended up being her whole front arms becoming raw.”

They took her to the vet and learned Pickles had been constantly licking her paws and arms while they were at work.

They tried changing her food in case it was due to allergies. They also got her some new toys in case it was boredom.

“Those changes did absolutely nothing,” Andring said. “In fact, things got worse. We’d come home from work and see puddles of drool everywhere, and she was sopping wet. One day, she actually tore a hole through our carpet all the way to the floor boards.”

Pickles had an awful case of separation anxiety, Andring said. And since she and her husband both worked 8-hour days, they decided to have the rescue find Pickles a new home with someone home all the time.

“It absolutely broke my heart, but I knew it was the best thing for Pickles.”

At first, Andring said she was afraid people would judge her for her decision. Instead, she found people were very understanding when she told them the story.

“If it is best for the dog, then re-homing is a good thing,” she said. “It means you are not thinking of your own needs but the needs of that animal.”

It only took a few days for the rescue to place Pickles with a retired couple.

“I guess now she gets to enjoy every day anxiety free,” Andring said. “So, sometimes re-homing a pet is done completely out of love for the animal. This was so in my case.”

Have you ever had to make the difficult choice of re-homing a pet?

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  1. This is a great post and great topic (and thanks to the brave volunteers who shared their stories). It’s a great reminder that we can never assume or judge someone. Often we are so harsh on one another and forget… sharing 🙂

  2. Amy on May 12, 2014

    Oh wow! These stories made me a bit teary especially the first one. There is such a stigma about rehoming a pet but in some issues it’s not just the case of – I don’t want them anymore! These people have truly thought about what’s best for the animal and completely disregarded their own feelings.

    I couldn’t think of giving up my dog but if he was injuring himself or other people… I don’t know what I would do. All I know is that I’d do what would make him happy.

    My friend recently told me that she was going to re-home her dog. At first I thought ‘how could you!?’ but as she explained it to me I understood. He keeps escaping from out of her fenced garden and running away. She has tried everything to secure the yard and even tethers him up when they’re not home (which he hates).

    Each time he escapes it costs her money and the biggest issue is that he could be struck by a car. She is exhausted from worrying about him and as a student she cannot afford to pay the ‘dog at large fee’ anymore (she’s paid it five times already). She’d rather find him a suitable and happy home than risk him being killed on a road or being stuck at a kill shelter because she cannot afford to pay to release him.

    Situations change and no good pet owners welcome pets into their family expecting things like this to happen. Nice thoughtful article. Thank you!

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on May 12, 2014

      I think it’s easy to judge because until we’ve been in the situation, we can’t really imagine what it would be like. I’m sorry to hear about your friend’s dog. That does sound like a stressful situation. I hope everything works out OK no matter what she ends up deciding.

  3. Beth on May 12, 2014

    I think that many people make the hard choice to rehome their pets because it is the best option for them AND the pet. I don’t know why Theo’s previous family decided to turn him at the shelter, but I’m really glad that we were able to find such a great companion. I wish more people realized that “owner surrenders” are often euthanized with a very little or no wait period. I think people just assume that because their pet is a “great pet” he or she will get adopted out easily, which isn’t always the case.

  4. Rebekah on May 12, 2014

    Sometimes life happens. Sometimes dogs just aren’t a good fit for the some people, and vice versa. It says nothing about the dog or the person. It takes a brave person to rehome an animal they love.

  5. snoopy@snoopysdogblog on May 18, 2014

    Very brave of everyone to share their stories – some decisions are just really hard to make and I’m glad everyone was thinking of the best option for the animals…..

    Wags to all,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂

  6. Sarah on June 27, 2014

    I want to thank you Lindsay for your compassion towards both people and animals, it really means a lot.
    I commented on your blog before about surrendering one of my dogs last year, it was an awful decision I had to make and even though it turned out to be for the best for all of us it wasn’t easy and for the past year I have had to grieve the loss of my sweet boy alone.


