Tough Love

By Sharon Naylor

March 20, 2013 6 min read

Hardships and trials befall us all, and if you find yourself in a difficult situation that renders you unable to care for your pet, you'll need to make arrangements to find someone who will.

Your difficult situation may be temporary, such as an illness or a surgery that has you confined to bed for months with no other responsible person living in your home to meet your pet's care requirements. It may be permanent, such as a required move into a nursing home. Or you might simply find yourself in a period of financial crisis, such as a natural disaster or the loss of a job. Whatever your challenge, you find yourself in a position of no longer being able to house your beloved pet.

As heartbreaking as this may be, you're a responsible and loving pet owner to put your pet's needs first. You certainly want your "baby" to live in a warm and safe home, and to be fed, walked, cleaned and cared for by someone who will love your animal as much as you do.

You have several options to choose from:

--Choose a relative, friend or neighbor who knows and loves your pet and is happy to take him or her in for as long as needed.

This person will be comfortable with all aspects of pet care and with having the pet in their home. An inside dog cannot be placed in an outside pen to keep a living room rug clean, for instance. That kind of change would be traumatic and dangerous for the dog.

Your chosen caretaker must also "try out" your pet with his or her existing pets to be sure the animals are all well socialized and get along in their home. A few sleepovers or weekend trial runs before the turnover are a smart way to assess the animals' comfort levels with each other.

And of course, if your guardian has small children or a new baby in the home, they need to assess whether the new pet's presence in the home will work. Assure them that they can be honest with you if their answer is no. You certainly don't want that person to take your pet in and be resentful and unable to love the pet as you'd like.

If you do find a loved one who welcomes your pet, it's a smart idea to arrange for that person to take a short-term training course in pet care offered by a local animal shelter or dog trainer, so that he or she can learn the newest methods of pet discipline, feeding and care. A class will cover how to quiet an anxious, howling dog and teach kids how to safely play with the dog.

Prepare a detailed document outlining all of your pet's preferences -- from food types to silly little things like not liking the vacuum cleaner. Provide the new owner with your pet's veterinarian's contact information, and then contact your vet to inform him or her of the new caretaker.

You might also provide the caretaker with an agreed-upon monthly stipend to pay for your pet's food, care products and medicines. Or arrange for your volunteer to bill you monthly -- whichever you're most comfortable with.

--Ask your circle of friends and family whether they know anyone who can take in your pet.

Social media can work magic. Your post about looking for someone to take in your dog for six months while you undergo radiation treatments could connect you to a friend who has a friend who fosters pets. She's experienced, loving and happy to help. So you meet with this person, check out her environment, see how your pet interacts with hers and, if all goes well, create the perfect plan for your pet's care.

--Look into an endowment care situation.

PAWS, a regional pet rescue and advocacy center in Seattle, offers a program for pet owners facing hardships. Mark Coleman, community relations manager for PAWS, says, "We have a program that allows you to endow us to take care of your pet for as long as you need. You pay an endowment for the pet's care and feeding -- and we've seen amounts as low as $50 to as high as $30,000 -- and we take care of your animal. It may be through a foster placement, for instance." Your pet gets quality screened care and access to medical treatment, and you get the peace of mind of knowing that a team of animal lovers is giving your pet the love and care he needs.

--Surrender your pet.

If other solutions aren't possible, you might opt to surrender your pet to an animal shelter that has a no-kill policy and will care for your pet for as long as it takes to find a foster home or a new adoptive home. Veterinary students will often foster pets, as will animal lovers who wish to fill their homes with multiple pets in need. Many animal shelters offer highly discounted adoption fees to senior citizens -- sometimes as low as $25 -- as an animal provides a wonderful companion to active seniors, improving their physical and mental health.

Research shows that having an animal in the home lowers blood pressure, encourages exercise via walking the pet, fosters social interactions at dog parks and on walks, and simply adds joy to that new owner's life. So your decision to surrender your pet, even temporarily, could turn into a wonderful new life for your pet and his new owners.

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