There are a variety of situations where a small animal owner will determine that they can no longer keep their small pet.
It could be caused by health or financial problems, a changing life situation, or the discovery that a particular pet or species isn’t suited to the household they are currently in.
There are several important factors to consider when seeking a new home for your new small pet.
Never Set Your Animal “Free”
Abandoning a small animal outdoors is leaving them to die outdoors, and besides being incredibly cruel, depending on your local laws this may also be a crime.
Domestic animals are not equipped to survive outdoors, and they are subject to predators, starvation, exposure, poisoning or other horrible fates.
Even if your animal survives outdoors for any time period, there is also a risk to a negative impact on the local wildlife and ecosystem.
This is evidenced by the many situations where domestic rabbits are abandoned outdoors and begin to multiply, destroying local ecosystems and dying in great numbers.
Do you really need to give up your pet?
Thousands of animals are given up to rescues and shelters every year because their owners can no longer care for them or no longer want them, it is important to consider if there is an issue that could be resolved with your small animal without giving them up before you start seeking a new home for them.
Here are several of the most common and avoidable issues why small animals are given up to new homes.
My kids lost interest and don’t take care of their pet anymore
The most common reason small animals like rabbits, chinchillas, hamsters, rats, and mice are given up to new homes is that the child they were originally purchased for loses interest in the pet.
Many parents believe that having a small animal will teach their children responsibility by caring for a small living creature, but as evidenced by the number of animals not cared for appropriately in these situations, it is not a constructive way to teach your child a lesson.
Most parents reinforce this failed lesson by teaching their child that if they do not live up to responsibility, the problem will become someone else’s when the animal is given away, or they will end up carrying guilt over giving up a pet that they did not care for.
As a parent, you are ultimately responsible for your child and the animals taken in by your household, and you can set an example by showing your children that the family is committed to the care of the pet.
If a child loses interest in their small animal, a parent should assume responsibility for caring for that animal to reinforce that friends and family members are not disposable commodities, and consider not acquiring another pet for the child until they have potentially grown older and more mature where they can better cope with the responsibility.
My kids don’t play with the animal as much as they should
Many times a parent does not believe the animal is getting enough attention from the children in the household as they should, that their physical and emotional needs are being neglected.
We often hear the reason “I want to find a new home for my pet with someone who will spend more time with it.” It is important to move forward with a realistic perspective, will another home spend more time with this animal than your household will?
When a new pet is brought home, it is an exciting time for everyone, and the animal is often brought out for frequent play time and human interaction. As the novelty of a new pet wears off, that pet will often see it’s playtime reduced or even forgotten entirely.
While you may find a new home that is excited to have your pet, your pet could end up in the very same circumstance they did at your home in their new home as well.
Many parents get frustrated when they see their children neglecting a pet they previously begged for, but keep in mind this can start a cycle of the child associating the pet with feelings of guilt for not meeting expectations.
Instead, try interacting with both your child and the pet at the same time, and come up with new exciting projects to create toys for the pet or play areas where you can all interact together.
By becoming engaged with the child and the pet, you can reawaken interest and help reinforce good pet ownership habits.
We’re moving to a new location and/or our new location does not permit pets
Many small animals are given up when their owners move, either because they are moving a long distance or because the new location they are moving to has a “No Pets” policy.
If you are moving a long distance and are concerned about taking your small pet that far, keep in mind that the stress of moving and adjusting to a new home may be just as hard on your small pet as the stress of a long distance trip.
With planning and careful attention to your pet’s well being, it is entirely possible to move with a small animal. If you are driving your small animal can be either moved in their regular cage (in the case of small animals like hamsters and mice) or they can be placed in a secure carrier for the trip.
Depending on the distance you are traveling, you may need to take rest stops to offer your small pet food and water, or provide hydrating foods such as cucumbers, lettuce or watermelon in the carrier to encourage them to remain stable throughout the trip.
If you are moving to a new location that does not allow pets, it never hurts to ask if they can make an exception for a “cage pet”. Most landlords do not want to deal with the potential property damage of a cat or a dog that can chew or dig at flooring, but a small animal that lives in a secure habitat may be permitted as an exception.
