Not that long ago, you were thrilled to have a puppy of your very own. You never dreamed you’d have to give him up someday. Even if you can’t keep him any more, your dog still depends on you to do what’s best for him, just like he depended on you when he was a puppy. Now, more than ever, he needs you to make the right choices for his future.
Important things you should know about animal shelters
Finding a new home involves several steps. Before you start, there are some important things you should know about Animal Shelters.
Shelters and humane societies were created to care for stray and abused animals. They weren’t meant to be a drop-off for people who don’t want their pets anymore. Shelters, on average, take in 100 new animals or more each day. Let’s face it – there won’t be enough good homes for all of them. Even the best shelters can’t boast much more than a 50% adoption rate and most in the Atlanta area adopt only 25% – the remaining 75% are killed. Only the youngest, friendliest, cutest, and best-behaved dogs are going to be adopted.
By law, stray pets must be kept several days for their guardians to reclaim them. They may not be destroyed until that period is up. Dogs given up by their pet parents aren’t protected by these laws. They may be destroyed at any time. Shelters don’t want to kill all these animals but they don’t have a choice. There just isn’t enough room for all of them. Shelters today are so overcrowded that your dog could be killed the same day it arrives.
Being purebred won’t help your dog’s chances of adoption either – almost half of the dogs in many shelters are purebreds. Your dog may be as good as dead when it walks in the door. If your dog is old, has health problems or a poor attitude toward strangers, its chances of adoption are slim to none.
Sending your dog to a shelter in hopes that he’ll find a good home is wishful thinking. It’s more likely that you’ll be signing your dogs death warrant. A shelter is your last resort only after all your best efforts have failed.
Breed Rescue services are small, private, shelter-like groups run by volunteers dedicated to a particular breed. Most of them operate out of the volunteer’s home. Like no-kill shelters, demand for their services is high, so high that your dog may be turned away for lack of room. A breed rescue can still help you place your dog by providing referrals to persons interested in adopting your dog. You’ll have the most success if you follow the rescue service’s advice and are willing to do your share of the work to find a new home. The list of dog rescue groups in Atlanta can be found on the internet at the Atlanta Area Animal Rescue List.
Step 1. Soul Searching
Do you really have to give up your dog? There’s a big difference between being forced to give up your dog and wanting to “get rid of him”. Search your heart for the real reason why your dog can’t live with you anymore. Be honest with yourself. Your answer will probably fall into one of two categories: People Problems or Dog Problems.
The Most Common People Problems:
“We’re moving – we can’t find a landlord who’ll let us keep our dog.“……. Many landlords don’t allow children either but you’d never give up one of your kids if you couldn’t find the right apartment. Affordable rental homes that allow pets are out there if you work to find them. Most people give up too easily. Often, by offering the landlord an extra deposit, they can be swayed into letting you keep your dog. Bring references from previous landlords and bring your dog in person to let the landlord see how well behaved your dog is. Also, consider renting a duplex or small house instead of an apartment as they are more likely to allow pets. Consider moving a few miles from where you’d like to be in order to keep your pet with you.
“We don’t have enough time for the dog”.……as a puppy, your dog took far more of your time than he does now. A dog doesn’t really take that much time – are you really that busy? Can other members of your family help care for the dog? Will getting rid of your dog really make your life less stressful? When they look closely at their lives, people often discover that the dog isn’t cramping their style as much as they think.
“Divorce” …. In some divorce situations, people fight over who gets to keep the dog. Unfortunately, in far too many divorces, both adults abandon the dog. Do not abandon your dog just because you are going through a hard time!
“Having a baby” …. So many people baby their dog and treat them like a family member until they decide to have a real child of their own. Then, they decide the dog is no longer needed or too much trouble or might hurt their new baby (even though the dog has never been aggressive). Most dogs are absolutely wonderful with babies and children. Don’t give up your dog just because you are pregnant!! And for those people who want to give up their pets because they say they don’t have time for them anymore after having a baby — please realize that babies grow up fast, you will soon have more sleep and a pet is a lifetime commitment! A good book to read is “Childproofing Your Dog” by Brian Kilcommons.
“Children have lost interest” … Far too many people get a dog for their children. Most children loose interest in the dog within 6 months, because they are just children! It was you who brought home the dog and agreed to care for it for life and it should be you who takes responsibility to continue to provide for it if your children loose interest.
The Most Common Dog Problem:
Behavior problems………If you got your dog as a puppy and he now has a behavior problem you can’t live with, you must accept the fact that you are at least partly responsible for the way your dog is now.
