Surrender: Is There Ever a Good Reason?

I was on my usual snail-trail commute to work last Wednesday when my favorite morning talk show host piped in with a story about a family that surrendered a dog to a shelter - for another dog!

“Guess the next generation, Doggie 8.0, just came out,” I spat to no one around me.

For the remainder of the drive I seethed, ready to seek out these heartless people and mow them down with my car. Then I remembered. This is L.A. traffic; I doubt that I could get up enough speech to do real damage.

On the trek from the parking lot into work, I cooled my jets enough to contemplate reasonable explanations for surrendering a pet. I didn’t have to dig too far into my own history to unearth the most heartbreaking moment ever.

On the first day of spring, 2013, my wife and I surrendered our loving, but troubled Boston terrier-Boxer mix, Louie, back to the agency from where we had adopted him. Love, persistence and professional intervention could not conquer Louie’s fear-biting behaviors or his aggressive startle response. Our condo complex with its maze of blind corners was exactly the wrong place for him.

Fortunately, we knew exactly where he was going: a family home with wide open spaces and unlimited resources in addition to hearts that could go the distance.

There are some folks - like ourselves - who have surrendered under extreme circumstances. One story on YouTube, Surrendering Goldie, has drawn both contempt and compassion. Watching this story, it is easy to be seized with both; I found myself alternately feeling for this woman for the hand life dealt her, then hating her for not seeking a temporary fostering arrangement so that her whole family could stay together once she got back on her feet. It was obvious how much her dog hated living in their van. But was it not a worse fate for her dog to separated from the family in which it instilled it’s trust for 12 years?

Though our story had a known ending that ultimately benefitted everyone, there are days when I hate myself for not being enough (a magical dog behaviorist) or having enough (a big spread) to have kept our family together. Ultimately, I come to terms with the fact that we were simply fostering Louie until the right family came along.

Unfortunately, most surrender scenarios have a far from rosy ending. And too many people surrender for attacks on nothing more than their possessions or their convenience:

“He yaps all day and the neighbors complain.”

“She keeps pissing on the Persian carpet.”

“I have to travel too much for my new job.”

“He acts jealous around the baby.”

“She’s getting old and the kids need an energetic puppy to play with.”

Many keep mum about their reasons. Most are generally not quick to cop to poor forethought, laziness or emotional bankruptcy. Few probably give more than a fleeting thought about their former pet’s first night at the shelter: shivering, alone, waiting for mommy and daddy to fetch them and bring them home.

My search on the web for the radio surrender story bore no fruit other than the one question I have for prospective pet owners/parents:

If your world collapsed and you lost everything, would you pull your pets even closer?

The answer will inform you as to whether or not you should set an extra place for dinner tonight.