At first glance, it might seem like the right thing to do. After all, you don't want to "sell" your loved one. So you decide to give your dog away for free when you can no longer take care of it. Certainly, you reason, someone will give it a loving home – and so you post it on Craig’s List.
But in the real world, “free to a good home” can be the most terrifying five words in your dog’s life. This approach may expose your loved pet to a life of uncertainty, neglect, abuse or traumatic death. This is not an urban legend – this fate is very real for some unfortunate pets in the U.S.
Men and women--yes, women!--searching for dogs to fight or to use as bait for fighting dogs are amazingly creative. They will even bring their children with them when they come to take your beloved dog away.
People who torture or kill pets for sport, people who resell them to laboratories for research, even hoarders who believe they’re providing a good home but expose your pet to horrific circumstances all look for “free to good home” pets.
The message we’re sending should be very loud and very clear – DO NOT GIVE AWAY YOUR DOG. EVER.
We know that sometimes circumstances change and loving, responsible pet owners find themselves unable to care for their dogs. Circumstances change, jobs disappear, owners age and have health issues of their own. Most people recoil at the idea of asking for help--but giving away your pet for free isn’t the answer. There really is "a fate worse than death" waiting for your pet at the other end of that Craig's List ad. Even a humane euthanasia is the better--and kinder--option.
What should you do if you need to surrender your pet? Here are some things to consider first:
• If housing is the issue, have you talked to your landlord personally?
• If there are behavioral issues, have you talked to your vet? There are very inexpensive medications that may help both behavioral issues and physical issues that can be mistaken for behavioral issues. (The most common culprit: a UTI causing housebreaking issues.)
• If you've exhausted every avenue and must rehome your dog, first check with the breeder or rescue your dog came from originally. In many cases, you've signed an agreement to give the dog back if you can't keep it.
• Have you asked friends, family members, and neighbors that you know personally and trust if they would be interested in adopting your dog?
If that doesn’t work, use Google to find a breed-specific rescue. They can be both national and local. A good place to start can be the AKC breed club's rescue arm. Even if your dog is just "mostly" a German Shepard or Labrador Retriever--they still may be a candidate for breed rescue. There are groups that specialize in GSDs and Labs and Dobermans and Poodles, just to name a few.
There are also "all breed" rescues that will take any dog, regardless of its lineage or appearance. Since they are volunteer-based non-profits, these rescue groups may ask a small fee to take in your dog. Pay it! That minimal fee will cover getting your dog spayed or neutered and bringing them up to date on their shots, as well as food and travel expenses while the rescue works to find them a new home.
When your dog is placed with a rescue, you can have peace of mind that they will find your dog a good home. They will interview prospective adopters and check their references, and they will charge an adoption fee. This is a bit of extra guarantee that whoever gets your surrendered dog truly wants a new pet. The other advantage is that these rescues typically are responsible for the pet for its whole life – as SHUG is. Should anything happen in the new adoptive family, the dog comes back to the rescue. So the original owner can be reassured their beloved pet will not end up on the street or in a fighting ring.
And please be assured that no one is "making money" off of your dog. Your pet may come into rescue not needing any extra vet care, but the next dog they take may need thousands of dollars in surgery or specialized test. In most cases, in a rescue each dog will get the care they need.
Because rescues do commit to a high level of care for each animal they take in, they can't always accept every dog. Sometimes even the best rescues have to say no, for a variety of reasons. Nearly every area of the country has local municipal shelters and they are designed to take all pets. They are meant to be the option of last resort. In many cases, the only way they can fulfill that role, is through euthanasia. When you take your dog to the shelter, speak to the staff and discuss your situation. They may have other options you hadn’t considered.
The bottom line is that if you can't keep your pet, your last responsibility to them is to keep them out of the hands of someone with bad intentions. They're counting on you.