This letter is not easy for me to write for a number of reasons: first, because there are so many of you with so many stories; second, because I feel a multitude of emotions about each re-homing/surrender situation that I’ve encountered; and third, because I must include myself in the list of audience members for whom this letter is intended.
That’s right; I have re-homed a pet. A dog…a puppy named Brady.
I think it’s important that you know this up front, because I want you to know that everything I say, I am also saying to myself. I have been where some of you are right now; I have felt what some of you might be feeling right now.
I began this blog by telling you how intrigued I am with the stories of those animals who I meet through the rescue for which I volunteer. Just as with those animals’ stories, I recognize that each of the stories of those who must let go of their pets is also different; no two sets of circumstances are exactly the same.
For the most part in the rescue world, the moment you bring up that you have re-homed or surrendered a pet, you will feel immediately judged. Most rescues will not adopt to you if you have ever re-homed or surrendered a pet, and I recognize that this policy is in place for a good reason. I know that many people DO surrender or re-home their pets because they feel that these pets are “just animals” who are replaceable and expendable; I have certainly encountered these people. And, those who do view animals in that way deserve the judgment that they receive upon confessing their past pet history.
But, I am also aware that there are others out there who, like me, have re-homed or surrendered a pet because it was truly the right thing to do. (And, to be clear, by “the right thing to do,” I mean the right thing to do for that animal.) Because, sometimes, I truly believe that it can be the right thing to do.
To those who fall into this latter category with me, I want to extend a hand of empathy and a listening ear without judgment or stigma attached. I want you to know that some of us who volunteer in rescue have been where you are right now, and that we (well, I can truly only speak for myself) understand that this might not be the “easy way out” for you in any way, shape, or form. I also want to let you know that there is a right way and a wrong way to re-home a pet, and I’ll get more into that later.
I’d like to share my story, if I may. Some of you reading this story may relate to it; some of you may judge me (and harshly) for it. That is ok by me; I have spent the last 2 years coming to terms with my decision to re-home Brady, and I have concluded repeatedly that it was absolutely the right thing for me to do.
I “adopted” Brady when he was 2 months old from a “rescue” that a boyfriend and I found online. I put these words in quotation marks because I know now (after working with a legitimate rescue) that this rescue was clearly NOT a legitimate rescue (or at least not a good and moral one). They did no background screening, and their policy was “once you adopt the dog, it’s yours. You cannot ever bring it back. Period.”
My boyfriend at the time and I picked out and brought Brady home after doing next to no research on breed, dog care, or puppy proofing. Stellar; we really started out on the right foot! (end sarcasm.) Brady was a german shepherd, lab, husky mix of some sort; he was adorable, intelligent, and rambunctious (as puppies are apt to be).
My first thoughts upon bringing Brady home were “oh my gosh, he’s so adorable; I’m so excited!” followed immediately by “what the hell have I done?” I cried a lot that first week.
Brady was a near-perfect dog; truly, he was. He was incredibly intelligent and took maybe a month to house break. At the age of 3 months old, I could put him in a sit-stay and leave the room; he’d remain where he was until being released even without my being there. He would down-stay and not move to chase a treat that I’d throw across the room…even when the cat chased it. He would let me put treats on each of his paws and would look at me, never touching the treats unless I released him to do so. And this was as a baby! I knew immediately that this dog had some incredible obedience potential.
I started Brady in puppy classes immediately upon bringing him home. During the time that I had him, we did about 3 or 4 different formal puppy and obedience classes. We practiced a lot at home; he always needed to be doing something. I also got Brady a mid-day dog walker to come by each day and let him out. When he was old enough, we began bringing him to doggie daycare so that he could run and play more frequently.
As Brady got older, his energy level changed. He loved to be moving or doing obedience lessons; he needed near-constant stimulation. Our hour-long walks were not enough; I began bringing him to the dog park, where he absolutely loved playing with the other dogs. Aside from dealing with Brady’s near-constant car sickness, I enjoyed all of these things: obedience lessons, doggie day care, the dog park, walks…
In June of 2011, my boyfriend and I broke up. It had always been the deal between us that if we broke up, he would take Brady. However, he decided to move across the country and told me that he could not take Brady with him. I let him go; I was glad Brady stayed with me anyway because I didn’t really trust my ex to find Brady a good home if he wound up unable to care for him. When my ex left, Brady was very sad. He had been quite bonded to my ex; they slept together every night.
