Why Do People Abandon Their Pets?

Okay, today I am going rogue…a bit away from how to cope with the loss of a pet. The reason why I am diverting from the norm, is because I have seen some really frustrating, maddening stories, and I need to vent. On Facebook, I have a number of groups that I am a part of regarding pets. There is Straydar (which is super helpful!), Alaskan Malamutes groups, I Love My Dog groups, community pages, local shelters, as well as friends who either work in shelters, animal behavior, or vets.

Outside of the pets who have been hit by cars or stolen, the most aggravating stories I see are people bringing their pets to the county shelters because they can’t or won’t care for them anymore. Why? Why do people abandon their pets to a shelter where they know the likely outcome is death?

Reason 1 – People Problems

Yes, this is a vague statement, but think about it. How many times have you heard excuses, I mean reasons, as to why a person can’t keep a pet. (It’s not you, it’s me….) There are both valid and ridiculous reasons to surrender your pet, and unfortunately, it is hard to differentiate between the two based on individual situations.

Here are some basic examples of valid versus invalid reasons.

Valid Reasons:

  • You have passed away
  • You are extremely ill to where you are unable to provide care for your pet
  • You are incarcerated
  • Your immediate family members are deathly allergic, and cannot be near your pet
  • Your financial ability to care for the pet has been compromised (although, there is a fine line on this one)

Invalid Reasons:

  • You moved out of state or to a home that doesn’t allow pets
  • Your significant other just doesn’t like your pet
  • You had a new baby
  • You don’t have time for your pet
  • The pet is too expensive
  • The list goes on.

As you can see there are valid reasons, and I do not fault the person who has done everything they can to provide for their pet. Unfortunately, there are times when the best decision is to rehome the pet(s).

On the flip side, too many people send pets to the county shelters or just drop them off in a different neighborhood for asinine reasons. I think there are a few reasons for this:

1. Education: So many people think a pet is cute, and to satisfy their want, they buy a pet without doing the research on the pet and how to care for them. For example, an Alaskan Malamute may not be the best pet for someone who hates to clean up fur, or who cannot learn that the breed requires leadership and training. How about a Jack Russel Terrier…they are high energy, high intellect dogs, who need to be working to keep themselves out of trouble.

2. The Cuteness Factor: We have paedomorphized pets in the media. (Aren’t cat videos the most watched videos on YouTube?) Movies and cartoons as well as some social media outlets show pets as big-eyed, lovable, squishy beings that only need food and love. Why not get one, right?

3. The Underdog: So this one may be a little more controversial. I think we have done a disservice in some ways for the pets that are seen as bully breeds. Animal welfare organizations and breed warriors have done so much to prove that these breeds are not as bad as people once saw them, that everyone wants one now. Take into consideration (especially in the SW), shelters are filled to capacity with these mostly Pitbulls. Why? Everyone wants to prove they have a good dog…and when they realize they don’t know how to train or care for them, they end up back behind bars.

Reason 2 – Animal Problems

Yep, this one is just as vague…and is the reason I am writing this post. There are various reasons why a pet may be rehomed or sent to a kill shelter because of who they are. Again, there are valid reasons as well as ridiculous reasons.

Valid Reasons:

  • They are aggressive towards people
  • They are aggressive towards other animals

Invalid Reason:

  • They are sick
  • They are old
  • They have allergies
  • They are injured
  • They have some behavior issues

As you can see, there are fewer valid reasons to rehome a pet based on their quirks. If a pet is legitimately aggressive, then, yes, I agree they are not suited for your home; however, my hope would be that you work with the pet as much as possible to see what the root cause of the aggression is and if there is a way to correct it.

If it is true aggression, where your pet would not be safe in any other home, you should have the pet humanely euthanized at your vet’s office; not taken to a shelter or dropped off in another neighborhood (or desert!). This allows your pet to understand that you are with them until the end, but it also doesn’t subject others to your pet’s behavior. In addition, your pet sees his family instead of strangers in a strange place prior to passing over the Rainbow Bridge.

The entire reason I started writing this post is because of the invalid reasons. We have to understand our pets don’t have control over getting old or sick or having allergies, nor do they understand why they got hit by a car or attacked by a hawk. Our pets rely on us to care for their needs, to speak up for them, and…not abandon them in their time of need.

Story Time

My mom adopted 2 of her puppies from an amazing rescue in the Phoenix area who specialize in wounded, sick, and old dogs that are brought into the county shelter. These dogs would be euthanized within days of arrival because the shelter did not have the resources to bring them back to health.

