It’s a funny thing about life: None of us gets out alive. A recent email I received pleading for help rehoming two horses owned by a woman tragically killed in a car wreck made me think: What can people do when a serious reason causes dog to need to be rehomed?
Death of the owner is one of those reasons. I am not talking about lazy owners who get a small puppy from somewhere and turn it in eight months later because “the dog got too big.” I am not talking about people who move and declare they can’t take the dog with them, or about people who get rid of the dog when it is no longer convenient to them, or about those who dump one they never bothered to train. I am talking about real-life situations where the dog cannot stay where it is because of serious, unforeseen events, and rehoming is the only way out. What to do in that case?
One thing my husband and I did was to set up a trust written by our attorney. I want my dogs, donkeys, and horses to live the life they are accustomed to in the event that we both go unexpectedly. I am so serious about it that I have a list of executors three people deep. How will we fund our animals’ lifestyle and ensure their medical needs, etc. are taken care of? Life insurance. Lots of life insurance. We have no human kids, so most everything we have will go to our animals.
I realize that many folks will not be able or willing to go this far to ensure safety for their animals in the event of an untimely death, so what is the average person dealing with a suddenly homeless dog supposed to do?
Don’t panic. Here are some ideas to help you find a home for this dog.
If the animal you’re taking care of hasn’t had all the relevant shots, and you can afford it (there are many low-cost spay and neuter clinics in most areas these days), get the animal spayed or neutered. Why? There is a huge pet overpopulation, and you don’t want to add to it because then there will be even more people walking in your shoes, trying to find a home for an unwanted pet. It can also help find a good home if you have already taken care of the basics.
If you have your own dogs and the person who has passed on has a dog in conflict with your own, or if you just cannot have the homeless dog in your home for whatever reason, put the now-homeless dog in a kennel for a short time to give you time to deal with the situation. This is a short-term solution to alleviate that panicked feeling of “OMG what am I going to do with this dog?”
Contact breed-specific rescues or all American (i.e., mutts) rescues and ask — politely — if they can take the dog in. Most rescues are always full, so this may not be a realistic option BUT you could volunteer to foster the dog at your house for the non-profit rescue and let them work their sources to try to find the dog(s) a home. Let the rescue keep the adoption fee, too.
Be wise about what you post on Craigslist. It can be a great way to find a quality home but it has pitfalls. Never give a dog away from free there or anywhere else. Why? It’s true that there are unscrupulous people out there looking for a free dog. Some want to fight them, some want to sell them to animal testing labs, and some just want a “guard” dog that will spend the rest of its miserable life on a chain. If you go the Craigslist route, say there is a small re-homing fee. It could just be the spay/neuter fee that you’ve already paid for. Then ask for references, including a vet reference. If they haven’t had a pet in awhile, ask for three professional or personal references. If someone is willing to go to this length for a dog, you are moving in the right direction of finding a good home.
Next, say in the ad that you require a home visit and then do just that (take someone with you so that you are not entering a stranger’s house alone). You decide what the important things are that will make a great home for your dog. Some of mine include: a proper fence; someone in the house willing to exercise and train the dog; getting it in writing that the dog is an inside pet, and that they’ll take care of the dog’s medical needs; agreeing to return the dog to me at any time if the dog is not working out for them, and agreeing to allow me two unannounced checks their first year with the dog.
Pay for an ad in your local newspaper’s classified ad section. Use the same stringent requirements you would in a Craigslist ad. If people can’t follow your requirements in such an ad, are they really ready for a dog in their home?
Some shelters are remarkable places that work every minute to find dogs a good, new home. Other shelters are permitted by law to euthanize an “owner-surrendered” dog the day you bring it in and they do just that, no matter how awesome the dog is. How do you know which kind of shelter you take a homeless dog to is? You can ask questions, such as “what is your adoption rate?” My local Humane Society has a 92 percent adoption rate. They keep the kennels clean and do a good job of screening new homes. If I found a stray dog, I would feel good about taking it to my local shelter but this is not always the case. Even if the shelter is an excellent one, they are usually full to the brim with unwanted dogs so that’s one reason fostering the dog at home makes a lot of sense to me — if you are able to do so.
For your own dogs, ask a trusted friend if they are willing to be named in your will as the new owners of the dogs. You can both agree that your friend doesn’t have to necessarily keep the dogs but they will ensure a proper home is found.
Ask your veterinarian and trainer (if you have one) for recommendations but please don’t ask either of them to take on these dogs. We are both usually drowning in offers to take on unwanted dogs.
We all only have so much time in the day to take care of ourselves and our families. To unexpectedly have someone’s else’s beloved animals dropped in your lap can add a huge new stressor. There are ways to help these animals, and wouldn’t that be a beautiful way to honor the memory of the deceased person?
About Annie Phenix: Positive-reinforcement dog trainer and author Annie Phenix never met a mountain she did not love. This explains why she lives in Durango, Colorado, where she’s surrounded by mountains, and why she is always smiling. She delights in the snowy season here, as do her five dogs, two horses, and six adorably cute donkeys.
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