When you are looking for prospective places to move, ask them up front if they accept renters keeping small animals.
Follow up with a letter if you are interested in renting the property, explaining that you are an interested renter but want to know if they will make an exception to their policy for your specific small pet.
Take the time to add detail about your pet, are they spayed or neutered? What type of habitat do they live in?
Emphasize the security of the habitat and the fact that there would not be a risk of the animal getting loose and damaging the property.
If you have an older small animal, you may also note to the landlord that your pet is near the end of its life expectancy and that you will observe the “No Pet” policy in the future if they can make an exception to allow you to keep your senior animal.
Someone in the household has allergies to the pet
While there are many medical conditions that make it necessary to give up a pet, if someone in the household has started having allergy sensitivities to the small animal there are steps you can take to continue to cohabitate happily. For more information on coping with allergies to small animals, check out our article Health Concerns for Humans.
My animal isn’t friendly, is unsocial, is mean, etc.
Sometimes you may feel that a small animal is not a good personality match for your home, or you are unable or unwilling to deal with their behavioral problems.
Take the time to explore possible solutions to your problem before you give up on your pet. Is your pet unfriendly or unsocial with humans, shy and running away when you try to interact with them?
Take some time to work on trust training and establish a bond with your small pet. Keep in mind that small animals are prey animals and this behavior is a fear response, not handling them or interacting continues to compound and reinforce the problem.
Is your pet nipping, biting, or otherwise acting out? This could be the sign of an underlying medical problem. Keep in mind that it is going to be much harder to find a home for a challenging small animal.
I need to find a new home for my pet, how do I find them a home myself?
Where did you get your animal?
If you adopted your small animal from a rescue, most rescue groups have an open door policy and will allow the animal to be returned to them if you can’t keep it at any point during their lifetime.
Contact the rescue group you originally adopted the animal from and ask them about their policies. Keep in mind that many rescue groups fill the spot that becomes open when they adopt out an animal, so there may be a waiting period before you can return the animal to the rescue.
If you purchased your animal from a breeder, you may have also signed a contract agreeing to return the animal to them if you could not keep them. Contact the breeder to ask if they have a return clause in the contract that you signed if you do not have a copy.
If you purchased your animal from a pet store, particularly a chain pet store, we do not recommend returning them to that location. Your pet will be safer if you seek a new home yourself.
Many pet stores sell both pet animals and feeder animals, and your pet may end up getting sold as a feeder if they are returned. If you have a locally owned pet store where you purchased your animal, call them and ask about your options through the pet store. Most pet stores will not accept returns.
Plan ahead, don’t start looking for a home at the last minute!
While there are certainly exceptions, most owners know ahead of time that they need to find a new home for their small animal. If you know you are moving and will not be taking your small animal with you, begin seeking a new home for your small animal as soon as you know you are moving, don’t wait until a week before you move!
Taking the time to find your small pet a safe home is an important step and the last one you can take as a responsible owner until you give your pet over to the care of a new home.
Do not think that it will be easy to find a home for your small animal, there are already hundreds of animals looking for a home and your pet will be out there competing with them. The only advantage your small animal has in finding a home over the other pets out there is YOU!
Most small animals don’t have a single advocate to help show them and tell people what a wonderful pet it could be for their household, so give yourself time and don’t procrastinate for your pet’s sake.
Make sure your pet is healthy, social, and the best they can be before offering them for adoption
Put yourself in the perspective of a potential adopter and make sure your animal looks like an attractive prospect. A healthy, well-behaved animal in a clean and sanitary habitat will be more likely to be adopted than a shy, withdrawn animal in poor condition.
If your animal needs medical care, have it taken care of before you seek a new home and offer the new owner copy of their medical records so they can care for the animal in the future.
If you cannot afford medical care for your animal, detail your animal’s condition and be up front with the new owners about what needs they have.
If you misrepresent your pet to a new owner, they may end up taking on more than they were prepared for and your animal could quickly find themselves bounced into another home again, surrendered to a shelter or rescue, or euthanized.