The owner of the non-profit has an incredible heart specifically for these dogs. Even if her shelter / sanctuary is at capacity, she does everything she can to pull the dog from the county shelter, have the medical needs cared for, and allow the pet to live out the rest of their days in a loving environment. Her and the volunteers want these dogs to know they are not alone in their journey. Not only do they bring these broken dogs in, they work to help others in the community who are struggling to care for their dogs medical needs.

Meet Teddy. He was adopted last year, but brought back to the shelter due to medical issues. A good Samaritan adopted him; however, needed help in obtaining funds to care for the multiple medical issues that Teddy was dealing with. Teddy’s leg was badly infected, has multiple tumors, and open wounds. He had ear infections in both ears, and they are waiting to hear back on if he has Valley Fever or Cancer.

Thank God for the donors and the owner of the non-profit who helped Teddy. If they had scrolled past the story from the county shelter, Teddy would have been euthanized.

The Reason for My Rant

Our pets need us. They rely on us to care for them, and to speak for them. Our pets don’t understand why we would send them away or abandon them. They expect to be a part of the family…like they were when they were young and/or healthy.

Why do people think it is a shelter’s responsibility to fix what they couldn’t or didn’t…? Is it because they don’t care, or is it lack of education? Is there something that society or the community can do to combat this human behavior? How can we spread the word that non-profit shelters need financial help and volunteers/fosters to fix the wrongs the person has done?

These pets are hurting, either physically, mentally, or both. And…we are not in an era where they can fend for themselves. They have become so reliant on our care that it is not fair to dump them in their hour of need.

So, what can we do?

1. Don’t get a pet unless you have researched the breed, pedigree, gender, size…everything… You need to understand what it is going to take to care for a pet, from basic needs to potentially poor health.

2. Don’t go with the “awww” factor. You need to add a family member that jives with your family. A Jack Russel may not mix with a quiet, sedentary lifestyle…

3. Do look into pet insurance. There are some plans out there that will be highly beneficial for the pet that you bring into the family. For example, if you have a puppy or kitten, a basic policy will help cover basic procedures, but also catastrophic events at a really good cost.

4. Do think about your lifestyle and how a pet will fit into it. Do you work crazy hours? Are you someone who likes to go on adventures? What type of home do you live in or where are you moving to?

5. Do understand your pet will get sick, injured, and old. Remember that they will be a part of the family to the end. If you feel that you are unable to care for them at those points, please do not get a pet.

6. Do donate to the shelters that care for these sick and aging pets. Without your help, they cannot give the pets the medical attention needed or the food to sustain them.

Final Thoughts

It’s not fair to our pets or the shelters to abandon them when our pet needs us the most. It’s selfish. Just because you think your heart may break because your pet is dying is a terrible reason for you to have someone else take care of the end process. Your pet needs you…and you need your pet.

If you are struggling to care for your pet’s medical needs, contact shelters in your community. Many of them offer free or low cost clinics to ensure your pets are healthy.

If you absolutely need to rehome a pet, go through the local organizations as well. They will be able to help you or tell you if your pet can be rehomed.

Overall, take responsibility. You adopted a pet, brought them into the family, and cared for them. That responsibility does not stop when they get sick, injured, or old.

Let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear what you have to say on this topic.

18 thoughts on “Why Do People Abandon Their Pets?”

  1. Hi Kelly

    I really enjoyed this post as I have 2 dogs and feel people need to learn to understand their pets, get their pets trained properly, give them the right diet and the right exercise and play with them every day. Happy dogs 🙂

    There are some dogs who are aggressive but I feel these guys can also be trained by specialist trainers and I have seen remarkable results with this.

    I have also met some gorgeous people who have adopted dogs that have been dumped for some reason and these dogs are their best friends now. So great to see

    As for dumping your pet- This is criminal- It is just like dumping your child. Too hard- oh well let’s dump it. So Sad

    This is such a great post anmd I am going to share it around so people get to read this

    Thank you so much

    1. Thanks Vicki! It’s amazing how poorly people can treat their pets when they are supposed to be their voice.  It irks me how pets are just thrown to the side because they require too much care or the cuteness has worn off. Unfortunately, I also understand the other side where people legitimately cannot care for their pets and have to re-home them. It is a vicious cycle it seems. Thank you for your comment! 

  2. I thought this article was emotional, passionate and full of love and I enjoyed reading it so much! There is a lot of logic, reason, non judgemental tones in your post and it really is a great post. I as recently as two weeks ago supported my beloved cat ralph through 2 emergency surgeries which he required due to crystals forming in his urinary track which caused him to struggle to pass so the surgery unblocks this. He required the 2nd surgery due to the blockage returning 2 days later. My family and I are so thankful that he pulled through as the expense to save him was a terrible panic at the time but a very distant memory now even tho it was two weeks ago. Our pets gift us with there life and most times they are not the ones choosing how to live it. It is our responsibility and our privilege as humans to give them the best life possible and people like you Kelly will always be a huge positive contributing factor as to how we can understand more about being better humans for our animals and all animals. 

