How to Rehome a Cat, Dog or Pet as Humanely as Possible

Rehoming a pet should never be taken lightly, but if it has to happen, there are things you can do to ensure they have a bright future ahead

A few weeks into quarantine, you were isolated in your home, unsure about your future and desperate for unconditional companionship, so you panic-adopted a dog. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but you have some regrets. Maybe your job ramped back up, and now the walks are more work than you expected. Maybe you lost your job, and now the toys and treats are burning a hole in your pocket. Or maybe you and the dog are just less of a perfect match than you initially thought. In any case, you feel like your dog needs a new home, but you want to make sure they still receive the love and care they deserve.

Before we explore your options, understand that, like people, pets prefer stability, and rehoming one should almost always be a last resort. Here are a few valid reasons for rehoming a pet:

  1. Two pets in the same household are seriously and consistently fighting. Occasional quarrels are normal between pets, but if conflicts between your pets put you or them in danger, rehoming may be necessary.
  2. The pet poses a danger to you or your community. While there are ways to train aggressive animals, depending on your situation, dealing with a dangerous pet may be out of the question. In this case, they may be better served in another home.
  3. An unavoidable life change prevents you from keeping the pet. Shit happens. Maybe you lost your job and can do longer afford a dog, or maybe you need to move into an apartment that forbids pets. In these situations, rehoming is understandable.
  4. The pet has a health or behavior problem that goes beyond your means. Again, if your pet is in a situation where they or the people around them are in danger because you’re unable to provide proper care or training, they might benefit from being rehomed.
  5. The match is just wrong. There are sometimes instances where the home is simply not right for the pet, in which case, rehoming may be justifiable.

Now, even if you find yourself in any one of these situations, you may still have other options besides rehoming. If finding animal-friendly housing is the problem, there are all sorts of actions you can take to ensure fewer problems with landlords. If allergies are the problem, you can try to ramp up your cleaning before immediately deciding that your pet needs to leave. If affording their care is the issue, there are loads of state and local organizations out there that may be able to lend a hand.

The point is, you adopted an animal — a living, breathing, feeling creature — and you have an obligation to put in the effort before giving them up. Furthermore, take note that “not wanting to put in the work” or “my dog keeps chewing my shoes” do not qualify as valid reasons for rehoming your pet. Personally, my dog destroyed numerous shoes, books, decorations and even a whole freaking couch shortly after we adopted him. Did we rehome him? Hell no. We attended training sessions, we paid for separation anxiety treatment and now we have a thriving little family

Remember, you committed to taking care of your pet when you adopted them, and that includes training them if necessary. This is why Devon Frazier, director of community engagement in L.A. for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, suggests checking out their matchmaking guide “for finding the right match for your personality and lifestyle” before committing to an adoption.

Again, though, shit happens, and there are times when a pet is genuinely better served by being moved to a new home. To that end, if you absolutely need to rehome a pet, here are your options, as well as some suggestions to ensure they have a bright, loving future ahead of them.

Return Them to the Shelter, Rescue Group or Breeder That You Got Them From

Many responsible shelters and breeders contractually require this to prevent animals from being rehomed to worse situations, although some may allow you to rehome your pet to someone you know that they approve of (more on that momentarily). If you end up going down this route, be sure to explain the situation and the experience you had with the pet to the shelter or breeder. 

“Provide as much background and biographical information as possible about your animal,” says Jessica Pierce, bioethicist and author of numerous books about pets, including Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Possible Life. “This can help a shelter or rescue find a home that will be a good match. Be honest about behaviors that might be challenging — for example, separation anxiety in dogs. If you’re upfront about an animal’s behavior and personality, there’s a better chance that the animal will only be rehomed once. Cycling in and out of homes and shelters looking for a ‘forever home’ is extremely hard on an animal.”

From the perspective of a potential adopter, you can see why having information from previous homes is so important. “When we adopted Lovie, our cat, her previous owner had filled out the shelter’s relinquishment paperwork in great detail, and it was very helpful,” Pierce explains. “We knew that Lovie had been an outdoor cat for her whole life, so being suddenly an indoor cat would have been a big adjustment. We knew that Lovie was a picky eater, and we had some ideas about what specific foods she liked. It reduced the guesswork and helped us understand her history. We also knew that Lovie had been cherished.”

All of this, of course, will prevent your pet from running into another situation where they need to be rehomed once again because the new owner was unaware of potential hurdles.

Another related option, if you can handle it, is to momentarily keep your pet as a “foster” animal while your shelter searches for a new owner. “Many shelters, particularly during the pandemic, are placing animals into temporary foster homes,” Frazier says. “Pet owners who are able to keep their pets in their home until an adopter is identified, and serve as a temporary foster, will not only help ease the transition for their rehomed pets, but also support overburdened shelters.”

Rehome Them With Friends or Family

Sometimes a new, more viable home is only one social media post away. “Perhaps the best scenario is when a family member or friend is willing to adopt,” Pierce says. “Networking on social media can sometimes be successful.” You may need to have that friend or family member approved by the shelter or breeder that you adopted the pet from, but at least you can be sure about them going to a good, trusted home. (Make sure to do your due diligence when screening potential adopters, though, as there are plenty of assholes on the internet who simply adopt dogs and cats to then resell them — or worse.)

Again, if you go this route, lending as much information about the pet as possible is crucial to their success in their new home. “Provide information about what kind of care has been provided, including medical history (with vet records, if possible), what kind of food the animal is used to, what kind of exercise and so on,” Pierce suggests. “The idea is to make the transition as smooth as possible and to reduce the number of changes being made. Change is hard for all of us, including companion animals, so maximizing the number of things that can remain constant, such as their feeding schedule and type of food, can help reduce the level of disruption for the animal.”

You might even offer to send supplies along, too. “Make a care package for the animal,” Pierce suggests. “Send their bedding — which will have familiar smells — their toys, a supply of their food, some of their favorite treats.” These might seem like small things, but any familiarity goes a long way in helping a pet settle into a new space.

Take Them to a Good Shelter or Rescue

If the place where you got your pet was less than reputable, you definitely want to avoid sending them back there. Frankly, you want to avoid sending pets back to shelters altogether, but alas, here we are. That said, there are plenty of good shelters out there, but you want to research them diligently before dropping off your pet. 

“Do some research into local shelters and rescue organizations, and visit them in-person,” Pierce says. “Some are better than others, and you’ll want to know what will happen to your animal. You can ask about daily care routines at the shelter, how well staffed they are, what their adoption policies look like — do they favor open adoptions, or is there a detailed vetting process for potential adopters — and whether they euthanize animals who don’t get adopted after a certain period of time.”

Basically, you want to make sure that your pet has a good chance of being adopted again, and that the shelter or rescue is committed to that happening.

If all goes to plan, your pet will end up in a better home, and you’ll think twice about adopting an animal next time you feel kinda lonely.