If this is a family pet, be honest and upfront with the entire household about the decision to place the animal in a new home
Believe us, your kids will only believe that your bunny went to a magical carrot farm to live out his life in bliss for so long. If you have children, explain the situation and give them an opportunity to grieve, ask questions, and understand why it is necessary for the family to give up the animal.
Create a profile of your pet to share with potential owners
When you start advertising your pet to a new home, you’ll increase their chances greatly if you can offer a potential adopter all of the information they might want to know about your pet upfront and right away.
Your profile should always contain the basic information, which is your pet’s name, age, species, breed, and health status. There are also several other questions that are commonly asked that you can include in your pet’s profile, including:
- Pet’s Markings and Coat Type
- Pet’s Eye Color
- Type of habitat or environment your pet is used to living in
- Does the pet get along with kids, cats, dogs?
- How does the pet react around kids, cats, dogs?
- Is the pet spayed or neutered?
- Have they had any history of illness, medical treatment, are they spayed or neutered?
- How do they behave when being handled?
- How do they behave when being groomed?
- Do they know any special tricks? Any special personality traits or quirks?
- Would this pet be ideal for a certain type of environment? Not ideal for certain types of households?
The most important thing is Be Honest, your pet will have the best shot at landing an appropriate home and not being surrendered again to a new home if the next owners know exactly what they are taking on when they adopt your pet.
Take updated photos of your pet from more than one angle, and in various situations
It’s important to have at least one good photo that shows your pet clearly. Keep in mind that the photos you show will be a potential adopter’s first impression of the pet, so try to make it a good one.
Keep the background of the pictures clean and uncluttered as possible, if you are photographing your pet inside their habitat make sure it is clean before you take pictures.
If you can, take pictures of the animal interacting with various members of your household, as this will help a potential adopter picture themselves owning your pet.
Some types of pets are more challenging to photograph than others. Here are some general tips for shooting small animals.
Is your pet all or mostly black or white?
Take photos on a background that contrasts with their fur color. A towel, blanket, or fabric scrap can provide a simple backdrop. If you want the background to be an even color, cut out one side of a suitably sized cardboard box and drape it with fabric to use as a stage for your small pet, and cover the floor and sides with fabric.
It is best to photograph white animals under natural light, an incandescent light can give an orange or reddish cast to the color of their fur.
Does your pet have red eyes?
Don’t use the flash on your camera when you take a photo of a red-eyed pet, as it will often reflect back and give your pet the impression they have glowing red eyes.
Natural, indirect sunlight tends to give the best photo for pets with red eyes. If you don’t have enough natural light where you need to photograph your pet, you can also use indoor lighting and create a cheap soft-box by hanging a white sheet or white fabric in between your light source and where you will be photographing your pet to soften the light on them.
Is your pet too busy to hold still for a photo?
Give your pet an enticing snack to get them to hold still and take the photo while they are stopping to eat. You can also photograph your animal inside their habitat rather than outside of the habitat, as they may be more comfortable and stop at several points where you can get a good photo of them.
If you house your pet in a glass aquarium, you can photograph them through the glass, be sure to keep any light falling on the glass to a minimum to avoid glare and keep your camera’s flash off.
Digital cameras work best as you can take a lot of pictures of your pet and only use the ones that come out in the best focus. You can also have someone else hold your pet while you get your photos if they are more likely to hold still while being held.
Decide on an Adoption Fee for your small animal
We can’t stress this enough, you should never give a small animal away for free. Small animals given away for free may be sought out by individuals who are looking to feed a predatory animal, or in some cases, they could be eaten by humans (rabbits are at higher risk for human consumption). They could end up in the hands of a breeding mill looking for a cheap way to add to their business.
They could end up being used as a bait animal for fighting dogs. The simplest way to avoid any of this is to charge a reasonable adoption fee that is more than the cost of a feeder animal in the same area at other pet stores. It has been shown that people value what they pay for, and charging an adoption fee is one more safeguard for your small animal when you are giving them up to a new home. Those animals are less likely to be cared for appropriately, less likely to get medical attention, and more likely to be dumped when the novelty of the free pet wears off.
