Why do dogs and cats commonly end up in shelters? Are they ‘damaged goods’? Have they all been abused? Here are the top 10 reasons animals are surrendered as well as resources and practical advice for people who feel as though they need to re-home their animals. Please consider sharing it if you or someone you know is in this unfortunate position.
There is a common belief that animals in shelters are there because they were bad. Or perhaps because the previous owner saw signs of an expensive illness in the near future and dumped them so someone else could pay for them.
I understand the thought process, I really do. I mean, why else would someone give up their companions? As it turns out, there are many reasons higher on the list than poor behavior or medical issues. A study by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy evaluated the top reasons dogs and cats are surrendered to shelters. They found that the top 7 reasons for dog and cat relinquishment were the same.
The top reasons:
1. The owners moved. This is the reason behind about 7% of dogs entering shelters and 8% of cats. I encourage all owners to hop on the internet and look for pet friendly apartments if they need to move. If you are moving out of the country or in with family, it will be difficult. Otherwise, you may be surprised just how easy it is to find pet-friendly housing.
3. Too many animals in the household. This accounts for 4% of dogs in shelters and a whopping 11% of cats. Why so many more cats? Perhaps because unaltered cats multiply so much more than dogs. This is a huge reason to spay and neuter your pets. I know we animal advocates sound like a broken record, but 75% of cats in shelters are euthanized. If you want to help prevent those deaths, you have to start by preventing unwanted births! Please check out this resource for information on low cost spay and neuter clinics and information about catch and release programs through which feral cats are fixed and then re-released.
4. The high cost of pet maintenance is cited as the reason for 5% of dogs in shelters and 6% of cats. Even just looking at the day to day stuff, animals are expensive! Cost is something owners should seriously evaluate when they adopt or buy a dog or cat. If you find pet care is more expensive than you anticipated, resources such as dog food stamps, low cost spay and neuter, and low cost vaccinations are available. All it takes is a quick internet search. Another option? Check out my post on Financial Tips For Frugal Pet Owners.
5. Owner has personal problems. It could be an addition to the family, a divorce, unemployment… it could be anything. But that generally means it is NOT the animal’s fault. This accounts for 4% of unlucky dogs and cats in shelters.
6. “Inadequate facilities” is listed as the reason for 4% of shelter dogs and 2% of shelter cats. I would guess this includes people who believe their dogs need a fenced in yard or who can’t prevent their animals from escaping. One thing to point out is that spayed and neutered animals are far less likely to run away from home and roam the streets. People could exercise their dogs by taking them on long walks or even put their dogs in daycare while they are at work to try to avoid the worst-case scenario of dumping their pets at the shelter.
7. No homes available for litter mates. This is 100% the owner’s fault, and to me, one of the few absolutely unforgivable reasons to give up an animal. Spaying and neutering (and leaving breeding to professionals), could prevent 3% of the dogs in shelters and 6% of the cats in shelters. If you brought these animals into the world, you are responsible for them.
8. The eighth reason for dogs entering shelters is owners who feel they don’t have enough time for their pets. It is noble, in theory, to try to find a better place for your dog. However, giving them to a shelter does not ensure a better life. It ensures at least some time stuck in a small run and then a high possibility of death. 50 percent of shelter dogs are euthanized. Another option for these owners is to take their dogs to daycare while they are at work. This provides socialization and exercise you may not be able to give your dog. The shelter should be the absolute last resort for the 4% of dogs relinquished because of lack of time. (As I always say, better to be crated during the day than dead!)
8. The eighth reason for cats to go into the shelter, accounting for about 8% of cats, is allergies. That is fair. I won’t shame you if you or a loved on gives up something that is making you seriously ill. While I encourage allergy shots or pills (because I believe that would be worth it to have a pet), I don’t suffer from allergies, so I know I have no right to tell you what to do. Maybe you could get a dog or cat that doesn’t shed as much. But, if you can pop pills long enough to find a home for your cat, it would be awesome of you. Just because I know you love them and you don’t want your fur-kid to end up dying at the shelter. There are rescues out there. There are so many animal lovers who would jump at the chance to help advertise your pet, and maybe even foster it for you until it gets adopted. Just don’t offer it free on Craigslist!
9. Four percent of dogs are given up because of pet illnesses. This one is unfortunate because it negatively affects a new owner as well as the original owner. Illnesses such as heartworms or mange are easily fixed, though intimidating without enough information. Sometimes owners are lucky enough to find organizations who will help cover the cost of illnesses. If you invest in pet health insurance, then your insurance company could help save your dog from the shelter. Some plans even cover cancer!
9. Five percent of cats are dumped in the shelter because of house soiling. I have never owned a cat, but I’m guessing this usually has to do with training or marking. Proper training is imperative for any pet. If you notice soiling, you should also ask your vet about the possibility of a UTI or incontinence. It is an unfortunate reality for many pet owners (myself included), but is actually really easy to live with. Medication goes a long way.
10. Three percent of dogs are dumped because of biting. This CAN be serious, but it can also be a fear reaction from an owner who doesn’t understand why their dog bit somebody. It is never safe to leave dogs and young children unsupervised. Biting can be prevented through training and education. Another way to prevent dog bites? Spay or neuter! Un-neutered dogs account for 94% of fatal dog attacks. While most bites aren’t fatal, un-neutered males are also more than 2.5 times more likely to bite. Pregnant females and females in heat can also be dangerous and unpredictable. Some dogs are aggressive and do not make good companions, but it is certainly a minority of shelter dogs.
10. Two percent of cats are given to the shelter because of incompatibility with other pets. Sometimes, it is the responsible thing to do to put the safety of all the pets first. That being said, it is always best to contact rescues or cat-loving friends before going to the shelter.
Approximately half of the pets (42.8% of dogs; 50.8% of cats) surrendered to shelters are unaltered. This can contribute to many undesirable behaviors from soiling/marking, to wandering, to aggression. Before giving up your pet, please try spaying or neutering first! The shelter will have to do it anyway (assuming your pet makes it out of the shelter alive). If you end up having to relinquish your pet anyway, it will save the shelter or interested rescues that cost. At the very least, you’ve given your pet their best shot at life and done a civil service.
Many of the pets relinquished (33% of dogs; 46.9% of cats) have never been to a veterinarian. This could definitely contribute to the “pet illnesses” reason for dumping pets at the shelter. House soiling could be caused by a UTI or incontinence that a vet could diagnose and even fix. Another possibility – aggression could be the result of pain. Maybe your animal is trying to tell you they are hurting!
A whopping 96% of dogs who enter the shelter have never received any obedience training. In addition to local trainers, places like PetCo and PetSmart offer obedience classes. If you are struggling with your dog, spay/neuter should be the first thing you try, and training should be the second.
If you feel as though you need to give up your pet, the shelter should be your last resort. First, get your pet spayed or neutered. If the problem persists, look into training. If you still feel as though you need to re-home your pet, please ask a rescue for help. Many will require your pet be up to date on shots and fixed. But, if you reach out, there is an incredible and huge animal loving community there who will gladly back you up. Even the most vocal activists usually respect the owner who takes the time to find a happy home for their pet.
Your pet gave you everything, please at least give them their best shot at life.