Home to Shelter: A Traumatic Transition for Pets

Surrendering your pet to a shelter might be the hardest decision you ever make. But before you make such a move, be aware how tough it can be on the dog or cat you’re relinquishing.

When owners surrender their animals to a shelter, the dog or cat can shut down almost completely. When this happens, they won’t let people pet them and even can show aggression toward staff members. They are often terrified. And angry.  And really confused as to why their humans left without them.

Since being surrendered, Lizzie hides under her blanket until a human comes to pet her.
Since being surrendered, Lizzie hides under her blanket until a human comes to pet her.

Sometimes people surrendering their pets share stories about how awesome their dog or cat is – but that’s when they are with their owners and feeling secure and safe at home. When the pet comes to a shelter and sees its owner walk out the door, it is a traumatic experience. In fact, the surrendered pet sees it as the worst day of its life. The animal suddenly finds itself in a strange kennel among numerous other animals, eating different food and sleeping in a new bed. It’s overwhelming. While some animals adjust quickly, others can pout and feel depressed for weeks before they start to show their positive qualities.

And this is a fact that folks need to understand. Before you surrender your pets to a shelter, know that the dramatic change of environment can be brutal to their psyche. Your pet loves and trusts you. Even though your decision might be for the best, your dog or cat sees it as the ultimate rejection. A prime example of a pet reacting badly to being surrendered is Lizzie, an 8-year-old Tabby who suddenly found herself at the shelter because someone in the family developed a cat allergy.  Her owner said Lizzie was gregarious and a great lap cat. But ever since she arrived at the shelter, Lizzie hides under a blanket all day, every day. Staff members and volunteers work with her and give her affection, but as soon as they leave her, she scampers back under the blanket.

Beautiful Aubrey is a pet recently surrendered to the Shelter by her owner.
Beautiful Aubrey is a pet recently surrendered to the Shelter by her owner.

There are many reasons why people surrender their pets. Some of the more common ones are economic in nature – they can’t afford taking care of the animal’s food and medical needs anymore. Another reason is moving. A landlord may not allow certain pets or breeds, or a retirement home may not allow pets, period. Then there are behavior issues. A cat might be scratching up furniture or having problems finding the litter box, or a dog might be barking too much for the neighbors or chewing on the owner’s favorite shoes. Finally, there are family issues and emergencies that must be addressed, which can make it difficult to care for a pet. For example, the pet’s owner dies and there’s no one to care for it.

But before you make an appointment to surrender your pet, make sure there’s no other alternative.  FOTAS and the shelter do their best to help people keep their pets in their homes. For example, if it is a behavioral issue, that can be improved with training assistance.

Because while FOTAS volunteers and the shelter staff do all they can to make surrendered pets happy, safe and comfortable, they can only spend so much time with them. There are so many other dogs and cats at 333 Wire Road that need the same care.

If you are interested in adopting Lizzie or another homeless pet, please come to the County Shelter or call (803) 642-1537.

Their lives are in our hands.

 — by Bob Gordon, FOTAS Director of Communications


By the Numbers

The County Shelter received 150 homeless dogs and cats during the first two weeks of April!



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