Why Not to Be Ashamed If You Have to Return a Shelter Pet

Every adoption isn’t a perfect match.

By: speculummundi
As long as your reason for returning the pet is reasonable, you’ll be welcome to adopt from that shelter again. By: speculummundi

We’d all like to believe that every adoption story has a happy ending. But the truth is, not every adoption is a match made in heaven, and sometimes returning a pet to the shelter is the only option an adopter has.

After the excitement of an adoption, bringing your pet back to the shelter can be a humiliating task. Even if you’re not at fault for the adoption gone awry, you can still be left feeling miserable and ashamed.

Though the experience can be rough to manage, keep in mind that you’re making the decision for the welfare of the pet. A good shelter’s staff will understand and won’t try to shame you.

Behavior Changes

Usually you can spend some time with your potential pet at the shelter and get a good idea of his personality — energy level, attentiveness, manners, etc. But occasionally, pets just don’t behave the same in a shelter as they do in a home.

Maybe Spike was shy and quiet in the shelter because he was uncomfortable or nervous around new people and animals. That Spike was your perfect match. But after a week in his new digs, he’s blooming into a rambunctious and loud puppy — not so perfect for your little apartment.

Dogs aren’t the only ones whose personalities can take a bit of a twist in new surroundings. Cats respond to their environments as well.

Sometimes a cat who has become comfortable within the confines of a shelter cattery may seem more outgoing than she is in a new home. Just because she sought your hand for endless scratches during your meet-and-greet session doesn’t necessarily mean that she isn’t the type of cat to dart under the couch for hours on end after hearing the doorbell.

These are changes that you can’t anticipate without a “trial run” and because that isn’t an option in most shelters, you might have to consider returning the pet.

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Don’t Blame Yourself

It’s easy to feel responsible for having to return a pet, no matter the circumstances.

If adopting your new puppy was saving him, is returning that puppy dooming him? In most instances no, it’s not. Unless you’re returning the pet for unprovoked aggression or an untreatable illness, he’s probably going to find a new home where he fits right in.

Even knowing that he’ll be adopted again, you’re still going to feel crummy. That’s normal.

By: fabicanosa
Visit your potential pet multiple times in the shelter before adopting. By: fabicanosa

A Contractual Obligation

A lot of people prefer to rehome their pets themselves. It’s a way to relieve the responsibility from the shelter as well as meet your pet’s new family personally.

Believe it or not, you might be breaking your adoption contract if you rehome your adopted pet. Many contracts require adopters to return the pet to the shelter if the adoption doesn’t work out. Shelters have a vested interest in every one of their animals, and these are the types of steps that they take to ensure those pets are placed in qualified homes.

Even if you feel a little sheepish carrying Spike back into the shelter, as long as your reason for returning him is reasonable, you’ll be welcome to adopt from that shelter again. The staff would never blacklist a potential adopter because of an unforeseen hiccup in a previous adoption.

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How to Avoid Returning a Pet

You shouldn’t feel embarrassed for returning an adopted pet, but you should also take steps to avoid being in the position of having to return him. Take these precautions:

  • Foster. Not all shelters allow fostering, but if it’s possible you can provide a temporary home for pets who are looking for their forever homes. You’ll have the chance to fall in love with a furry friend who’s already at your house.
  • Multiple Visits. Most shelters will encourage you to spend lots of time with the pet you’re interested in. Don’t just visit him in one room for 20 minutes. Go outside. Go for a walk, if possible. Visit multiple times before adopting.
  • Professional Training. If you see a problem arising after the adoption, consider your options before returning your pet. Is this a concern that is temporary, like a teething puppy? Is it something you can hire a professional trainer to work with?

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Even with all these precautions, your newest addition might just not be a good fit. In that situation, you should reach out to your animal shelter and schedule an appointment to return him.

Having an adoption go wrong is a lousy experience. After returning your pet, you may not be immediately ready for another. But after some time, consider trying again. The perfect pet could still be waiting for you in your local shelter.

Allison Gray

View posts by Allison Gray
Allison Gray gained a wealth of knowledge about animal welfare issues and responsible pet care during her nearly 5 years of work for an animal shelter. She is a writer, photographer, artist, runner and tattooed remedial knitter. Allison also has been researching, testing out and perfecting nutritious pet treat recipes in her kitchen for Petful since spring 2017.

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