How to rehome your pet responsibly and humanely

How to rehome your pet responsibly and humanely

Rehoming your pet is a painful, but sometimes necessary decision. People consider rehoming pets due to the loss of a job or home, illness or injury, pet behavior issues, and natural disasters. For active duty service members, assignment to a duty station where personal pets are not allowed often means giving up their beloved pets.

This article offers tips on alternatives to rehoming, as well as how to find your dog or cat the best possible next home if you have no other options.

Contact your local animal shelter

Many animal shelters, rescues, SPCAs, humane societies, and municipal animal controls have programs to keep people and pets together. At minimum they can often refer you to credible resources in your own community that may be able to help.

However, surrender prevention programs are on the rise nationwide. As the name suggests, the main goal is to keep people and pets together. These initiatives offer a range of support services to prevent animals from entering shelters and ensure that a shelter is a refuge of last resort.

Surrender prevention programs can include pet food pantries, low- or no-cost veterinary care, and even short- or long-term pet fostering. Some provide help with training if behavior issues are the reason you are thinking about giving up your pet.

These interventions are often enough to help tide people through a life transition or personal challenge without having to give up their pets.

The doctor is in

Speak with your pet’s veterinarian. He or she knows your pet and may have other clients who are looking to add a pet to their households. In addition, your veterinarian will know which prospective new homes are best suited to care for your pet’s medical or special needs.

Some veterinary practices allow clients to post flyers in their office to help dogs and cats find new homes. Ask if this is permissible.

Be wary of social media

Avoid personal or classified ads at all costs, as well as social media posts on any site or page that extends beyond your friends, family, or local community. Never post your pet as “free to a good home” in any forum. Doing so will very likely endanger your pet’s wellbeing and possibly his life. 

As tempting as it may seem, rehoming a pet through Craigslist may place your pet in significant peril. Many animals advertised on Craigslist have wound up victims of abuse and neglect, rehomed to backyard breeders, hoarders, dog-fighting rings or other criminal elements. Black cats and kittens rehomed through Craigslist have been found tortured to death.

Classifieds and social media are good options for selling your couch, not finding a loving home for your pet. 

Explore home-to-home services

Home-to-home services help match people seeking new homes for their pets with those who want to adopt. They offer a valuable channel to bypass shelters altogether, allowing those organizations to focus their limited resources on those animals most in need.

Rehome by Adopt-A-Pet is a professional pet matching community. It receives support from Petsmart, Pedigree and other credible organizations in and around the animal welfare space.

Because Adopt-A-Pet is the nation’s largest nonprofit pet adoption website your pet’s profile can be seen by millions of potential pet adopters. Rehome provides detailed tips and checklists on how to create a pet profile, review applications, meet potential adopters, and finalize your pet’s adoption.

Get Your Pet is another excellent do-it-yourself resource. This online service offers ways for people who need to rehome their pets to connect with people who want to adopt.

Get Your Pet offers a safer way to conduct person-to-person adoptions than classified advertising. The site offers guidance on vetting prospective adopters, tips on what to ask, where to meet, and even lists of participating veterinarians who will provide a free pet exam.

Put your pet’s best paw forward

Take a good color photo of your dog or cat before you post on any rehoming website. There are many sites with pet photography tips, and free online editing tools like Canva.

Offer pictures that showcase your pet in a home environment if you are surrendering your pet to a shelter. They are preferable to shelter intake pictures that often show a fearful, depressed or highly stressed animal in a less-than-ideal setting.

Prepare a brief description/biography. List any training your dog or cat has had: house-, crate-, and/or obedience training. How does she get along with other animals, children, strangers?

Describe her medical history and current medical conditions, including any medication she may be taking. Provide the name and contact information for your pet’s veterinarian.

Be open about your pet’s exercise needs and daily routine. Is she a couch potato or a multi-miler? What are her favorite activities? 

And do not forget your pet’s diet, which should be maintained for at least the first month in his new home. What brand, type, quantity of food does your pet eat? What is his meal schedule, and what treats does he like best?

Above all, what makes your pet special?

Honesty is the only policy

Honesty and full disclosure will help you find a new home that is a good fit for your dog or cat, and ease his transition to a new home. Sharing up front that your four-legged family member needs leash or house training, for example, may spare him from being dismissed from his next home for being unruly.

