No Judgement Zone: Surrendering Your Pet

By Judy Layne

Sometimes, life teaches you important lessons when you least expect it.  It happened to me yesterday. Reading a magazine, I came across a heartfelt story written by a lady named Sarah who surrendered her pet.  It moved me deeply and made me reflect on my feelings about people who give up their pets.  

Reasons Why People Surrender Their Pet

I’ve always had strong opinions about the care animals deserve. Like others who love their pets and consider them family members, the notion of surrendering our fur-babies seems unfathomable to me.  Having said that, my heart goes out to people who must give up their pet for reasons beyond their control – losing their home or job, debilitating illness, moving into a care home, passing away.  At the opposite end of the spectrum are those who consider their pets disposable.  Some decide they don’t want the responsibility any longer; others surrender their pet for ‘not being as playful and cute anymore’.  I will always think this is callous and irresponsible.  

But what about the people in between?  While it’s easy to automatically assume that someone who surrenders their pet is an uncaring person, the lesson Sarah’s story taught is that we shouldn’t judge because we don’t know the circumstances behind why someone surrendered their pet.  Imagine how sad and painful it must be for people forced to give up their beloved pet if they don’t have any other choice.  Enter Sarah. 

Sarah’s Heartbreaking Story of Surrender

Sarah said she never thought she’d be the ‘kind of person’ who’d surrender a pet.  Yet she found herself doing so. Leaving the animal shelter without her beloved cat Max, Sarah stated she was devastatedfilled with guilt and grief.  She explained that the decision was the most difficult thing she’d ever had to do. 

Max was Sarah’s first cat, a rescue.  Over the years, she married, adopted another kitty and a dog, then had a baby.  With each change, they worked hard to help their pets adjust.  But the baby’s presence seemed to push Max beyond changes he could cope with.  Max began lunging at the dog, lashing out at Sarah and her husband, hissing at the baby.  He was plainly over-stressed and it was painful for them to see.  They read articles, gave Max more attention, ensured he had a ‘safe’ room and consulted their vet.  Nothing worked. Sarah felt guilty about rescuing Max and then creating a setting that was too stressful for him.  No family members, coworkers or friends could take Max, so they made the painful decision to surrender him, hopeful he’d find a home with a family that loved him as much as they did.       

What Sarah Learned

Here’s the profound part.  Sarah said that while they waited for paperwork to be completed, a family entered the shelter to surrender a dog that barked constantly.  Sarah admitted she’d unconsciously judged the family, assuming they never bothered to train the dog and then decided he was too irritating.  But Sarah caught herself, ashamed to have judged these people so quickly with no idea of what they had gone through or why they believed they had to make this decision.  Sarah recognized that other people at the shelter could make a similarly unwarranted and baseless judgement about them.  She wanted to shout that they tried so hard to make things work and did everything they knew how to do. 

The Lesson for All of Us

Sarah’s story reminded me to embrace compassion and not leap to judgement about people who surrender their pet.  I hope it inspires you to do the same.  

If you or someone you know is struggling with the decision to surrender a pet, please contact the Nova Scotia SPCA for guidance.

Judy Layne

Judy is a dedicated volunteer with the Nova Scotia SPCA and proud adoptive fur-mama to Gracie. She is committed to speaking for animals who cannot speak for themselves.