Understanding and reducing abandonment of dogs

Abandonment in the United States

Dogs are known as man’s best friend, but they aren’t always treated that way. While many owners provide loving homes to their pups, there are still millions of dogs that wind up in shelters. Tragically, many of those dogs ultimately face unnecessary euthanasia. It’s a widespread problem; shelters take in dogs from all walks of life, from dogs bred in puppy mills to those born in healthier environments. And while it’s more common for mixed breeds to wind up in shelters, anywhere from 5% to 25% of all shelter dogs are purebred, with Chihuahuas and Pitbulls especially prone to abandonment.

The situation is getting better — adoption rates are up while euthanasia rates have fallen — but it hasn’t improved fast enough. The real problem isn’t that people don’t love dogs, it’s that they don’t always find them from the most reputable places or know how to be an effective dog parent. To truly fix this issue, we have to change the way people find their dogs and how they approach taking care of them.

Who is most likely to abandon dogs? And why?

There’s been a lot of research into dog abandonment, and while there is no one definitive cause or culprit, there are some obvious trends that can help us better figure out how to tackle the issue.

Looking at the data, it’s clear that dogs are more likely to be surrendered by men under the age of 50 and by people who didn’t do their homework before becoming a dog parent in the first place. As for the dogs, the ones who most often get surrendered to shelters tend to be young, not spayed or neutered, and hard to control — behaviors like soiling the house, damaging property, and just generally acting overexcited are frequently cited when an owner sends a dog to a shelter.

Studies also indicate that expectations and preparation are also key factors. Being a dog parent takes a lot of work, but not everyone realizes it. A prepared prospective puppy parent reads up on potential breeds, puts aside plenty of time to train their new dog, and knows they’ll have to roll with some ups and downs after bringing home their adorable new friend. If they haven’t prepped, they’re more likely to be frustrated and disappointed with the experience and wind up surrendering their pet, citing behavioral problems.

Owners who surrender their dogs also often cite financial issues. Of course, unexpected financial hardship can strike anyone, and sometimes a very qualified dog parent can suddenly find himself or herself no longer able to properly support their pet. But a lot of times, the preparedness factor is also at play here. Some people just don’t realize the kind of financial commitments that come with keeping a dog happy and healthy, while other people wind up getting a breed of dog that they can’t support. For example, a very active dog might require a professional walker and equipment or toys, while a breed prone to certain health issues could require more veterinary care.

Breeders play a role here, too. A responsible breeder knows what makes a responsible dog parent and will screen all prospective new owners to make sure they’re able to care for their specific breed. They’ll also take time to educate these prospective dog parents, providing an overview of the time and financial commitments that will be required of them once they bring home their puppy. The dog parent selection process is crucial to making sure that each and every puppy has the best chance of living a happy and healthy life with an owner that is ready to love and care for it for the long haul.