You have 4 options:
1. You can continue to live with your dog the way he is.
2. You can get help to correct the problem.
3. You can try to give your problem to someone else.
4. You can have the dog destroyed.
Obviously the first option is out or you wouldn’t be reading this page. You’re probably most interested in Option 3 so let’s talk frankly about that for a moment. If you were looking for a dog and could select from all kinds of dogs and puppies, would you deliberately chooose one with a behavior problem? No, certainly not – and neither would anyone else. To make your dog desirable to other people, you’re going to have to take some action to fix his problems. Most behavior problems aren’t that hard to solve. A dog trainer can help you with them if you’ll give it a try. Think hard about Option 2 before deciding it won’t work for you – because the only option you have left is number 4: Having the dog destroyed. That’s the bottom line. If you, who know and love the dog best, won’t give him another chance, why should anyone else? Think about that.
IF YOUR DOG HAS EVER BITTEN ANYONE…
If your dog is aggressive with people or has ever bitten anyone unprovoked, then don’t don’t take him to a shelter where he might be frightened and confused and put other people at risk. Don’t try to place him as a “guard dog” where he might be neglected, abused or used for dog fighting. Please contact several experts including your vet and a couple of dog trainers experienced in aggression before making a decision. Many people do not understand their pet’s behavior and an expert can better decide if you truly have an aggressive pet that can not be “cured” with training. In addition, sometimes a pet will snap or bite if it is startled while asleep, stepped on or is in pain due to an illness or injury — these types of situations do not necessarily mean that your pet is aggressive. If you have a toy breed, many of them simply won’t tolerate small children and often simply need placement in an all adult household. There are also dogs that are aggressive to other dogs but do fine in an “only dog” situation. But be sure to tell potential guardians up-front about these kinds of problems.
If it is determined by the experts that your dog is a danger to people, then please have your pet euthanized by your veterinarian instead of taking it to a shelter or trying to pass him to another pet guardian.
Step 2. Call your dog’s breeder or rescue group.
Before you do anything else, call the person you got your dog from and ask for help. Even if several years have passed, responsible breeders care about the puppies they sold and will want to help you find a new home. They may even take the dog back. At the very least, they deserve to know what you intend to do with the dog and what will happen to it. If you can’t remember the breeder’s name, look on your dog’s registration papers. If you got your dog from a rescue service, read the adoption contract you signed when you adopted him. You may be required by the contract to return the dog to that rescue group. If the breeder had you sign a contract, you may also be required to return the dog to the breeder.
Step 3. Decide what kind of home you want for your dog.
Most dogs do best in a home where they get attention during the day, are kept mainly inside and have a fenced yard for a safe exercise area. If you have a dog that you keep as an “outside only” dog and it has developed behavior problems like barking, digging, fence jumping, etc., please realize that many of these problems are easily solved once the dog is allowed to stay inside the house with the family. Dogs are pack animals and are happiest and best behaved when they are allowed to be with their “pack” (you and your family) in the “den” (your home). So bring your dog inside the house or at least find him a home where he will be allowed to live inside.
Step 4. Get your dog ready
Your dog will be much more appealing if he’s clean, well-groomed and healthy. First, take him to the vet for a check up. He’ll need a heartworm test, a DHLP and a rabies vaccination if he hasn’t one within the last 12 months. Be sure to tell the vet about any behavior problems so he can rule out physical causes.
If your dog isn’t spayed or neutered, do it now! Don’t waste your time trying to sell your dog as “breeding stock” even if he’s AKC-registered. Frankly, no reputable breeder will want him unless he came from a well known show dog fancier in the first place. The only kind of “breeder” who’ll be interested in your dog will be a puppymill farmer or a dog broker or puppymill. Brokers seek out unaltered purebreds for resale to puppymills or research laboratories. That’s not the kind of future you want for your dog.
Set a reasonable adoption fee. The key word is “reasonable”. You can’t expect the new guardian to pay you anywhere near the same price for a “used” dog as they would for a shiny new puppy. A reasonable range might be about $75, enough to help offset your advertising and veterinary costs. You should NEVER give your dog away for free! People often pose as wonderful pet guardians simply to get free dogs and then they resell them to medical laboratories or as bait for fighting dogs. If you don’t feel comfortable keeping the adoption fee for yourself, then require the new guardians to make the check out to a charity such as SPOT or an Atlanta area animal rescue group.
Step 5. ADVERTISE!
Word of mouth doesn’t go very far. Don’t be afraid to use classified ads to advertise your dog. Done right, it’s the most effective way to reach the largest number of people. It’s easy to write a good ad that will weed out poor adoption prospects right away. The AJC will let you place a free 3 line ad for 7 days. Call 404-577-5772 and ask to put an ad in the Adopt-A-Pet section.