Keep in mind, the adoption fee you charge should not be set with the idea of “making your money back”. The price for the animal you set should be above the cost of a feeder animal of the same species, and a reasonable price for what the new owner could purchase the equipment for use without the pet elsewhere. While you may have paid a lot of money for a very fancy habitat, the resale value of the smallest animal equipment is very low to none considering the time and effort that goes into selling it. A potential adopter who is interested in your pet may also have their own equipment, so consider listing the adoption fee and the cost of the equipment you are selling separately so that a well-prepared adopter isn’t put off by the cost of adopting your animal and acquiring the equipment they do not need.
There are some circumstances where you may not feel comfortable charging an adoption fee, or you may not feel right about making money off of the process of giving up your pet. Consider donating the adoption fee to your local shelter or rescue group if you do not feel comfortable keeping the money.
Start advertising your small pet for adoption
You will reach the greatest number of potential adopters by advertising your small pet online, and there are several websites where you can post listings for animals available for adoption for free. Craigslist.org, Petfinder.com, or the classified section for your local newspaper are good places to start.
If you are advertising your animal online, it is a good idea to have people contact you by e-mail rather than a phone to help screen out the crazy people that tend to be out on the internet. Keep in mind that making your e-mail public can subject you to spam, so you may want to set up a free e-mail account with a service such as Google’s Gmail. Include updated pictures of your pet and the profile that you prepared earlier.
Create flyers advertising your small animal up for adoption, including tear tabs on the bottom with the way you would like potential adopters to contact you about your pet. On the tear tabs at the bottom of your flyer, put your name, your pet’s name and species, and the method of contact you would like to use to encourage people to remember your flyer when they get home with your information. You can post your flyers on a variety of message boards which can be found at pet stores, shelters, veterinary offices, and community centers. If your local pet store or vet office does not have a board to post flyers. Ask them if they would consider keeping a flyer at their desk.
Let the local pet community know that you are looking for a home for your pet, and leave your contact information with them. Pet stores, vet offices, shelters and rescues will often provide word of mouth referrals and share your contact information with potentially interested parties.
Be sure to update your listings regularly, many online listings expire after a certain time period, and the local message boards may take down flyers after they have been up for a set amount of time. If you are posting paper flyers, make a note of where you have posted them so you can take them down when your pet is adopted.
Follow safe practices when meeting potential adopters and pre-screen
When you’ve found a potential adopter by the phone, handle the first questions by e-mail or phone to discuss the pet, your adoption fees and what type of home you are looking for your small animal. This will give you an opportunity to get a feel for the person you are adopting your small pet to and see if you feel they would be a good match. When you are ready to meet with the potential adopter in person. Be sure that you are keeping yourself safe as well as your small animal. Pack your animal into a secure carrier and meet the potential adopter in an appropriate public place where there will be other people present. If you are not sure if the location would be appropriate to bring animals to, call and ask before you set up a meeting. Your local pet store or shelter may agree to provide a safe space for you to meet with a potential adopter. If at all possible, bring one other person with you when you are meeting a stranger you have been corresponding with online.
The time to screen a potential adopter is before you meet in person, as it is easier to forget to ask questions when you are dealing with the emotional situation of handing your pet over to a new owner. Make sure they are educated about how to care for a pet of the species you are adopting out, and that they have the appropriate environment to house them in. If they have children in the household, ask the parents if they will keep the animal if their children lose interest. Keep in mind that the screening process is an opportunity to rule out people who really wouldn’t be a good match for your pet, or to educate people who might be a good match but need to learn more about caring for that specific animal or species. Remember that screening will not 100% guarantee the perfect home for your pet or that your pet will not be given up again, and if you aggressively screen you may turn good homes away. Treat the screening process as a conversation, and if you do not feel comfortable denying someone outright, tell them that you have another person scheduled to meet the animal, but you will follow up with them at a later date.
