One of the most difficult challenges in the animal welfare world is dealing with personal surrenders. This is what we call pets whose owners decide to no longer keep them, so bring them into a local shelter to give away. Occasionally, a serious life-changing reason is given, such as loss of a job or even their home and the surrender is understandable.
However, all too often the pet is brought to a shelter for reasons that might be fairly easy to overcome, if only the owner would seek some guidance or give the pet a little more time.
The result is that a local shelter, often already operating at over capacity, is forced to try and make room for one more dog, cat or horse. Personal surrenders happen for a variety of reasons. A recent study conducted by a Humane Society in Indiana shows similar results to those of shelters in the CSRA:
1. Fifty-four percent of the dogs surrendered were 6 months to 3 years old, and 15 percent were less than 6 months old. (The study included only acquired dogs, not surrendered litters.)
2. Fifty-one percent of dogs surrendered had been purchased for less than $100 from a breeder or private owner. Nearly 9 percent from these private sources cost more than $100; 2.5 percent came from pet stores; and 3.9 percent from litters produced in the home.
3. Nearly 20 percent of the surrendered dogs came from a shelter and about the same number were acquired as strays.
4. Nearly 41 percent of the surrendered dogs were obtained free from the previous owner.
5. Behavior problems occurring daily that contributed to surrender were:
• Barking, 41 percent
• Chewing, 24 percent
• Hyperactivity, 45 percent
• House training accidents, 21 percent
• Aggression to other pets, less than 8 percent
• Aggression to people, less than 9 percent.
So what can be done to keep these pets in their homes? If you are someone who has impossible work schedules and long work days, it can be hard to spend time with your pet. Most dogs have a minimum level of exercise that needs to be met to stay sane and healthy. Ask your vet about dog walkers in your area, or maybe you know some trustworthy dog loving kid who needs pocket money. There are commercial “doggy day care” and pet walking services that might be able to help out. If the expense is too much, try asking a neighbor or friend to help out. Can you make it home at lunch time? Can you exercise your dog before work? A tired dog is a good dog. Setting aside a few minutes here and there for your dog can really make a difference.
If you have problems with allergies in the home, first and foremost, keep your pet clean. No matter what kind of pet, keeping him clean and groomed, and keeping your living quarters clean will help. It may be possible to live with an allergic pet by separating the pet from the allergic person, such as never allowing the pet into the allergic person’s bedroom. Check into vacuum cleaners with the special HEPA filters, and use them often.
Does your dog chew up things in the house you don’t want him to like the remote control or your favorite pair of shoes? Make sure you have a supply of chew toys on hand. Whenever the dog is in a crate or small room, there should always be some toys to chew on. When you are at home and see the dog about to chew on an item it shouldn’t, say something and give the dog one of its toys. Also, have the pet’s teeth checked. He may be chewing because his teeth are bothering him.
Before you consider giving a pet to a crowded shelter, be sure that you have done your part to try and overcome the reason for surrender. You obviously cared about the animal enough to adopt it or buy it at one time, and by giving it to a shelter, you are possibly putting its life at risk.
Instead, call your veterinarian, find a trainer or ask us for some advice and keep your commitment to the pet. For more information, call the SPCA at 648-6863.
Gary Willoughby is the president and CEO of the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare.