When You Must Give Up Your Pet
Tips for Making a Hard Choice Easier
Like most responsible pet owners, I made a commitment when I took in each of the many pets I've owned over the years: I would give them a “forever home”, protect them and care for them properly and never senselessly abandon them. Sadly, I now find myself in the position of having to give up at least one of my cats, possibly both of them, due to my circumstances. I have health and mobility problems which prevent me from caring for them properly and must sell my home and move into a senior residence living arrangement. After much thought I've come to some conclusions about the best way to insure their future welfare and here are my ideas if you ever find yourself facing the same dilemma.
The first thing that comes to mind is the obvious solution of giving the pet to a trusted friend. Who do you know with a history of responsible ownership? Eliminate the folks who are “suckers” for every lost dog or cat that comes along, because they are already overburdened. Most people think of the local “cat lady” right away because they know she won't refuse a needy feline, but a home with too many pets is not a good situation. Behavior problems often result from overcrowding and competition, especially among cats. When bad behaviors become overwhelming, your cat or dog will be to blame and the first to go. If neighbors complain about too many barking dogs or smelly cats, the new owner may end up having to get rid of your former pet before long. Yes, cats and dogs usually love some company of their own kind, but a house with 17 cats is a stressful situation.
Try not to resort to a shelter. Shelters are overflowing everywhere. In my city, the one no-kill shelter has a long waiting list. Even if I had the time to wait it out, my cat would face weeks or even months, living in a cage, frightened by the change and upset by the other distressed cats nearby.
Most shelters do try their best to screen adoptive owners before allowing them to take a pet, but let's face it, this isn't a human adoption agency. Shelter workers don't have the means, legally or logistically, to do a thorough background check on applicants. A friend who volunteered at a highly regarded shelter told me of the time a very violent looking young man came in saying he wanted a kitten as a present for his girlfriend. Gut instinct kicked in, and my friend and another volunteer sensed he might be involved in dog fighting or up to other nefarious purposes, but, unfortunately, he answered all of the screening questions properly and ended up walking out with a kitten. The person responsible for the decision was clearly intimidated by him, and couldn't muster the courage to say no. And, realistically, she had no plausible grounds to refuse him, other than a bad feeling and bad vibes. Imagine putting your pet in this sort of vulnerable position!
Here's an approach which made sense to me: I called each person I knew who I believed would be a good owner and explained my situation and why I was forced to give up my cat. Then I asked them if they knew anyone who would take him and provide a good home, but didn't put them on the spot personally. This allowed them to mull it over and decide, without undue pressure, if they themselves wanted to take the cat. I didn't want anyone to say “yes” just because they couldn't say “no.” Plus, if they knew they couldn't oblige, they gave me further leads.
When no one stepped forward, I then directly asked one couple to adopt the cat. These folks were actually my first choice and could provide a wonderful home, but I sensed they might be prone to agree just to help me because they are so kind, and I didn't want to take advantage of them. They ended up refusing, but went to work immediately, contacting every possible lead.
This couple ended up providing the ideal solution. When they go out of town they employ a cat sitter, a woman who is totally devoted to caring for cats and knows many other like minded people. She's part of a rescue group of volunteers who adopt and/or foster cats. They only place cats in homes of owners they can personally vouch for and vow to take back the cat, if, for any reason, the new placement doesn't work out. When the sitter spoke to the head of the rescue group, they knew right away who would adopt my little guy.
The cat sitter came to my home, met me and my cat, and I knew immediately that I could trust her to do the best. Amazingly, my cat went bonkers over her. He's always been friendly with strangers, but with her, he went overboard, rubbing against her legs, purring, talking to her, attempting to climb onto her lap. I've never seen him take to anyone else so quickly and completely.
My cat is a three-legged amputee who runs like the wind and has never stopped trying to get outside at every chance, despite being kept inside for three years. Because I use a walker and have mobility problems, I struggle constantly to keep him from escaping. Simple daily tasks like bringing in the mail or the newspaper become high drama as I try to confine him and prevent escape. I don't have interior doors downstairs where I can close him in. My neighborhood is sheltered, but I've felt uneasy about the dangers of the outdoors since he lost his leg. Every few weeks, he outwits me and gets out.
The adoptive mom lives in a suburban cul-de-sac away from traffic on a one acre fenced in lot. She has 5 cats, and amazingly, has adopted three other amputees over the years. She allows them to go outside, so at last, my cat will be free to enjoy the outdoors safely. Tomorrow my cat's new owner will come to take him home. I'm simultaneously sad and happy, but overall, I feel relieved that this worked out well.