    1. Hi Jade, I love your statement “It is our responsibility and our privilege as humans to give them the best life possible.” This is beautifully written and so poignant. It is our responsibility to care for these babies we bring into our home, because they are not able to care for themselves in the same way they would centuries ago. But…it is also a privilege to care for them because of the unconditional love they give to us. 

      I am so glad that your kitty made it through the surgeries. It is always scary when a pet has to have a medical procedure done. Thankfully, the vet was able to remove the blockages. 

      Thank you so much for your comments!

  3. Hi! I totally agree. People are quick to buy a pet. But then they’re also quick to abandon him, if things are different from what they initially expected. The list of invalid excuses could go on and on.

    These 6 points you mentioned should be considered by anybody wanting to buy or adopt a pet. Specially point 2, the “awww” factor.

    1. Absolutely Henry. I think the aww factor gets too many people, and then they end up with “buyers remorse” soon after. 

      Thanks for your comments!

  4. Kelly I can fully understand your rant.  My German Shepard Rottweiler mix Passed two and a half years ago, at the age of 16!  It was so hard to let go, but she was in pain and it was her time.  I can honestly say it was the most difficult thing i eve did to hold my baby girl (her name was Boston), while they first gave her a shot for the pain (wow I’m starting to tear up just writing this) and then to hold her as they put her to sleep, and she looked at me with love in her eyes and  I know she was happy I was there for her to the end…Wow I am still heartbroken over it.  Anyway as you say, you can’t abandon your dog just because they get old and you don’t want to bear it.  Yes it is difficult when you do, but that’s part of the responsibility of getting a pet, is knowing their life span is not as long as ours, and we will have to eventually say good bye… If someone feels that they can’t bear that , well than unfortunately maybe a pet isn’t for that individual if they are going to abandon it when they are sick, they wouldn’t do that with a child!  As pet owners, we have to bear in mind that its not always fun and frills, we have to be there for our furry children in the “bad” time too.

    Thank You for sharing this article, it is honest and pure.


    1. Thank you so much Robert, and I am truly sorry for your loss. Isn’t it interesting how much a pet brings to our lives, and how their spirit lives on even after they have passed away? Boston was a lucky girl to have a dad like you, and I know she felt comfort in those last moments because you were by her side. 

      I agree with you that people should not get pets if they can’t say goodbye or take care of them when they are ill. These pets needs are similar to that of a child; however, people don’t understand that or think that they should be able to take care of themselves. I guess I don’t get it. 

      Thank you for sharing your story with me. 

  5. I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts here. I have always had rescued pets and can’t imagine not helping pets in need. My husband and I want to adopt every cat and dog in need. We currently have 4 rescued cats. They all came from local rescue groups (who saved them from the pound) or straight from the pound. I know “pound” is not the accepted term now but it makes it clear that we are referring to kill shelters. 

    It is always heartbreaking how many pets are dumped in these shelters. It is appalling to me the way so many people have a callous attitude to dogs and or cats. We seem to be a divided society. Some people now adore their pets and treat them like members of the family and many still feel pets are there only for our enjoyment and if they an inconvenient we don’t need to worry about getting rid of them. There are many people in the military here that dump pets when they are re-stationed. I understand if they can’t keep the pet with them but they should try to find the pet a good home before they go. Perhaps there is a need for groups to organize re-homing of pets for military members. 

    My husband and I don’t ever adopt kittens since they always get snatched up quickly here. Adult and senior cats are often overlooked and may not get adopted. The last cat we adopted was 14 when we got her. She is amazing and it is so sad that no-one wanted her just due to her age. She was given to a local rescue group and had previously been in the same family her whole life! She is the healthiest of all our cats even though she is 15 now. She is completely healthy and even has great teeth which is unusual for that age. She can bounce up on anything, is the most intelligent of our pets and is extremely affectionate. She has no behavior problems either. There is nothing at all wrong with her. She even gets along with our other cats and fits into the family. She belonged to a young man who grew up and left home. She lived with his Mom but now the Mom is getting remarried or something and moving out of state. We were told she was worried the move would be hard on her and the new guy also has large dogs. At least they didn’t dump her at the pound but still sad that she was dumped after 14 years. She is so affectionate and seems to be genuinely appreciative that we took her out of the cage at PetSmart where she had been for weeks. She has adored us ever since and we adore her. She is a cute little calico with extra toes (a Hemingway cat). She is frighteningly smart. She understands when we tell her “go to Mommy”, “go to Daddy”, “lay down”, “eat your food”, “go to the box” and many other phrases. Not that she needs to be told any of this, but it is just interesting to figure out how many words she understands! She is so happy to get love that she tucks her head under my husband’s chin and drools in happiness. We took her to the vet about this but they determined she really just drools from happiness. What a shame that such a magnificent, loving creature was dumped and not adopted due to her age. 

