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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


Sunday 22nd of January 2017

I lost my job and my dog has begun to display some serious behavior issues that need to be addressed(ie. he locked onto another much larger dog at a dog park and brutally attacked him). Unfortunately, he is a pit bull and therefore already has a stigma attached to him. While I know that this could of happened with any dog and to any dog, it was very traumatic for everyone involved. He is already not welcome to two other doggy day care places (not due to any incident, but because gets overly excited sometimes and hard to settle down for the workers). I know he needs a training program, and I have tried to the extent of my own knowledge and research ability to train him myself, but aggressive behaviors need an expert. I cannot afford any of the trainers, or places that I have researched. My account is literally in the negatives. There are days where I make sure my dog has food,and all that he needs before I even think of buying myself groceries. I put his needs before mine, and even put off college graduation to pay his vet bill instead of taking another class. But, the money is just not there... and he needs help. Keeping him without proper training feels irresponsible...

Lindsay Stordahl

Sunday 22nd of January 2017

Sorry to hear of your difficult situation. I hope you don't have to re-home your dog but I understand it is sometimes the right choice for everyone. I also know how difficult it is to find affordable training, especially anything beyond the basics. Not sure where you're located but I know some humane societies and other shelters offer affordable training for the community in an attempt to help keep pets in their homes.


Wednesday 18th of June 2014

I surrendered one of my dogs last year to a local rescue. I have a disability and one day my partner/career went out and never came back leaving me with three dogs to care for when I couldn't take care of myself on my own. For close to 2 months I tried finding help to walk my pups until my new wheelchair arrived but every animal lover I reached out could not or would not help. My entire life had fallen apart and I sunk into a bad really bad depression and my male dog was going stir crazy, wouldn't sleep, was pacing around, barking like mad and I started having thoughts of suicide which is when I knew I had to get my dogs out. I called a local rescue and the lady came out and said she could take my boy and would work on getting fosters for my girls. I handed her his leash, gave him a hug, a belly rub and kiss, told him I loved him and was sorry and as they walked away he tried to run back to me and my heart shattered and to this day that image haunts me. He was adopted a month later, the rescue has sent me pictures and he is doing really well but I lost all but one of my friends and I was cast as a monster. It has been a little over a year since I surrendered my boy and I do still miss him but I am now able to look at his pictures without bawling my eyes out. I have come far in rebuilding my life and have recently become mom to a little Maltese boy and I still have my girls who are happy to once again have a brother :) Surrendering my sweet boy was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do and while I will never forget him and will always love him I know it was the best decision for everyone involved.

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 18th of June 2014

I have never had to give up a dog, so I can't imagine how hard it must've been. Thank you for sharing your experience because I believe it will help others who are going through similar experiences.

sapiro, heather

Thursday 20th of June 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!!!!!!!!!


Thursday 13th of September 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

Sunday 16th of September 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.


Monday 25th of June 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

Monday 25th of June 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?