Set up clear terms for the adoption, and let the potential adopter know before you finalize the adoption
If the adoption doesn’t work out, will you be willing or able to take the animal back? If you are able to take the animal back you may want to set up a contract that both you and the adopter will sign stating that the animal should be returned to you if they can’t keep it, and it should spell out clearly for how long you are willing to refund the adoption money they paid to you if you are willing to refund it at all. Ideally, consider providing a trial period of 1-4 weeks so that the new owner can get to know your pet and be sure that they are the right match for each other.
Be prepared to let go
Once you have found an adopter for your pet who is prepared to take over their care and seems to be a safe home, it is time to let go of your pet. Provide the adopter with the complete information you have on your pet, including any medical records if you have them, and give them any other notes you have about your pet’s personality, likes or dislikes.
It is important to remember that you cannot expect the next owner to care for your pet in exactly the same way that you cared for them. If you took your time getting to know the adopter and feel they are going to provide a safe home, it is time to let them take over ownership of your pet. Even if the new owner said you can visit the pet, or check up on them by phone or e-mail, keep in mind that this is not an invitation to become a long distance owner and critique the way they care for their pet if it differs from your routine. We have seen owners who give up their pet along with a weekly schedule of what foods and treats the pet is normally given, at what times, what games are played on different days and more. If you want to have control over that animal’s life and their daily routine, you should keep your pet. Otherwise, trust the new owners to care for the pet appropriately and keep your visitations or check-ins to a minimum to avoid alienating the original owner and losing contact entirely.
I need to find a new home for my small pet, but I cannot do it myself. What do I do now?
Surrender your animal to a Rescue Group
Depending on the species of your animal, there may be a rescue group who works with that species who can take your animal in. Most rescue groups are no-kill limited intake organizations; this means that a rescue group does not euthanize animals for treatable medical problems, correctable behavioral issues, or for lack of space, but they do not always have room to take in every animal in need. They avoid euthanizing animals because they close their doors when they are full to ensure they can continue to care for the animals that they have until they are adopted.
Research local rescue groups in your area to find one that works with the species of animal you are in. Before you contact the rescue, take time to find out as much information about them as possible. Review their adoption policies, fees, and requirements to make sure you feel they would adopt out your pet safely. See if you can find reviews or public pages for them online to get an idea of how they interact with the public, and what the general public opinion of the rescue and their operations is. If you cannot find information about the rescue group, you may want to call local shelters or animal control in their area to ask if they have worked with the rescue group before and can provide a positive reference.
Not everyone who claims to do rescue work is a safe person to surrender your animal to. There are numerous cases where people who work in animal rescue taking on too animals for them to be properly cared for, or there are people who are actually hoarders that advertise themselves as rescuers. Generally, but not always, a rescue group who is established as a non-profit will be a safer organization to work with that one or more individuals who are not united in a formal organization. This does not mean that every individual who does rescue work but is not associated with a non-profit is dangerous to give your animal to. Take the time and check their reputation online, and ask other rescue groups or shelters if they have worked with them before.
Contact the rescue group as early in the process of finding your pet a new home as possible. If you can look for a home for your pet, contact the rescue and let them know you are seeking a home for your pet but that you would like to know if they can take your pet if you are unable to place them after a certain date. This will give the rescue group a chance to tell you about their current available space, and let you know if they are expecting to have space open when you need to surrender your animal or if they will still be full by their estimation. Keep in mind that most rescues cannot guarantee that they can take your animal if you cannot place them by a certain date, most rescues will take private owner surrenders only if there are not animals at risk of being euthanized at their local shelters. This means while they may plan to have space open, a sudden dump of critical animals at the shelter may fill up their space unexpectedly.
When you contact the rescue group, provide them with clear, honest information about the pet, their history, and the situation which is causing you to give up the animal. If you are giving up the animal because of a behavioral problem and are not willing or able to work with the animal to correct the issue, let the rescue group know up front. Rescue groups generally want to help owners resolve their problems so they can exist happily in the same home with their pets, and if this is not an option for you or you are unwilling to try, you can save the rescue group time by being honest. Be clear about your animal’s personality and health. If you say that your animal is friendly and it is aggressive when you bring it to surrender to the rescue, they may have to deny your surrender if they do not have the resources to take on that type of animal at that time.