If your pet requires medication or other special care – say so. Not being forthright increases her chances of being surrendered by new adopters who were unprepared to care for your pet.

Make sure your dog or cat is groomed, up-to-date on her vaccinations, and is flea- and tick-free. If you have not done so already, have your pet spayed or neutered. Low-cost vaccination and spay/neuter clinics may be available in your area. Check with local shelters, pet stores, and VIP Petcare community clinic locations.

Friends and family

Ask trusted family, friends, coworkers, and others you know to adopt your dog or cat. Speak with other pet guardians in your area, veterinarians, groomers, pet store staff, boarding or daycare staff, and others in the local pet care industry.

Many nonprofit humane societies and animal rescues accept courtesy listings for their websites from those seeking to rehome a companion animal. Social networking on animal rescues’ or breed-specific Facebook sites may expedite the rehoming process.

Once a prospective adopter contacts you, consider interviewing the individual and conducting a home visit to make sure your pet’s next home is his forever home.

Does the adopter have prior experience caring for pets? A home and/or yard big enough to accommodate your animal? Do they have the financial means to care for your pet – especially if he has special needs or a chronic medical condition?

Most importantly, do they have realistic expectations about living with your pet? For instance, placing an active dog where she is home alone for 8-12 hours a day is not a good fit for your pet or her new family. Nor is placing a pet who is anxious around children into a household with young kids.

Surrendering your pet to a shelter

If you are not able to find a home on your own, surrendering your pet to a humane society, animal rescue, or municipal animal shelter is a viable option. Most shelters require you to return pets to them rather than rehome on your own or surrender to a different shelter.

To find animal welfare organizations near you, go online and search terms like humane societyanimal rescueanimal shelter.

Review each organization’s surrender and adoption policies before you give up your dog or cat. Find out if they partner with other organizations to increase the adoption potential of their animals, including transports to shelters in other areas where you pet may have a better chance to find a home.

Ask about the process for accepting owner-surrendered pets. Surrender fees and wait lists may apply – and many shelters are at or near capacity and unable to accept owner surrenders. Find out about their efforts to care for and rehome pets in their custody, and their policy on euthanasia. Some shelters have very short wait times, as little as days, before pets who are not adopted are killed.

When surrendering your pet, offer the photo and history described above to improve the chances of your pet finding the right next home.

If surrender is not an option – for example, the shelter is at capacity – ask if they allow courtesy posts. These can give your pet additional exposure to potential adopters.

The myth of “no-kill” versus “kill” shelters

Most shelters are open-admission, meaning they take all incoming animals. They euthanize animals to make room for new arrivals when they run out of space or funds, or have animals who are aggressive and cannot be adopted safely into the community.

These organizations have earned the unfair and misleading moniker of “kill shelter.”

No animal welfare professional wants to kill animals. However, shelters must abide by laws governing the number of animals they are permitted to have in their care. And no shelter should adopt out animals with a history of aggression against people or other animals.

Heartbreaking, life-and-death decisions need to be made when shelters must take all incoming animals.

Older pets, large breed dogs, and animals with special needs, behavioral issues, injuries, or illnesses are the first to die when a shelter reaches capacity. An incoming dog or cat might have as little as three days to be adopted or put to death.

Sadly, euthanasia is often the result when the supply of adopters is outpaced by the shelter’s capacity to care for homeless pets in a safe and legal manner. This is equally the case if transports to shelters that have capacity are not available.

What “no-kill” really means

Other organizations are limited- or selective-admission. They take in only the number and type of animals they can rehome and do not euthanize for space. These are often referred to as “no-kill shelters,” but the label is misleading.

No animal shelter is “pro-kill,” but often lack the means to humanely manage the velocity of incoming pets. And even no-kill shelters euthanize animals deemed unadoptable due to illness, aggression or other factors. No-kill shelters must maintain a 90 percent live release rate (adoptions, return to owner, transport to rescue) in order to uphold their “no-kill” label.

Still other shelters keep pets for months or even years and are effectively “never kill.” While well-intended, it can be considered inhumane because even the best shelters are poor substitutes for proper homes. Animals deteriorate in as little as a few weeks in even the best shelter environments.

Breed rescues – an option for mixed breeds/mutts as well

Finally, explore breed-specific rescues. You may need to search outside of your community or municipality because they are less common than animal welfare organizations that are breed agnostic.

