Shaming Pet Guardians for Surrendering Animals Won’t Help the Cause

Multiple times a day, I glance at Twitter and notice something along the lines of: “This poor dog didn’t do anything wrong, but her owners brought her to the shelter because they couldn’t read their lease and now she’s doing to DIE” or “This innocent cat got scared and scratched someone, so his owner gave him up to DIE.” These emotional posts are often accompanied by calls to donate to help pull animals at risk of euthanasia out of the shelter.

As someone who volunteers at a shelter, these sentiments always irk me — just like the cruel comments people make about open-admission shelters (i.e., “kill shelters“). They betray a fundamental lack of understanding of the animal sheltering world. While people may feel good about firing off a self-righteous comment, it doesn’t actually do much to address the millions of homeless dogs and cats across the United States who are euthanized every year. And the shaming may drive some people away from bringing their pets to animal shelters and toward unsafe approaches, such as abandonment.

Many of the animals who come into our shelter are owner surrenders. Some are old animals with health problems. Others are athletic, zesty youngsters. And at this time of year, we see lots of kittens and puppies from animals who weren’t spayed or neutered.

The same kinds of stories tend to come up over and over. The original guardian died or went into care, and no one wanted to take the animal. The cost of veterinary care and feeding got too high. Huge changes in life circumstances, such as eviction or homelessness, made it impossible to adequately care for a pet. A person was escaping an abusive relationship and not able to get to a safe and stable place.

We get few “convenience surrenders,” as some people snarkily call them. And we happily take those, too. To our eyes, someone who would surrender a pet for a reason that seems petty to us probably wouldn’t make a good guardian anyway. Or there’s something else going on, and someone is too ashamed to talk about it.

Sometimes, the surrender form is hastily filled out with almost no detail. Other times, it’s long and heartbreaking, as the former guardian details information about their pet’s favorite toys and preferred places to be petted.

Shaming people making an incredibly difficult decision feels very counterproductive to me. Life can change in an instant. And we never know when we might be the ones faced with a choice that seemed unthinkable once upon a time.

Sometimes, surrendering a pet to a shelter is the best possible option, even though it’s not a pleasant one. And having watched this myself, it stings every time I see people pontificating on the internet about how they would never “abandon their pet” and that anyone who “drops off their pet at the pound” is a bad person who clearly doesn’t care about animals.

In recent years, animal shelter professionals have really started to rethink their whole approach to the question of how to handle homeless pets. Historically, the focus was on getting them out of the shelter. Now, the goal is to keep them from coming in to begin with.

A study in 2015 noticed many of the trends I observe anecdotally in terms of what brings pets to the shelter. But the researchers found some small social changes could make a big difference. Instead of simply accepting a surrender from people who clearly want to keep their pet, shelters can start asking what they can do to help.

More and more communities have pet food pantries, and activists are still pushing to let people buy pet food with SNAP benefits. In some communities, people are working on getting free and low-cost veterinary services to people with animals who need care. Or they’re providing training for animals who need a little help to mind their manners.

Other groups are working on issues, such as preventing evictions and helping tenants negotiate room for animals in their leases. These groups are also educating landlords and property management companies to get them to reconsider the dreaded “no pets” mandate.

In some cases, shelters just have to provide people with information about existing services they weren’t aware of. And that can help them keep their pets, rather than feeling like they have no choice but to give them up.

Sometimes, the needed gesture is even more simple. A few months ago, a veteran experiencing homelessness came to the shelter to surrender their dog because they had to be hospitalized briefly at the VA hospital. We ascertained that no one was available to look after the dog — who was clearly healthy, in good condition and much loved — so we came up with the next best option. One of the veterinary technicians provided temporary fostering.

Shelter workers across the U.S. — even in much-maligned open-admission shelters — engage in creative problem-solving like this all the time, though you might not know it.

So the next time you find yourself wanting to dunk on people who surrender their pets, consider volunteering with a local organization that helps connect pet guardians with resources, so they don’t have to surrender their animals. And if one doesn’t exist near you, this sounds like a swell time to start it!

Photo credit: Jasmina007/Getty Images

54 comments

Michael F
Michael F13 days ago

Thank You for Sharing This !!!

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hELEN hEARFIELD
hELEN hEARFIELD16 days ago

tyfs

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Frances G
Past Member 22 days ago

thanks for this

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Carol B
Carol B22 days ago

Thank you for sharing this article. I suggest that anyone who feels the need to do a self-righteous tweet, get off your duff and volunteer at your nearby shelter by helping to walk and care for the animals who have been brought in. I'm sure your help would be appreciated as well as a change in perspective.

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Doris F
Doris F23 days ago

@C2...what happens with C2 ?????
All actions are break down ! hmmmpfff :-(

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Sherri S
Sherri S23 days ago

I agree with the comment from Winn Adams. I would NEVER surrender any of my animals to a shelter....NEVER! They are my family and you don't get rid of family when or if things become difficult. You find a way to survive.

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Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O23 days ago

I have seen this go both ways for the convenience of wanting a cute baby animal as this one is too old, and done out of pure desperation. Not wanting to pay for boarding fees or the dog is getting very old and they don't want to deal with it dying at home or vet costs. That is all too inconvenient to them. Win Adams is correct it is the education of the children first as they will educate the parents... Baha’i Writings ~ ‘To the blessed animals, however, the utmost kindness should be exercised: the more the better it will be. Man is generally sinful and the animal is innocent. Educate the children in their infancy in such a way that they may become exceedingly kind and merciful to the animals. If an animal is sick they should endeavour to cure it; if it is hungry, they should feed it; if it is thirsty, they should satisfy its thirst; if it is tired, they should give it rest’

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Lara A
Lara A23 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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niarica l
Past Member 24 days ago

m

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niarica lubatti
Past Member 24 days ago

th

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