  7. Teresa on July 5, 2014

    Thank you for this article. On July 1 I started the process of re-homing my beloved long haired dachshund by surrendering her to a local Dachshund Rescue, where they will work to re-train and re-socialize her and then place her. Honestly, it was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I got her from shelter 5 years ago, she was the product of a puppy mill and a poor experience, I brought her back to health and showed her love and security. She was my constant support through the loss of a job, and a parent, but she was fearful and super protective of me as well as my sister and her family (she stayed with them while I gone ) and thus a bite risk-not to mention a major barker, prone to threatening anyone who looked at either of us sideways. fAs a novice middle aged dog owner, I didn’t really understand the depth of the behavior issues I was seeing or the importance of getting professional training help EARLY ON. By the time I did seek help dog trainer and classes-she was much worse and I had a new job that required travel several weeks and months a year, often with little notice. That started to seem unfair to my dog, when you added in her biting tendencies, it became hard for my sister and her family to keep her, especially after she bit one of their neighbors. I tried to overlook the issue, until my dog slipped away from me a week ago while I had her in the car doing errands, it was just a second that I had the car door open- she had never done anything like that before, but once loose she made a beeline for the nearest stranger and chomped on her calf. I was horrified and sick-ended up taking the woman to the walk in clinic -fortunately it was not serious, and as of today she is being nice about it and hasn’t begun any legal or civil action. Although my dog was sweet and cuddly with me, she was scared and on duty all the time ready to pounce. My dog was relaxed and calm at the Rescue when we dropped her off -even with strangers and other dogs-no barking. I think she finally realized she no longer needed to take care of me and could relax and be a dog. I KNOW I did the right thing for her, she will have the full time company, the discipline, and training she needs and because she is smart she will learn. She will make someone a loving companion. I, however am beyond grief stricken at her loss and have wept for days. I know most of my friends/co workers understand, I can’t help feeling judged.

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 5, 2014

      Oh my gosh. I’m sure it wasn’t easy to share your story here, so thank you for doing so. It really will make a difference for others who may be going through a similar situation. I think you did the right thing for your dog, but I can only image how hard it must have been.

      • Teresa on July 5, 2014

        There are not a lot of places for those who surrender pets to grieve without being judged. And I think the worst part is that for some the reasons for surrender also include work situations like mine or, financial/health reasons that preclude getting a dog again for quite awhile…I will have to look around the site and see if there are suggestions on how dog people can get their fix without an actual pet.

        • Lindsay Stordahl Author on July 6, 2014

          Yes, good point.

          I will always suggest getting involved with a rescue group or shelter. There’s fostering if you can take a pet temporarily. Or, there’s helping out with adoption events, walking shelter dogs, etc.

  8. Michelle cory on December 7, 2015

    lindsey, I have written before about my two dogs that i put down for agression. and the youghts of what i could have done better aunt me. Where would someone go about finding a rescue farm, where your dog could be safe. and the fact that i couldn’t find one, makes me even more guilty and distressed. Please address this issue for me, and please write back to my e-mail if you can. thank-you with all my heart
    Michelle Cory

    • Lindsay Stordahl Author on December 7, 2015

      Hi Michelle. I don’t know. I’m sure there are such places but then you have to think of how crowded they might be and how isolated the dogs would have to be in order to live safely. It may not be the best choice for most dogs.

      I’m so sorry you had to euthanize your dogs for aggression. I hope you can find peace with your decision and know that you did the right thing and they know you loved them.

  9. Pat on November 13, 2016

    I am in the process of re-homing my little dog of 2 months. She is just great, but at first she was very lethargic and I did not know she was very sick. It took 2 times to the vet and 4 weeks to heal. After she was better she has usual puppy behavior which is wonderful She has so much energy I cannot keep up with her. I do not have a fenced yard and walking isn’t enough for her energy level. She is more wound up when we get home. I keep her in a cage at night which she is fine with. She wakes me up at any ware from 3 – 6 in the morning. She goes to the door to go out. However sometimes it is to play and not to go, but you never know which, I cannot get a hold on it. This does not sound like real problem except for the fact that I am 80 and feel I a not being fair to this wonderful little dog, a rat-chi. Chihuaha Rat terrier mix . I have started to make arrangements with a rescue, but am having a hard time letting her go. She follows me everywhere, will she get close with someone else soon. I am so stressed.