9 min read

The Number One Reason People Dump Their Pets At Shelters

It's a long, dark march to the drop-off counter at the local animal shelter.

Yet people trudge on, bearing cats in arms or straining at leashes to haul dogs inside.

Amy Klein

Amy Klein

Every year, millions of pets are abandoned.

The people who drop them off at a shelter may be easy to vilify, probably because we don't know where they're coming from. A new study from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) set out to find out why pets get rehomed - and drew some interesting conclusions.

Amy Klein

Amy Klein

"Folks have a difficult time imagining themselves in that very same place," Emily Weiss, vice president of research and development for the ASPCA, told The Dodo. "We can say to ourselves that will never happen. I take my pets everywhere with me."

And then it happens. And those who make the decision - not all of them, mind you - are often putting a dog or cat's welfare ahead of their own emotional needs.

Amy Klein

Amy Klein

Think about it.

Your life is spiraling in a dark direction. Your heart cries, "Keep the cat. Need the cat."

Reality's refrain? Let her go so she has a chance to live. Then, just like that, you've joined the one million Americans, according to the study, who have rehomed their pets in the last year. A major reason? Economics.

"When you have to make a choice between feeding your children and the medical care for your pet, that person's actually doing the very best that they can," Weiss says. "They're actually putting a dog or cat's welfare ahead of their own heart."

Of course, those people are also taking another gamble: that their pet might not make it out of the shelter, or whatever home they may find for their pet.

The study found that 37 percent of people who gave up on their pets surrendered them to a friend, family or neighbor, followed very closely, at 36 percent, by an animal shelter.

But, if there is a villain in all of this, the study suggests, it's economics.

According to the study, people with income below $50,000 were significantly more likely to re-home due to cost and housing issues.

Shelter Me

Ironically, it's during times of stress, including financial hardship, that having a pet in the house may be most critical.

"There's so much data to support how dogs and cats can help decrease stress, improve health and improve social interactions within your community," Weiss notes. "So many reasons that dogs and cats should be part of our lives."

Amy Klein

Amy Klein

Weiss thinks people in tough circumstances should keep their pets. And, as a society, we should help them.

Landlords, for example, are major contributors to pets being forced out of homes, the study says. The so-called ravages of pets on rental properties may be wildly overrated.

"Noise issues. Feces running rampant around the property. These things aren't seen by landlords who do accept pets," Weiss says.

Instead, she suggests allowing more pets in low-income housing. And even helping people with their expenses if it means getting them "over the hump" and letting them keep their pets.

Shelter Me

"Opening up the doors for some of those folks who have pets would absolutely alleviate some of the homeless problems for dogs and cats in this country," she says.

Of course, that's not to say that when it comes to pet abandonment, there are no real villains. Just hang out in front of your local animal shelter for a day.

Amy Klein's work with Shelter Me in Los Angeles often requires her to be an eyewitness to the long march to abandonment. A couple of months ago, a man brought three dogs to a local shelter.

He brought them to the woman behind the counter and said, simply, "My mom died."

And he walked away.

The reasons why people abandon their pets to a shelter are myriad and often complex. But sometimes, they're just simple. And stone cold.

"The biggest thing that gets me are the seniors that are dumped there," Klein says. "You'll see an arthritic German shepherd, who can barely walk around. He's still a happy, sweet dog. The owner just got tired of him."

Strangely, our pets never seem to get tired of us.

Shelter Me

So consider your options before letting go of your faithful friend.

An organization called Paws Companions offers veterinary services for families who qualify as low-income earners, including spaying and neutering as well as vaccinations.

And the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has a comprehensive list of things you can do before you think about parting ways with your best friend - including handy tips for negotiating with a veterinarian.

It may even come down to something as simple as finding your local food bank. And yes, there are food banks just for pets.

And if you think you're one of those people who will never, ever give up your four-legged friend, think again. Economics has a funny way of changing our perspective on life. Consider a pet insurance plan like the HSUS-approved PetPlan.

They march by our sides through thick and thin. But if you're considering marching them down the shelter road, for whatever reason, maybe it's time to think again. And ask for a little help. You may not know it right now. But you may need your pet as much as she needs you.