Individual situations and life circumstances change. Sometimes this can result in a pet owner no longer being able to look after their animal.

Just imagine arriving at the conclusion that your only option is to surrender your dog or cat. Aside from the enormous guilt, surrendering your beloved animal would be heart breaking.

Melinda Phipps, state re-homing manager at Animal Welfare League Queensland (AWLQ), says, “In the 2017/18 financial year AWLQ received 2,068 surrendered animals. Surrender numbers can vary from year to year.

“There are several factors that affect the number of surrendered animals we receive, however our priority is caring for the stray and homeless animals from pounds across South-East Queensland. This means the more stray animals we receive affects our capacity to take privately surrendered animals.”

Indeed, the RSPCA (Queensland branch) sees up to 5,000 animals surrendered a year. And dogs are the most commonly surrendered pets.

According to the RSPCA, the top five reasons why pets were surrendered in 2016/2017 were:

  1. Unwanted litter (Which means that owners aren’t getting their pets de-sexed)
  2. Cost (owner’s can’t afford to look after their pets)
  3. Moving home/ travelling
  4. Last of a litter
  5. Owner has ill health

dog in car | litter of kittens

Melinda says, “The most common reason we see for surrender is a change in the owners personal or home circumstance. This equates for 30% of all surrendered animals and might be a result of a change in jobs or hours worked, a change in residence or finances.

“We are also seeing an increase in owners surrendering their pets due to behavioural reasons. This is particularly the case with dogs.

It’s important to understand that animal surrender is devastating for both pet and owner. Support is vital and much needed.

As a pet professional you may find yourself in a position to assist pet owners by simply offering advice, information and resources.

Melinda says, “Early assistance is key. Pet professionals can promote early de-sexing of cats to prevent unwanted litters. They can provide more resources to owners, helping them to better understand and identify behaviour issues early—before they become more serious and result in the owner surrendering the animal. However, the cost of these services can often be a determining factor to an owner.”

Animal surrender and the elderly

According to a report by the Animal Welfare League Australia (AWLA), elderly-related reasons are responsible for 7% of companion animal surrenders.

The AWLA reveals that, when compared with RSPCA re-homing data for cats and dogs, there is good reason to believe that elderly-related reasons are responsible for the surrender of more than 4,000 cats and dogs to re-homing and impounding organisations every year.

Elderly-related surrender reasons include (but are not limited to):

  • Owner’s poor health or death
  • Moving to an aged care service or facility that is not pet-friendly
  • Unsuitable pet accommodation at home and inability or unwillingness of family members to care for the pet
  • Lack of financial means

Lack of love for the animal is hardly ever the reason for surrender, which makes it all the more upsetting when pet owners feel their only option is surrender.

beware of dog | black poodle at beach

Is there an alternative solution to surrender?

Surrender should always be the last resort.

Pet professionals can encourage pet owners who are considering surrender to think about and try other options to solve the problem first.

There are a myriad reasons why a pet owner may wish to surrender their animal. The simple action of talking through the reasons and discussing some of the alternative options available may just help save an animal from being surrendered.

For example, having a pet that doesn’t get along with other animals can be extremely stressful for an owner. Or perhaps the animal is showing signs of aggression.

In this instance an alternative solution to surrender might be to seek the help of an animal behaviourist or trainer.

There are many factors that can influence anti-social behaviour in animals. It may be that the animal needs more exercise, is suffering from a health issue or could benefit if they were simply rewarded for positive interaction.

Urging pet owners to spend time thinking about the reasons for surrender and providing a list of useful resources (such as the contact details for animal trainers, behaviourists or pet adoption organisations) could go a long way towards helping reduce the number of animals surrendered.

Alyson Lyons, founder of Dog Adoption Australia, says, “Dog Adoption Australia is unique because owners are not forced to surrender their cherished pet to us, but only to the new owner once we find someone they are happy with.

Most owners who cherish their pet will not surrender their pet to a rescue, shelter, pound or a relative stranger. This means a pet that really needs to be re-homed can languish in an environment that is less than ideal and sometimes unsafe.

“The Dog Adoption re-homing program allows the owner to maintain control about the final decision and only surrender the dog to the new owner once checks and safeguards have been finalised. The new owner provides feedback in the first two weeks (closure) and sometimes the original owner maintains a presence in the dog’s life.”

She agrees that pet professionals can play a vital role in talking to owners who are not coping with their pet.

It is a bit like ”Are You OK Day.” As pet professionals, we can pose the question but we need to be prepared for the answer.

“Furthermore, pet owners can sometimes make the conversation difficult as they might not be ready to admit to themselves they are no longer coping.”

A couple of years ago the RSPCA, in partnership with Liquid Interactive, created the ‘Surrender Portal’. The online service provides owners with helpful solutions to their pet problems to help reduce surrender rates.

The Surrender Portal has proved successful with 22% fewer surrenders in its first year alone. It reported that for every nine views of the Surrender Portal, there was one pet owner that changed their mind about surrendering their pet.

Animal surrender—key considerations

There are several important factors that pet owners should consider before surrendering their animal. As trusted pet professionals you are in an ideal position to highlight the following.

  • Pet surrender should be a last resort.
  • Explore all possibilities. There are many resources available to help address common pet-related issues, discussing these with pet owners can help reduce surrender rates.
  • It’s important that pet owners understand that animal adoption and re-homing centres are not able to guarantee an adoption outcome for every animal; this will be dependent on the outcome of medical and temperament testing.
  • Encourage pet owners to NEVER post a “free to good home” advertisement on social media. There are unscrupulous people who will try to make a profit out of free pets with no regard for the animal’s welfare.

Alyson adds, “When an owner surrenders their pet it can feel like abandoning a child. Often it’s easier to do nothing than take action, which can sometimes delay the inevitable. People want support. It’s not an easy decision to make.”

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Liz has a passion for all things cat and dog, and was one of the first in Australia to bring Pet Insurance to the market. She has headed up Petsecure for the past 12 years, and is committed to promoting and supporting the amazing work done by rescue groups around Australia, and those who work to promote