Most rescue groups do not have a central location, so you may not be able to inspect a facility to see how the animals are housed when you are surrendering them. Most rescue groups are a network of private foster homes, and many do not release the addresses of their foster homes to protect the privacy of their volunteers and to prevent animals from being abandoned on their doorsteps. Most larger rescue groups will have lead volunteers who regularly check on the welfare of animals at smaller foster homes, and you may need to rely on their reputation online or what you can view publicly of their practices. If you have time before you need to surrender your animals, see if you can attend a public adoption event that the rescue is hosting. You will be able to see the cleanliness of the equipment they use and the condition of the animals currently being cared for at their foster homes and get a better idea of the rescue group.
Be prepared to drive your animal to the rescue group. Rescue groups are almost always run by an all-volunteer team, which means someone will be taking their time and gas money if they need to meet you or pick up the animal, and many rescues do not offer this service at all. If you cannot transport your animal to the rescue, see if they can meet you halfway. Try to work with a rescue group that is local to you; you should not expect a rescue group that is hours away or even in another state to have a way to transport the animal they are taking in from you.
Each rescue group has different policies on how they accept animal surrenders. Ask your local rescue group to explain the process and any fees associated with it.
Surrender your animal to a Shelter or SPCA
Most shelters will take in animals of any species that can no longer be kept by their owners, and most shelters offer those animals up for adoption to the general public. Every shelter has different policies, and it is important to talk to the shelter staff to understand their policies and programs before surrendering your animal. The majority of shelters are “Open Door” facilities, which means they will accept the surrender of any animal that needs to be given up. This also means that most shelters will also euthanize animals for a variety of reasons. If an animal is sick, pregnant, unsocial, or has been at the shelter for too long without getting adopted they may be euthanized to make space for the next animals coming in to try and give other animals an opportunity to get adopted. It is important to understand the shelters do not euthanize animals “just because”, being an open door facility means they cannot provide permanent housing for every animal until they get adopted. In some situations, it is more humane for the shelter to euthanize animals to prevent overcrowding, or to prevent an animal from living the rest of its life in a shelter environment depending on their situation.
Every shelter is different, and not every shelter will put small animals up for adoption at all. Some shelters have great adoption programs for small animals and they will treat sick animals, house them for long periods of time, and have a high success rate of adopting out animals that are not just cats and dogs. Other shelters have absolutely no facilities to house small animals and will take them in from owners to euthanize them only. The shelter will explain their policies to you at the time of surrender.
Before surrendering your small animal to a shelter, take the time to visit the shelter facilities to get an idea of how many animals are housed there, how they house them, and how they are cared for. Ideally, you will want to look for a shelter that has an area to house small animals waiting up for adoption in a separate area from cats and dogs that is still easily visible to the public, where the animals are housed in habitats that give them enough space to move and avoid overcrowding. Keep in mind that depending on your local shelters and animal control agencies, you may have to surrender your animal within your county and shelters in other areas may not accept animals from outside of their county.
Never abandon your animal outside of a shelter. While the shelter may take in an animal they find outside, not knowing the history of your pet can put them in jeopardy, and that is only if they do not escape the box, cage or carrier you leave them in, and it is not disturbed by predatory animals until the shelter opens. Follow the shelter’s procedure for surrendering an animal, they will generally have you fill out paperwork providing a profile of your pet and their history. They may have you fill out a form acknowledging that they have permission to euthanize the animal if they cannot find a home for it. You may have to pay a surrender fee. While this process may seem daunting, you are placing the burden of care and finding a new home for your pet on another agency and you will help support their efforts by providing clear information and paying a surrender fee to offset the cost that they are taking on to help you.
