For the purposes of this article I am referring to pets you own, not stray animals which should be referred to as found pets, and reported to the local shelter.
If you have made the decision that you are not the best owner for your pet, it is unfair to keep it, as time passes it will become less and less rehomeable. There should be no shame in making this decision, and allowing the pet to hopefully find a more appropriate home. You should know that because there are more unwanted pets than there are homes, it is always a risky decision. Put some thought into it before you simply get rid of any pet. Always consider other options, like moving to a place that allows pets if it is a landlord issue, or obedience training if the issue is unruly behavior.
What Not to Do with an Unwanted Pet and Why
I caution you not to give a pet away as “Free to a Good Home“. Studies have shown that very few of these animals actually get “good homes”. Most never get any veterinarian care. Many never get fixed (spayed or neutered) and thus go on to add to the over pet population. Free pets that go missing are recovered from animal shelters where a fine is usually charged; their owners simply go get another free one.
Some serial killers have admitted they started on “free to good home” pets. It is possible, and legal, for somebody to accept a “free” pet, then sell it to a research lab or use it for snake food (as it is their animal now to do with as they will, dependent on area laws). Bait animals are often those given “free to good homes”. A truly “good” owner would buy from a reputable breeder or adopt from a shelter.
Do not turn your unwanted pet loose, or abandon it in the country. Farmers often shoot nuisance animals, or their own animals fight with the new comer. Many farm pets are not looked after to the extent city pets are used to. Many farm cats are not even fed regularly. You might think all farms need more pets, but in reality this is not the case. Abandoned dogs will run for hours looking for a owner who has driven away. Dumped pets suffer from the inability to find food or water. They are attacked by other animals, like coyotes. They are at risk for being hit by cars and left suffering for hours without care. In many areas leaving your pet in the country, city dump, or other part of town, is a criminal offense known as “Animal Abandonment“.
Do not rehome an aggressive or sick pet. Take it to the vet for euthanasia. In some areas you could be sued for knowingly passing on a problem pet to another person, especially if you do not disclose the problem.
What To Do with Unwanted Pets
The first thing you need to do is admit why you are getting rid of the pet. Is it because of a situation on your part, or is there something wrong with the pet? For example, many people get rid of cats because the cat is urinating in areas it should not. This is often a medical issue and should NOT be passed on to another owner. If you are not willing to treat the cat, then you should euthanize it rather than dumping it on another person (as mentioned above), or at least be honest about the problem. A new owner who knows of the issues will be more forgiving than anyone who gets a surprise. Another common reason people get rid of pets is because they got the wrong type of dog and did not have time for it, and it has become a problem pet, digging, barking, or what not. Tell any potential new owner of the problems you faced, this will hopefully prevent the new owner from abusing the animal out of frustration.
If you got the pet from a Reputable Breeder you probably have a contract requiring you to return the pet to them. This contract is usually for the lifetime of the pet. As such the breeder is the first person you should call. The same applies to people who got pets from rescues or Animal Shelters. Read your contract or call them first for advice.
If the pet was not from a breeder or they are unable to take the pet back, call your local SPCA, Animal Shelter, or whomever deals with unwanted animals in your area. Young animals, and those of unusual or high demand breeds often have success at finding a new home through a shelter.
If you are not sure there is an animal shelter in your area, call a veterinarian. In some areas there are “no-kill” shelters but these are usually full, and this is not always the best option for an animal. They may sit in a cage for years, never getting a home. If your pet is a problem animal, do not take it to a no-kill shelter were it will only become more of a problem and get more stressed, as well as take up a space for a potentially good pet.
Shelters who do euthanize animals after a period of time give animals a fair chance, if the animal is not adopted after a good period of time, it probably will never get adopted and will be humanely euthanized. If your animal is one which is in high demand, they may even have a waiting list and can help find the pet a new home quickly. Be honest… do not lie and tell them the animal is a stray, this will not help your pet.
People are more likely to adopt an animal with a known history and some information than one who comes in as a stray. Shelters are more likely to put an animal up for adoption of they know something about it. Some shelters get so many owner relinquished pets that they do not put strays up for adoption as a rule. When you give them your pet, make sure you give them a few of its favorite toys and its food as well.
An alternate to having a shelter find a new owner for your pet is finding it a home on your own, for a small fee. If your pet is older, less adoptable, but is spayed or neutered, you “MIGHT” be able to find it a good home. Ask a small fee, and be willing to do home checks. Do not allow a dog to go to a home without a fenced yard. Make sure any prospective owners either own their home or have landlord permission. Are their other pets in good health? Do not be in too much of a hurry to get rid of your pet that you place it in a questionable home. Do not give an animal to anyone who will not give you their name and phone number. I strongly caution against rehoming pets this way, without asking for a payment.
The Truth about Getting Rid of an Unwanted Pet
The truth is that unless your pet is under 2 years of age, or is of an unusual breed, it probably won’t have much chance at finding a new owner. Small non-shedding dogs are in demand, but an untrained, older, active, big dog will not have much chance, especially if it is not spayed or neutered. Accept the truth from a shelter if they tell you that your pet is not adoptable. It will be less stressful to these animals for you to take them straight to the vet for euthanasia.