Your ad should give a short description of your dog, his needs, your requirements for a home and of course, your phone number. The description should include his breed, color, sex, the fact that he’s neutered and an indication of his age. It should also say “refs required”. A good example of a classified ad is:
“Lab mix: beautiful, black, 18 months, male, neutered. Friendly, hsbrkn, well-behaved. Indoor home with fenced yard, refs required. 770-xxx-xxxx”
Newspapers are just one way to advertise. Take a good cute photo of your dog and make an attractive flyer on colored paper that you can have copied for a few cents each. Your flyer doesn’t have to be expensive, professional or computerized, just neat and eyecatching. Since you’re not paying for words, you can write more about your dog than you could in a newspaper ad. Be descriptive! Post your flyers at grocery stores, department stores, vets’ offices, pet supply stores, grooming shops, factories, malls, etc. – anywhere you can find a public bulletin board. If you have friends in a nearby city, mail them a supply of flyers and ask them to post them for you.
Step 6. Interviewing Callers.
“First come, first served” does not apply here. You are under no obligation to give your dog to the first person who says he wants it. You have every right to ask questions and choose the person you think will make the best new family. Don’t let anyone rush you or intimidate you. Here are some questions you should ask:
- First of all, get your caller’s name and phone number. Deceitful people may call you from a phone booth or refuse to give you a phone number.
- Does the caller’s family know about and approve of their plans to get a dog? If not, suggest they talk it over with their spouse and call you back. The same applies to people living with a companion or roommate. When one person adopts a dog without the full approval of the rest of the family, the adoption often fails.
- Do they own or rent their home? If renting, does their landlord approve? You’d be surprised how many people haven’t checked with their landlord before calling you. If you have doubts, ask for the landlord’s name and number, then call him yourself. Be cautious about renters – they’re quicker to move than people who own their homes and movers often leave their pets behind. Remember, you’re looking for a permanent home for your dog.
- Does the caller have children? How many and how old are they? If your dog isn’t good with kids, say so up front. How many children can make a difference depending on your dog’s personality. A shy dog may not be able to cope with several children and their friends. Very young children may not be old enough to treat the dog properly. If the callers don’t have children, ask them if they’re thinking of having any in the near future. Many people get rid of their dogs as soon as they have a baby, regardless of the behavior of the dog.
- Have they had dogs? If yes, what happened to them?
These are very important questions! How they treated the pets they’ve had in the past will tell you how they might treat your dog. The following answers should raise a red flag and make you suspicious:
- “We gave him away when we moved.” Unless they had to because of unavoidable problems, moving is a poor excuse for giving up a pet. Almost everyone can find a place that will allow dogs if they try hard enough. If they gave up their last dog that easily, there’s a good chance they’ll give yours up someday, too.
- “We gave him away because he had behavior problems.” Most behavior problems – poor housebreaking, chewing, barking, digging, running away – result from a lack of training and attention. If the caller wasn’t willing to solve the problems he had with his last dog, he probably won’t try very hard with your dog either.
- “Oh, we’ve had lots of dogs!” Watch out for people who’ve had several different dogs in just a few years’ time. They may never kept any of them for very long.
- “He got himself run over. So did the one before him”. That one should speak for itself. This will not be a responsible pet caretaker.
Do they have pets now? What kinds? Obviously, if your dog isn’t good with cats or other animals and your caller has them, the adoption’s not going to work out. Be up front. Better to turn people away now than have to take the dog back later.
Do they have a yard? Is it fenced? Your dog will need daily exercise. Without a yard, how will he get it? Can the caller provide it with regular walks? If the yard isn’t fenced, ask how he plans to keep the dog from leaving his property? Did the caller’s last dog wander off or get hit by a car? If so, how will he keep this from happening to his next dog? Does he know that keeping a dog tied up can have a bad effect on the dog’s temperament?
Where will the dog spend most of its time? Dogs are pack animals and almost always prefer to spend time with their pack (people) in their den (your house). Do not adopt to someone who will always leave your dog outside or who will make your dog sleep outside or in a garage or unfinished basement. Dogs always kept outside are usually neglected, lonely and often develop behavior problems like problem barking, digging, fence jumping and chewing simply because they aren’t spending enough time in the house with their family.