Many breed rescues are open to mixes of the breeds in which they specialize. In most cases, these rescues are foster-based. This means that if your pet is accepted, she will live in an approved foster family’s home until she is adopted.

Giving up a beloved dog or cat is heart wrenching. If surrender prevention measures are not an option for your situation, remember that a little research and preparation may save you some heartache and guide your pet into a new, loving home. We wish you every success if you are faced with this decision.

If you are serving in the military and are considering re-homing your pet due to PCS orders, read our blog post about PCS and your pet.


  1. Connie Morris

    Your article was so helpful. My son owns Lady, a Pit Bull that is as smart as most humans. He has to give her up. Pray I can find her a good home. She is so loyal.

  2. Nancy Dooley

    My son has a very sweet 11 month old lab/terrier mix. He is neutered and a good boy. He has all his shot . My son is single and works from home and feels
    Bad that he isn’t able to give the dog all the attention he would love. Pets for patriots sounds like a great organization for this dog to get the life he truly deserves.

  3. Chris

    Thankyou for the article, it was very interesting and insightful. I am in the process of adopting out my beautiful British bulldog girl. I dont want to let her go but I have no choice due to health problems. The information contained in your article is going to help me hugely. Thankyou again.

  4. bethz

    Susan, our blog is not a forum to responsibly rehome your pet. Please refer to the article for suggestions, including signing up with Thank you.

  5. Susan Maltony

    3 yr old red heeler – INSIDE dog.
    Loves to run! Muscular- About 30#. All shots up to date except kennel cough. A little timid at first. Have to rehome because we are moving into a “one pet” community. We already have a service dog.
    Neutered and has chip. Can be somewhat destructive if left alone for over 5 hrs, therefore crate is good idea when you have to be gone.

  6. Valerie Murphy

    I’m very glad I found this article. In December I rescued a toy Chihuahua from a shelter. But the man I’m renting from went out of his way to get a HUGE dog the night before I was picking my dog up. His tremendous nasty dog thinks and acts like my dog is a chew toy and my landlord does absolutely nothing about it! Now I have come to realize that I need to re-home my dog. He does not deserve to be treated so badly! He’s such a loving tiny dog.
    Thank you for some great tips!

  7. bethz

    Hi Savannah,

    You commented on our blog post about rehoming pets and asked us to call you on Friday night. This is not something we do; our article simply has suggestions for people on how to responsibly rehome their pets when they are unable to keep them.

    If you have any questions please send them in reply to this email. Thank you.

    Pets for Patriots

  8. savannah

    can you give us a call next friday night an 207xxxxxxx

  9. Hairless Cat

    Hi P4P,

    You’re right – a little research and preparation really makes a big difference.

    It’s good that you wrote about this and explained it. I doubt that the majority know the difference between a government funded public shelter and a private rescue group. They probably haven’t thought much about “kill” vs. “no kill” because they assume euthanasia won’t happen.

    The Craigslist bit your wrote really turned my gut but I am grateful that you brought it up and explained it. It’s not like a person rehoming their pet is trying to sell an old stove or boat. An important sentient life is involved.

    Great tip regarding taking a quality picture, providing a description and bio with any needs a pet has. That would help ensure that a cat gets a cat parent that will be a good fit and see to their extra needs.

    I hadn’t thought of breeders taking in a mix. That’s nice to know.


    =^-^= Hairless Cat Girl =^-^=

    • Crystal Swann Blackdeer

      “Limited Admission” does not necessarily mean “no-kill,” and many open admission shelters do achieve 90% live outcomes. It is VERY important to understand not only what the shelter / rescue’s euthanasia policy is, but also what pets they COULD take that they turn away. Municipal shelters that are supposed to be open admission sometimes turn away animals that citizens pay taxes to provide services for.

  10. 611Juniper

    Create a Facebook page like this one for an adoptable pet, That makes it easy for everyone you know to circulate/access information about the pet. (P.S. The foster family fell so in love with Archie they kept him! But the webpage is incredibly cute and we all still fallow little Archie’s adventures.)

  11. Catherine

    Excellent article, thank you! One point you made and that I’d like to emphasize is that shelters aren’t just a “last ditch” option. Many shelters network with rescues and other shelters and often keep “waiting lists” of people waiting for specific breeds (or colors), so contacting them early in the process might help place the pet(s) with less stress for everyone concerned.


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