Like many animal welfare groups, we receive a number of inquiries about rehoming assistance. Unfortunately, most rescues and shelters do not have the capacity to accommodate the volume of requests they receive. Since so many people are in the position of having to privately rehome a dog, we created the following guidelines.
Things to consider
Where did you get the dog? A responsible breeder should take their dog back, or at least work closely with you to network. A responsible rescue should do the same.
Behavioural considerations. If there is a significant behavioural issue, have you worked with a reputable, humane trainer? Before sending a dog off with someone else, you should have an assessment, a training plan, and a good idea of what a safe, successful placement will look like.
Medical considerations. Any pet being rehomed should absolutely be spayed/neutered. If this is a financial issue for you, there are organizations that can help with the cost, or you can request a rehoming cost to cover the cost of the surgery. Ideally, the pet should have a recent health check and be up-to-date on vaccines. Any known health issues should be disclosed and there should be a treatment plan in place.
Be responsible. You may love the idea of your dog thriving in another home - but is this realistic? If your dog has multiple difficult issues or an aggression history, it may not be ethical or safe to pass that burden on to someone else. Although it is a heartbreaking conversation to have, behavioural euthanasia is something that may need to be considered. This article on the Justice for Bullies page is a good overview of the topic.
Getting the word out
Start by creating a profile. Choose a cute photo that shows your dog’s personality, features, and size. Their “bio” should be engaging and high-level. One or two paragraphs is sufficient at this stage, touching upon the following:
age, sex, size, and spay/neuter status (again, they should always be spayed/neutered!!)
general activity level and exercise needs
behavioural issues like separation anxiety, prey drive, guarding, reactivity
friendliness with people, children, other dogs, and other animals
what makes them special
where you are located
any rehoming fees or conditions
We suggest setting up a designated email address, since this will be shared online. You can use something specific and memorable like AdoptRusty@gmail.com.
Nowadays the best way to get the word out is online! There are groups specifically for rehoming, and several general pet groups will allow these posts too. Monitor the posts for comments and questions, and you may have to repost periodically to keep it in peoples' feeds.
You can try reaching out to rescues, breed clubs, or other dog-related groups to see if they will courtesy post (i.e., share the listing on their Petfinder, website, email lists, or social media accounts). You can also ask if they have suggestions about other places to post. Be polite and respectful of their time, as they likely receive many requests like this.
If you get a response, the next step is to simply start a conversation. Ask situational or open-ended questions to get them talking about how they plan to train, care for, and live with the dog. You can look up the adoption applications of reputable shelters/rescues for ideas on questions to ask.
If the initial screening goes well, set up a meet and greet. Since they are strangers, you may wish to meet in a neutral place and walk the dog together. See how they interact with the dog, and ask conversational, open-ended questions about their philosophies and plans. They should also have lots of questions for you! If there are other people or pets that the dog should meet, plan for a follow-up meeting. For dog-to-dog intros, it usually works best to start with a walk together in a neutral place.
The next step could be a visit at their home, to get a better idea of how the dog behaves in a home environment, and to get a sense of where the dog will be living. This conversation can be more specific and focused on what the transition will look like.
If the dog has special behavioural or medical needs, you may need a few more steps, ideally involving your trainer or veterinarian. Do not rush the process, even if the applicant seems impatient or doesn't wish to travel for meetings. Taking the time to get to make the match, and making sure both parties have time to think everything through, will increase the chances of a successful placement in the end.
In the final stages, we recommend asking for references, ideally from people like trainers, dog walkers, or veterinarians who can be objective (not just friends and family).
It is fair to ask for a modest fee to cover some of your expenses. But contrary to some thinking, there's no evidence that a high adoption fee ensures high-quality ownership. People pay a lot of money for puppy mill dogs and abandon them!
Instead, ask the new owners to invest their time in ensuring this is a good fit. Do a few meet and greets, maybe even a trial weekend or sleepover, and ask for references. A family that is not only willing but excited to take all these screening steps is most likely to be a good match.
Instead of a rehoming fee, we suggest asking the new owners to pay for a training package with a reputable trainer to show their commitment and set everyone up for success.
Create a simple, clearly-worded contract attesting that ownership of the dog is transferred to the new owner. Include the date that the contract is effective and have both parties sign it.
If there are any behavioural or medical conditions that are important to disclose, put them in writing in the contract. For example, if the dog has been in dog fights in the past, or does not get along with cats, note this information in the contract. If something were to go wrong in the future, you do not want to be accused of not disclosing any important behavioural information.
If you have discussed certain, specific conditions for the adoption, you can include them in the contract: e.g., dog has to be continued on certain medications or have a certain number of sessions with a humane trainer. The new adopters should be willing to agree to basic welfare requirements for their new pet, and these should have been discussed thoroughly at the screening stage.
However, it would not be reasonable to tell the owner where the dog needs to sleep or what to feed him. They are the new owners and if you don’t trust their decisions on day-to-day issues, this is not the right home.
It is also fair to ask them to contact you if the dog does not work out in the home, especially within the first year and if you foresee being in a position to take the dog back.
We recommend contacting your veterinarian, microchip company, and anyone else that may have ongoing records of your dog to advise them about the transfer of ownership. This will allow the new owners to access information they need, and may also protect you legally down the road, in case of an incident or ownership dispute.
Even if you know this is the right choice, it will be difficult to send your pet off with someone else. You have likely been through a lot together and it feels like a leap of faith.
Sometimes the adopters will send updates, but this is their decision. Once the legal transfer of ownership is complete, the pet is theirs now. If you have followed the above steps and done your due diligence, hopefully this is a wonderful new phase in your dog’s life, and despite the initial sadness, you’ll know you have done the right thing for them.