Let sleeping dogs lie, especially when they're a pug snuggling a pillow
But then I remember she is spayed

What if shelters spent less time on blame and more on helping keep pets in homes?

Editor's Note: This is a guest post from Maggie Marton, of Oh My Dog Blog. Maggie continues where she left off last week, in "Take off your Judgey Pants: Let's Discuss Pet Adoption". Today she discusses how we all might benefit (the community, the owner, and the animal) if shelters and rescues concentrate more on helping a pet owner keep their adopted animal, rather than blaming them for surrendering the animal.

image from Pets Adviser

[Photo credit: petsadviser]

Maggie writes...[...]

In a 2010 study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, researchers spent one year gathering data about why animals were relinquished to 12 shelters. The research was conducted via survey and confidential, in-person interviews. They tallied the most common reasons pet were relinquished. In order, those were:

  1. Moving 
  2. Landlord not allowing pet 
  3. Too many animals in household 
  4. Cost of pet maintenance 
  5. Owner having personal problems 
  6. Inadequate facilities 
  7. No homes available for litter mates 
  8. Having no time for pet 
  9. Pet illness(es) 
  10. Biting


Without exception, every one of those was a decision made by the owner. And that’s what we tend to focus on right off the bat. We get angry. How could they abandon their dog because they were moving? From there, we spiral into judgment and blame. If they were a better person they’d find a way to keep their dog!
But step back and look at the situation from a different angle. Rather than getting angry and blaming the people for being “stupid” or “selfish” or for “sucking,” perhaps we should give people the benefit of the doubt and figure out how to help instead of blame. Perhaps the person truly feels like he or she has no other option simply because they’re unaware another option exists.

Perhaps shelters can offer that other option.

Could those 10 reasons have been avoided with human services that focus on keeping pets in homes? Are there ways that we can help people keep their pets and cherished members of the family? This isn’t to say that all pet surrenders are people falling on hard times. Yes, some people really do suck. But those people are the exception.

Consider, for example, the services offered by Pets Are Wonderful Support (PAWS). One of the organization’s services is a pet food back. If a loving owner who finds herself unable to pay for pet food, she shouldn’t have to relinquish her dog. PAWS supports a pet food bank that offers everything from food to litter – things that loving pet owners need when they fall on hard times. If providing pet food allows a dog to stay in his home, it’s a human service that saves animals.

You can extrapolate how this could work for each of those 10 reasons. A shelter can compile a database of pet-friendly, affordable housing to help pet owners who are moving find places that welcome their pets. Or, maybe a little training can help owners manage their time spent with their pet or the biting factors.

Instead of assuming the worst – that person is giving up his dog because he sucks! – it’s time we focus on assuming the best – that person needs help to keep his dog in his home. It’s our job to keep animals out of the shelter; helping the human end of the leash is a logical way to go.

How can animal welfare efforts be compatible with human welfare efforts? Are there services lacking in your community or perhaps wasted resources that can be channeled into programs that help owners keep their dogs?

Maggie Marton is a freelance pet writer and blogger living in southern Louisiana. You can find her at ohmydogblog.com or training her three dogs, cat, and husband.

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