I was recently made aware that the term “where can I surrender my dog for free” is searched online thousands of times every month. That’s incredibly sad! It’s also a reality for people when they find themselves facing life circumstances that make keeping their dog impossible.
And, unfortunately, it’s also difficult to find a shelter or rescue to take in surrendered animals without charging a fee. Most (but not all!) do charge a surrender fee of some kind, ranging from $10 to as much as $250.
If you are reluctantly giving up your dog for financial reasons, these surrender fees may be a very real concern for you. There is a significant expense to care for each animal relinquished to shelters and rescues, and the surrender fee generally doesn’t even begin to cover the cost of caring for your dog during her stay with them. Your primary concern should be the care your dog will receive, so if you can pay the fee charged by a top-quality, caring facility to help support their work, do it for your dog’s sake. If you are unable to pay because you are facing financial hardship, explain this to them. Some will waive the surrender fee. Ethically, they should.
Some government-funded and -operated municipal shelters don’t charge a surrender fee, but while there are many very well-run government shelters around the country, sadly a lot are at the bottom of the shelter barrel due to lack of funds and community support. If you are thinking of going the no-surrender-fee municipal route, be sure to check out the facility very carefully to make sure you’re comfortable leaving your dog there.
Researching a place to surrender your dog
If you are considering this, the first thing you must do is make a list of possible options and research those organizations very carefully. If they claim to be a 501(c)3 non-profit organization, look them up on GuideStar – an organization that provides detailed information about non-profits. (Note that municipally owned and managed shelters will not appear on GuideStar.)
Talk to them and ask questions about their procedures and philosophies. They may also ask you questions about your dog and make suggestions or offer resources to try to help you keep her in your home. If you are able to take advantage of those resources, by all means do so!
Do not rely on online reviews. There are countless fronts for rescue-hoarders that can talk a good story, have a lovely website, and actually have passionate supporters but keep animals in horrendous conditions. Are they “no-kill at any cost,” keeping dogs in kennels for as long as a decade or more? (I would give my dog a gentle death in my loving arms before I would sentence her to a lifetime in a stressful prison.)
Visit each organization remaining on your list after you weed out the bad actors. Make sure facilities are clean and the dogs appear well cared for. If they keep their dogs in foster homes, ask if you can visit one or more of those, again to see how the dogs are kept and cared for. Ask if/how they assess the dogs that they take in, and what kind of screening they do of potential adopters. If you can’t visit the sheltering site, and they don’t assess or screen, cross them off your list of places to consider. Tragically, it’s become more and more common for “rescue” operations to descend over time into hoarding cases that make headlines.
Ideally, your dog is friendly and you have a friend or family member who knows and loves your dog with all her faults and foibles and has offered to give her a lifelong loving home. If your dog is prone to displaying problematic behavior, however, rehoming is often not a realistic option. If, for example, your dog has significant behavioral issues that present a real threat to the safety of others or will have a strong negative impact on the quality of life of anyone she lives with, it may not be ethical or realistic to rehome – and it’s possible you could still be liable if she goes off and mauls someone, even after rehoming.
Perhaps it’s not a safety issue – say your own health precludes you from caring properly for your dog, or you are truly in an economic and/or housing bind and can’t give her what she needs. Absent a workable friend or family member, rehoming to strangers is very risky. Once you hand your dog off, you lose all control over what happens to her – and there are a lot of very bad people out there who might do a lot of very bad things to your dog.
Surrender fees help support a helpful resource
Today’s shelters may impose fees, but there is more empathy in the animal protection and dog training industries for people who find themselves in difficult straits and sadly acknowledge that the best choice for themselves and their dog is to surrender their beloved four-legged friend to someone who is better able to care for her. If that is you, we wish you the best, and our hearts are with you as you make these difficult decisions.