Shelter night drop boxes should only be used in extreme circumstances, not to avoid surrender fees. Many shelters have a night drop box where animals can be left for the shelter after hours or when no one is on site to receive animals. The intention of these night drop boxes is for people who find stray animals or animals in distress outside of normal shelter hours who cannot house them until the shelter opens so that the animals can be left in a safe place. Unfortunately, they are often used by people who do not want to go through the process of filling out paperwork or paying a surrender fee to the shelter. Most night drop boxes are steel containers with no lighting inside and no temperature control, animals left in night drop boxes will sit in uncomfortable conditions until the shelter opens and sorts them. Animals left with no information are less likely to make it up for adoption, and they can become sick from exposure during extreme weather in the box, they can injure themselves panicking in a very scary environment, or they can even suffer fatal injuries if they panic and try to escape. Take the time to surrender your animal properly to the shelter, give the shelter your pet’s information, and give them the best chance you can to get adopted by working with the shelter staff when you have to surrender a pet.
Ask the shelter about their policies and practices for putting small animals up for adoption. Some shelters will not euthanize unless the animal becomes sick, or unless they become overcrowded at the shelter. Some shelters will euthanize after a certain period of time. Some shelters may offer owners the opportunity to reclaim their pets if they are due for euthanasia at the shelter, while other shelters may not allow you an option to reclaim at all.
Surrender your animal to a Sanctuary
Sanctuaries generally deal with a specific species of animals or a certain type of animals, such as only domestic cats, only domestic dogs, only dogs of certain breeds, only farm animals, etc. Some sanctuaries may include an adoption program where they try to place adoptable animals into new homes, while other sanctuaries may only provide space for animals who cannot be adapted to the general public who need a safe place to remain for the rest of their lives. Generally, a sanctuary should only be an option for animals who for medical or behavioral reasons cannot be placed back up for adoption by their owner, through a rescue or through a shelter. Since Sanctuaries are committing to taking on the lifetime care for many animals, including many animals with great medical needs, it is important to allow them to focus their resources on the most urgent cases and to evaluate what would be best for your unique pet.
It is important to know when you are sending your animal to a sanctuary that it is far more like sending an elderly person to a group home than a country club. Sanctuaries generally have a large number of animals who all have a variety of needs, and they work to keep the animals comfortable until they pass away or need to be euthanized for humane reasons. This means it is no replacement for a normal home if your pet can have a normal home. Sanctuary animals will not receive the day to day attention that a pet in a normal home should receive, as they will be competing with dozens or hundreds of other animals for attention. Most sanctuaries work hard to provide mental and emotional stimulation for their animals, but even with a dedicated staff, not every animal will get individual attention every day.
Not every sanctuary is a safe place to surrender your animal. There are numerous cases where people who work in animal sanctuaries taking on too animals for them to be properly cared for, or there are people who are actually hoarders that advertise themselves as sanctuaries. Generally, but not always, a sanctuary group who is established as a non-profit will be a safer organization to work with that one or more individuals who are not united in a formal organization. This does not mean that every individual who does sanctuary work but is not associated with a non-profit is dangerous to give your animal to. Take the time and check their reputation online, and ask other rescue groups or shelters if they have worked with them before. Generally, the safest sanctuary to work with will be a sanctuary that is run by more than one person who works there on a daily basis. Many small, privately run sanctuaries that rely on an individual have run well through the years until the person who runs them has a medical problem or family emergency and they are at a higher risk for conditions declining for the animals in such an event. Most sanctuaries will have a central location where all of the animals are housed, and many allow visits by the public. Take the time to visit the sanctuary, and if at all possible, offer to volunteer for a day to see what life at the sanctuary is like for each individual animal. You will have a much better feel for the life your pet will have at the facility by seeing the work and challenges faced by the sanctuary workers on a daily basis.
If you surrender your animal your animal to a sanctuary, consider making monthly donations to help support their care. Sanctuaries are the groups in the animal welfare world who tend to take on the largest monetary burden in order to care for a large number of animals who will live out their lives and need specialized medical attention, and you will be passing the rest of your pet’s lifetime of expenses on to their care. Many sanctuaries have programs where you can sign up for reoccurring monthly donations to help support the care of individual animals or the sanctuary as a whole.