And so I found myself with twice the expenses as I’d previously had and half the manpower to get things done. From June – August of 2011, I did my best to make it work.
I could no longer afford the obedience classes or dog walker; though, I did manage to afford one day a week of doggie daycare. I would come home every evening, take Brady on a long walk, and then take him to the dog park for 2 hours.
Every spare penny that I had went into buying him chews (he loved to chew), paying for his vet care (I got him neutered & microchipped, had him on heartworm preventatives and flea/tick prevention, and, of course, I ensured that all of his vaccinations were on schedule), buying his Wellness dog food (he threw everything else up), and just trying to give him the best life that I could.
Meanwhile, Brady was suffering. He was constantly restless – despite the 3 hours of exercise each day. He was not bonding with me whatsoever; he would sit in the corner and just whine and whimper. His anxiety made me anxious; I felt that I was failing him. My anxiety made him anxious; he was very sensitive.
And then, I reached a point where I found myself having to choose between groceries and feeding my dog.
I have to pause here because I want to share the thoughts I was having during this time, but there is truly no other way for me to share them than through some sort of quasi-stream-of-consciousness thing… so, without further explanation… these were my thoughts and feelings during this time:
I can’t do this. I have to do this. I would never re-home an animal. Ever. I always say to everyone how once you adopt a pet, you are responsible for it for the rest of its life. He’s my responsibility; he’s mine. I can’t abandon him. I’m failing him. If I re-home him, I will fail him. But, I can’t do this anymore; I can’t afford groceries. I’m miserable; he’s miserable. I don’t ever spend time with anyone or anything other than him and it’s still not enough. I can’t give him what he needs; abandoning him and re-homing him can’t be an option. If I re-home him, I will have failed him; I will be a terrible pet owner – I will never ever be able to own a pet again.
In short, I felt that re-homing him would make me the scum of the earth.
I didn’t know what to do.
I decided to “test the waters” so to speak by posting an ad on Craigslist …and here is where everyone can get all up in arms and judge me because, yes, I am going to confess it right now…
I re-homed Brady using Craigslist.
I am pretty sure that makes me destined for the 6th or 7th level of Hell in some peoples’ books.
So, I posted an ad on Craigslist. Here is what my ad said:
I received a number of responses to that initial ad. Some of them were clearly from people who were not good enough for Brady; I ignored those. I also got a couple of good responses from people who seemed like truly good people looking for a dog. I responded to a few, weeded a few people out, and found one person who I actually really liked. We’ll call her “A” (as in angel; because she’s been an angel to me – but anyway…).
After finding A, I immediately freaked out, melted down, and told her that I couldn’t re-home my dog. I wanted to try to make this work; I couldn’t be that failure… I was terrified that A was going to respond and yell at me for wasting her time.
She did not; she told me that she understood, and she listened to my ramblings. She said that I could contact her in the future if I changed my mind but that she hoped things would work out for me.
For a few weeks, I put this whole fiasco behind me… I was not going to re-home Brady; I was going to make things work. I was determined. Even if we were both miserable, I was going to make this work. The thought of re-homing Brady made me physically ill. It felt like an ultimate act of betrayal.
And then, one morning about 3 weeks later, I woke up to find that Brady had, for the first time in his entire life, become destructive; he had eaten 3 window sills beyond repair.
I want to make this clear: I was not mad at Brady for his destruction. I was angry at myself. Brady had never ever before been destructive, and I knew that his destruction was because the 3 hours of exercise a day was not enough for him… he needed more, and I had nothing else that I could give. I had nothing.
I reached back out to A – I was CERTAIN that she would have adopted another dog somewhere already. I was wrong; she had not. She had been patiently waiting to find the right dog for her.
