Skip to Content

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

Teach your dog to stay without the 'stay' command
Prevent dogs from meeting head on