    We have had more difficult adoption experiences as well. Our Norwegian Forest Cat boy took years to settle in and feel safe. He was jumpy and skittish and peed all over. He had no medical cause for this and it was not until we found calming products for anxiety that he became normal. Now he is the most loyal cat I have ever had. He is sleeping on the back of my chair as I write this and reaching out to touch me with his paws. He always wants to be close to me but is happy to play with the others and acts like a confident and happy cat. In his case we don’t know if trauma caused him to have anxiety or if his anxiety and peeing caused him to be dumped. In any case the problems were treatable but someone needed to have the patience to find solutions. Many people just would not bother. 

    Thanks for spreading the word about good treatment for pets! There is a never ending need for this and we need all the voices we can get. I share your passion for encouraging pet owner responsibility. 

    1. Hi Swangirl! I started writing a reply to you last night, but then my internet went down(ugh!). It sounds like your family is a lot like mine. When I was in 4th grade, I remember my dad took me to a shelter to adopt a cat, and he told me to look at the older cats, not kittens. I asked him why this was important, and he said it was because kittens get adopted quickly, but these older cats stay in the shelter for a longer period of time, and may not be adopted at all. So, of course I adopted an adult polydactal male tabby whom we called Duke. 

      Since then, I have only adopted 1 kitten (who was to be a friend to my shelter cat at the time), but all other pets have been adults at the time of their adoption. Did we have some behavior issues? Sometimes, but everything that these pets brought with them has either been manageable or fixable. 

      We need more people in this world like you and  your husband, who really care for these fur babies regardless of their warts. Thank you so much for your comments. 

  6. Hi, I’ve enjoyed reading your article. People have to learn to understand their pets. These animals are very friendly. These pets should be properly trained, give them the right diet and proper exercise and play them with them every day. I have seen some people who have taken their dogs through their proper training. Thank you for sharing beautiful article with us.

    1. Thank you so much Kawsar. Pets are definitely a responsibility. We need to be able to learn and understand their needs, and care for them even when they aren’t “cute”. 

  7. Hi Kelly. What a great post and website. It’s so sad that people abandon pets so carelessly. People should treat the decision to adopt a pet with the same responsibility as having a child. It is for the life of the pet. It’s easy to take a pet for the “awww” factor when they’re young and cute, but they do grow up. When I was a kid we always got our pets from a shelter to save their life, rather than just buy from a pet shop. It’s good that there are people like you around. Great work.

    1. Thanks so much Greg! My family did (and does) the same thing. We will adopt our pets from a shelter or give them a home when they are retired from breeding. It’s hard to say no to the aww factor sometimes, but remembering there are so many shelters that are packed helps bring us back down to reality. 

  8. Your topic was near and dear to my heart. Currently we have four cats and three dogs all adopted from the animal shelter my wife worked in before retiring. Over the years we have had countless cats and a few dogs. When they got old and appeared to be suffering, rather than prolong their painful life I took them to the vet and cuddled them during their final moments. Very sad, but as you said, much better than giving them back to the animal shelter. 

    We found our first dog wandering outside our house, She appeared to be lost We could not find the owner and believed that she was abandoned in our neighborhood. Some people think if they abandon their dogs in a nice looking neighborhood, they will automatically find a good second home. Not necessarily. The dog could panic when cars drive by and get hit. 

    There are shelters like Best Friends who accept pets no longer wanted and find a home for them through animal rescue groups. Thank God for them. 

    Over time we have also fostered pets and many times ended up adopting them. Fostering a pet maybe one way to see how you can cope with a furry creature in your home. 

    Thanks for writing this article. People need to hear what you said.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. We have an organization called 2nd Chance Dog Rescue,  in the Phoenix area that primarily rescues dogs who are older or ill as they are the ones who don’t make it out of the shelters. It is a hard and heart breaking job, but the founder of the shelter as well as the volunteers want to let these dogs know that they are still loved. 

      I wish people would think things through before abandoning their pets. There are so many alternatives and help in the communities to where these pets don’t need to be sent to the shelters or dumped in a different neighborhood. 

      I could probably write on this topic all day!

      Thank you so much for comments.

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