Pet adoption

What If It's Not Working Out With Your Shelter Pet?

Returns are fairly common, but many problems that seem insurmountable can be cleared up

Courtesy East Bay SPCA

Is the pet you picked up from the shelter having trouble adjusting at home?

Don't worry, you're not alone.

Take Tucker, for example. He had some behavioral issues after he was adopted from the East Bay SCPA in Oakland a few years ago, and his family didn't know how to handle them. They brought him back, just in time for Clear the Shelters in 2015, according to shelter spokeswoman Grace Reddy. Tucker ended up finding his forever home with a volunteer during the event.

Plenty of shelter pets don't take to their new surroundings for one reason or another. Ten percent of all the animals brought to the East Bay SPCA are returns, Reddy said.

"We don't mind that," she said. "If it's not a match, for whatever reason, we don't ask questions."

It turns out, there are many reasons why it might not work out with your shelter pet, and shelters are always happy to take animals back.

"The sooner they contact the shelter and have that dog back in foster or back in the shelter, the better," said Tufts University animal behaviorist Dr. Stephanie Borns-Weil.

The reason Borns-Weil mentions contacting the shelter is because problems that seem insurmountable at first can be cleared up with a couple of tips from a shelter worker.

"No doubt they've heard it before," she noted.

Some issues shelters often see, according to Borns-Weil:

  • Separation anxiety
  • Not getting along with other animals in the home
  • Potty training
  • Crying at night

If it still can't be worked out, it's actually helpful to go through a shelter, so the unlucky dog or cat can get treated for what's wrong, Borns-Weil said.

Since you're reading this, we're guessing you aren't considering abandoning your dog — Borns-Weil said that still happens, but less often than it used to — but the best course of action is to go back to the organization where you got your pet.

There are alternatives that can work, like listing the pet on Craigslist or giving it to a friend, but Borns-Weil noted that shelters offer the best safety net for treating underlying problems.

"The pet can end up getting repeatedly rehomed without getting the kind of help that it needs," she said.

So if things still seem like they aren't working out, call the shelter where you picked up your pet and talk about the next steps. They'll be glad, and so will you.

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