Reasons for Pet Surrender: Laziness or Last Resort

Of the estimated five to eight million companion animals entering shelters each year, about half are surrendered by their owners, according to the American Humane Society.

A study by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP) explored the health and personal reasons that owners surrendered their four-legged companions (Scarlett, et al, 1999). Among the top 10 reasons both dogs and cats were relinquished are: “moving,” “landlord issues,” the cost of pet maintenance,” “personal problems” and “inadequate facilities.” Having no time to devote to the pet and biting behaviors were other frequently-cited reasons for dog relinquishment while allergic family members and incompatibility with other pets were common reasons for cat relinquishment. About 58% of surrendered animals had been in the home ranging from seven months to greater than five years.

On the surface, some of the reasons cited suggest that some pet owners had not considered the ramifications and responsibilities of pet adoption or purchase and were too quick to give up on their pet. People who believed they may be having an allergic reaction to their companion, for example, may have relinquished him/her as a first-course of treatment rather than undergo extensive (and potentially costly) allergy testing to isolate the allergen. In some cases, people may have found the “allergy” reason a more socially-acceptable justification for relinquishment. People who decided that they did not have time to devote to their pet either clearly demonstrated their underestimation of the time and nurture required to raise a happy, healthy pet or lost material resources and flexibility when their life circumstances changed and were not aware of temporary fostering services.

On the other hand, some transient pet owners believe they are considering their pet’s needs when they choose to relinquish. A study that examined “moving” as a reason for pet relinquishment (Shore, et al, 2003) found that most of the 21% of people who chose not to take their pet to their new home did so because their yards were too small or not fenced. One woman described the agonizing decision her husband made to give up two beloved hunting dogs because he felt that it would be “cruel” to keep them in a 6’x 9’ dog run. Another man believed that the Floridian swelter would prove too oppressive for his Chow Chows. Of note, about 41% of survey respondents said that moving was their own idea, as opposed to about 38% who said they had to move for financial or other reasons.

Almost 40% of respondents in a survey examining the companion animal’s behavior as a reason for relinquishment cited biting and aggression towards people (Salman, et al, 2000). A strong correlation was noted between relinquishment and the addition of a new dog or cat to the household during the previous year. Between 88% and 91% of respondents said that they did not take their dog to group or individual behavioral classes respectively. Spencer (1993) noted that 50–70% of all dog and cat euthanasia is the result of behavior problems, many of which are potentially resolvable.


Whatever the reason for relinquishment, there is evidence that many people who chose to relinquish their pets had a strong relationship with them. Nearly half of respondents scored in the top third of a human-animal bonding scale (Salman, et al, 2000). “Heartbroken,” “broken up” and “cried all night” were reportedly among people’s responses during phone interviews after their pets were relinquished. One respondent reportedly experienced a “breakdown” and returned to the shelter the very next day to reclaim his pet.

Research suggests that while some pet owners may be somewhat cavalier about relinquishing their pets, many believe that they have taken extraordinary measures on behalf of their pet. Regardless, there is clear need for self-assessment and pre-adoption education and counseling regarding the material, temporal and emotional involvement of pet parenting across all ages and income levels as well as a thorough exploration of the alternatives to pet relinquishment. These include temporary fostering during periods of financial or psychological crisis and training to help ameliorate behavioral problems. A number of shelters nationwide provide these resources or can make referrals to the appropriate entities.





Copyright © 1999, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.    

Reasons for Relinquishment of

Companion Animals in U.S. Animal

Shelters: Selected Health and

Personal Issues

By Scarlett, et al, 1999



Copyright © 2000, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Behavioral Reasons for Relinquishment

of Dogs and Cats to 12 Shelters

by Salman, et al, 2000    



Copyright © 2003, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Moving As a Reason for Pet

Relinquishment: A Closer Look

By Shore, et al, 2003