“A” came to my house to meet Brady, and I liked her immediately. I began showing her what Brady knew obedience-wise, and she was clearly surprised at his level of skill. She asked me if I was sure that I wanted to re-home him and said that he was so much more well-trained than she’d anticipated. I broke down… and told her, in tears, my story about how I’d wound up in this situation. She hugged me, let me cry on her, listened to my story… she did not judge me, and she was so patient with my indecision. She loved Brady, and he liked her a lot.
The next day, I brought Brady to her home, where I met her children and was able to do a home check and observe how Brady and her kids interacted. They were (and are) a wonderful family. The kicker is… I knew that Brady was their dog nearly immediately. Brady, who was never really excited to see me…who sat and whined in the corner of my home out of boredom and anxiety… was instantly and completely in love with her two children.
I stayed for about an hour…showing them his obedience skills, teaching the kids how to give him commands, etc. I also made an agreement with them that if for any reason and at any time, they could not keep Brady, he was to be returned to me — No Questions Asked. I don’t care if he’s 20 years old, has cancer, has become aggressive… whatever happens. No Questions Asked, he must come back to me.
And then, I left.
And I cried…a lot.
But, I cried only for me. Because Brady was one happy dog.
I have been blessed in that “A” and I stay in touch. That first 6 months, we talked a lot. She invited me to Brady’s “first birthday party,” complete with watching Finding Nemo and celebrating with cake, haha. I couldn’t bear to go, but I did send a gift.
It’s been 2 years now, and we’re still in touch. I saw a picture of Brady the other day and barely recognized him; he’s an adult dog now…no longer the baby puppy I had for 5 months.
And that is my story. It took me 1 full year to stop hating myself for what I’d done (and to stop crying nearly once a week because of that self-hatred); it took me another year to fully recognize that I’d done the right thing by Brady.
And that is when I became involved in my current rescue. And this is why I wanted to share my story and write this “letter.”
Despite the pain that came with my Brady experience, I am extremely grateful for it…because it allows me to look at you, person who is surrendering your pet to our rescue, and not judge you before hearing your full story.
Some of you are doing the right thing, but I don’t think that I would be able to really understand that without experiencing what I have experienced. More often than not, rescue volunteers seem to see only the animal…and not the person with that animal. I want you to know that I see you, and I am here to listen.
I know that when I was contemplating re-homing Brady, I was made to feel like the scum of the earth by some people. And, I imagine that that has happened to you as well. But, I am here to tell you that despite what you might have heard, sometimes re-homing is absolutely the right thing to do.
And you, person seeking help from our rescue, are doing it the right way by reaching out to a no-kill rescue for help.
And you, other person who is fostering your own pet in your own home while we help you find him a new home, you are doing this the right way.
I didn’t know that I had those options, which is why I used Craigslist – a far more dangerous option that I DO NOT RECOMMEND TO ANYONE. (I wanted to make that clear.)
And, lastly, my note to fellow rescue volunteers…
As I work side-by-side with you and see the abuse that some of our animals encounter, I understand why it is that you might immediately judge someone asking us to take their animal. I understand your anger; I feel it as well – each time another animal is abandoned in front of Petsmart or at one of our rescue volunteer’s doors. I feel that anger, judgment, and injustice for those animals. I get angry with you; I think and sometimes say insulting things about these people.
But, fellow volunteer, I also wanted you to know my story so that you could be reminded that sometimes…people end up in situations where re-homing is the right thing for the animal. And, I wanted to remind you that some people who re-home or surrender their animals DO NOT view those animals as objects to easily discard.
I was one of those people, and I promise you that I have not ever viewed any animal as replaceable. My pets and even my fosters are everything to me…and that is exactly WHY I re-homed my dog. Because he deserved more than I could give, and because it was what was best for him. It was terribly hard on me; it was far more easy for him.
Behind every surrendered or re-homed pet is a person. And while the animal is absolutely our first priority in rescue, sometimes I think we are too quick to forget (or judge) the person. Yes, people can be terrible to animals… beyond belief terrible.
People can also be good to their animals… and sometimes doing right by an animal involves giving that animal up. Not everyone who surrenders or re-homes a pet is one of the abusers.