References: Get the phone number of their vet (if they’ve had pets before) and two other personal references. Call those references! Explain that John Doe is interested in adopting your dog and you want to make sure he’ll give it a good home. Ask the vet whether former pets were given regular medical care, annual vaccinations and heartworm preventative. Were they in good condition and well-groomed? How long have they known this person? If they were placing a pet, would they feel comfortable giving it to this person?
Step 7: The In-Person Interview
Once you’ve chosen a family (or families) that you feel are good candidates, make an appointment for them to see the dog. Your first appointment can be at your house, at their house or at a set meeting point. However, before you ever give your dog to anyone you should ALWAYS VISIT THEIR HOUSE FIRST TO SEE WHERE YOUR DOG WILL LIVE. Going to their house lets you see whether their home and yard are truly what they said they are and whether your dog will do well there. You will be amazed at how many people say that they have a fenced yard when in reality it is only fenced on 2 sides or the fencing has completely fallen down or there isn’t any fence at all. You may also be amazed or appalled at the condition of a person’s house or yard. Visiting a person’s home will give you an opportunity to call off the adoption and take the dog back home with you if things aren’t as represented, if you think there’ll be problems or if you just get a bad feeling about the whole thing. Remember that you can always say you are having second thoughts about giving your dog up if you don’t feel comfortable discussing the real reason you don’t want to give a family your dog.
If the family has children, ask them to bring them to the interview. You need to see how the dog will react to them and how the children treat the dog. Some allowance should be made for kids’ natural enthusiasm but if these children are undisciplined, disrespectful to your dog and not kept in hand by their parents, your dog could be mistreated in its new home and someone could get bitten.
Do you like these people? Are you comfortable having them as guests in your home? Would they make good friends? If not, don’t give them your dog. Trust your instincts. If something about them doesn’t seem quite right, even if you can’t explain what it is, don’t take a chance on your dog’s future. Wait for another family!
Step 8: Going to a new home
There are some things you need to explain to the new family before they take your dog home: The dog will go through an adjustment period as he gets to know his new people, learns new rules and mourns the loss of his old family. Most dogs adjust within a 2 weeks, but others may take longer. During this time, they should avoid forcing the dog to do anything stressful – taking a bath, obedience training classes, meeting too many strangers at once, etc. – until he’s had a chance to settle in. Tell them take things easy at first and give the dog time to bond to them. The dog might not eat for the first day or two. Not to worry – he’ll eat when he’s ready. Some dogs temporarily forget their training. A well-housebroken dog may have an accident during the first day in his new home. This isn’t unusual and rarely happens more than once.
Step 9: Paperwork
Have the new guardian sign an adoption contract with a waiver of liability. We’ve included a sample contract you can modify to fit your needs. Keep a copy for your records. A contract will help to protect the dog and the waiver of liability helps to protect you. You don’t have a crystal ball to predict what your dog might do in the future. Remember – a waiver of liability will not protect you if you have lied or misrepresented the dog to his new guardians. Tell the family they should call you if the adoption doesn’t work out. Let them know you want to keep in touch and will call them in a few days to see how things are going. Tell them to call you if they have questions or problems. Be willing to take the dog back home if things don’t work out the way you both expected.
SAMPLE ADOPTION CONTRACT:
Former Guardian’s Name: _____________________________
Dog’s Name: ________________ Breed: _____________ Age:________ Sex:____ Color:______
Date of last Vet Check-up_________ DHLP_______ Rabies______ Heartworm check________
Next vaccinations and Heartworm medication will be needed:_____________
To the best of my (former pet guardian) knowledge, this dog has no defects that would make it unsuitable as a family pet. I certify that this dog has never bitten or injured anyone.
I (adopter) understand and agree to the following terms of this contract and understand that non- compliance with the terms of this agreement gives the adopting agent/former guardian the right to reclaim this dog without refund of adoption fee.
An adoption fee of $_________ will be collected at the time of adoption.
This dog shall be kept and cared for as a family pet in a humane manner and given appropriate shelter and medical care for the duration of its life. This dog will be kept on heartworm prevention medication for the duration of its life. I agree to abide by all state and local animal control and leash laws. I understand it is my responsibility to become familiar with these laws.
I understand that ________(former pet guardian/agent) ______makes no guarantees or warranties regarding the health or temperament of this dog. I agree to adopt this dog and to be solely responsible for this animal and any damages that may result from its actions. ___________ (former pet guardian/agent) _____ shall not be held liable for the behavior of this dog or any damages it may cause. I understand that this a binding contract enforceable by civil law.
Date of adoption: _____________________
Former Pet guardian’s Signature
Adapted from ‘How to Find A Home For Your Chow Chow’ by the Chow Chow Club, Inc.’s Welfare Committee, used with permission.