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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

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 boys
Months 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.

Re-homing a Lab
So, 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, 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

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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