Surrendering to A Rescue

February 21, 2024
I want to take a minute and talk about “Surrender Shaming”, what it is, what it can look like, and why it’s something that we at National Newfoundland Rescue don’t believe in.
Surrender Shaming is when the person surrendering a dog to rescue is made to feel guilty, either intentionally, or unintentionally, by others for surrendering an animal to rescue. This takes many different forms. It could be friends or family saying “I can’t believe you would do that”. It could be people online responding to a post asking for help by saying things like, “I would live in my car before I gave up my dog”, “Our pets are family, how could you get rid of them?” or “You shouldn’t have gotten a dog if you couldn’t keep it. Animals are a lifelong commitment.” While all of this is likely well intentioned, the bottom line is that it doesn’t help the dog.
While there’s a perception out there that people surrender dogs to rescue because they don’t care anymore, I can tell you that the vast majority of the time it’s because they genuinely have run out of options and can’t care for the animal anymore, either emotionally, physically or financially. This is often one of the hardest decisions a person has to make. One of the dogs I’ve taken in came from a mother divorcing her abusive husband and trying to find an apartment for her and her 4 children on her own and can’t find one that will allow a dog that she can afford on her own. She’s left to make the choice between her dog, being able to provide a home for her children, or staying with a partner that was abusing her, her children, and their dog. Another person that surrendered their dogs into rescue was from a man who had terminal cancer and lived on his own with his dogs. His dogs were his only family and companions, but he was terrified that if he passed at home, that nobody would find his body for several weeks and the dogs would be left there with him. These are just a couple of the heart wrenching stories I could share with you about why dogs are surrendered into rescue.
The result of this is that the person surrendering the animal is made to feel guilty over their decision, sometimes resulting in them keeping the dog in a bad situation for the dog, or for the family. The other result of this is that other people online see these comments and if they were considering surrendering their dog, now they’re reconsidering because they don’t want to be verbally attacked by others. At this point, the best case scenario is that the people with the dog continue to meet the dogs basic needs, but the dog is left in a situation where they are unable to thrive for one reason or another. Other potential results include the dog being placed anonymously on craigslist or other platforms, to a new owner that hasn’t been checked, or more frequently, the dog being dumped on their own outside.
NNR has taken in several such dogs. One of them is Sid. The good news for Sid was that the original owner left him tied up outside a shelter in Los Angeles overnight. This person clearly knew that Sid needed the help of the shelter staff, but was afraid to face them themselves. Luckily for Sid, the shelter staff found him in the morning, took him in and once his “stray hold” was up NNR was able to pick him up and he’s now resting comfortably in his foster home. Did us now living his best life with an amazing family.
The other dog we took in was Benjamin. Unlike Sid, Benjamin was dumped outside, left to his own devices and was found unable to walk in a ditch of water after being hit by a car. Benjamin has since healed wonderfully and has been adopted by a family where his living his absolute best life!
While I can only guess as to the reasons why these dogs were dumped, one thing is clear to me, they didn’t feel that they had the option to surrender them to a rescue or local shelter. Benjamin may possibly be due to lack of education on the part of the people that know these options exist. With Sid though, it’s clear that the people KNEW where the dog needed to end up, but didn’t feel that they could take the dog into the shelter themselves.
So, What can we do to change this story?
First and foremost, education! We need to educate people on what rescue is, what we do, and who we are!
Secondly, we need to change the culture around surrendering a dog. Instead of shaming people, we should ASK them if there’s something that can be done to HELP them to enable them to keep the dog. And then if they ultimately still feel as though they must surrender their dog, let’s support them to find a rescue that would be the best fit to be able to place the dogs. Let’s change the dialogue, because that’s the way we’re going to be able to help more dogs. No matter the reason or circumstance for surrender, RESCUE is the best outcome for the dog when people can no longer care for them, no matter the reason, and rescue is about helping the dogs.
(Both of these dogs have since been adopted, but are such perfect examples of the consequences of surrender shaming that I feel it’s important to share their stories.)
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