Friday, December 25, 2015


It has become very popular to post stories on the internet about people who "cruelly" surrender pets to a shelter. Stories about pets surrendered as seniors, after a break-up and neither party wants the pet, or pets who are surrendered as soon as their kid goes to college...

I remember once when I surrendered a kitten to our local SPCA that had been abandoned at the college where I was staying over Christmas break. Most everyone had left, and someone left this kitten behind. I tried to bring him in out of the cold in with my own cat, but my cat was beating the kitten up. I took him to the SPCA and while I was saying goodbye with tears in my eyes, the shelter staff just looked at me and shook their heads. They didn't thank me for helping the kitten. They did not smile or thank me when I put all the money I had in the donation can. I realized in shock and guilt that they thought the kitten was mine, and that I had lied that someone else had abandoned it, because I was crying as I left him. It was an awful experience, even though I was doing what I had always been told was "right" to do with an abandoned kitten if you could not keep it. Take the cat to a shelter.

I really have issues with surrender-shaming--a practice that is becoming more common, because it can reach a larger audience with just a single Facebook post. We tell people if they don't want or can't keep a pet that they should bring the pet to a shelter, then we give them hell when they do.

When I worked for a shelter, yes, it made me sick to my stomach when a car pulled in and someone started walking toward the door with a crate with a cat in it, or walking a dog on a leash. But you know why it made me sick to my stomach? Not because the person was irresponsibly surrendering the pet (although sometimes they were). It was because we would often have to kill that pet, and the person bringing the pet to us was hoping we would find the pet a home. Even after I was volunteering for that shelter's spay/neuter clinic years later when they were "no-kill" I still could not suppress the nausea I felt when I saw a person coming to the door with a crate. I knew the pet in that crate was safe, yet that mere two years I had spent in the 80s knowing every pregnant cat would be killed, every sneezing kitten would be killed, was embedded in my soul.

We would be angry at the people who brought them in, but most of our anger came from our inability to provide the services we felt we should be providing...providing the safety for that pet that we promised them when we said "Don't abandon them...don't neglect them...bring them here instead."

We now have more options than we had in the 80s, although we still have a long way to go. And we still tell people: Don't abandon pets. Don't tie them outside. Don't ignore them. If you can't keep your pet, bring it to a shelter to find it a better home.

Yet more and more often it seems like these surrender-shaming stories come out, supposedly the same day the pet was surrendered, shaming the person who abandoned the animal, in order to find the pet a home. "Poor Rainbow was thoughtlessly dumped at the shelter today by her uncaring owners. Please help find her a home!"

What does this teach the next person who is desperate and is thinking about surrendering a pet, or is thinking about bringing in a stray they can't keep?

"If you take an animal to a shelter, you will be treated like a criminal, even if you are doing something good." "If you take your pet to the shelter because you don't know what else to do, it will be on Facebook by noon that you are a heinous person, along with a photo of the pet you took in."

Is this what we want? What result do we expect? That people will magically decide to keep these pets? Or will pets instead be more likely to be left tied out in a shabby doghouse, or abandoned somewhere, or totally ignored---because what we are really teaching the public is that "a person who surrenders a pet, or brings in a stray is-- by virtue of the fact that they brought the pet in--a bad person."

I understand the impulse. I recall my anger when I found Goggles on my porch. And guess what. Wasn't my first impression wrong?

Are we surrender-shaming to help a pet and teach the public? Or are we surrender-shaming to make ourselves feel like embattled heroes?

Is it about the pet? Or is it about ourselves?

Stop surrender shaming. The people we are shaming are the people we WANT to bring pets in, rather than have them neglect the pet with inattention. Or they are innocent people who have a good reason to need to ask our help by bringing us an animal they found or legitimately cannot keep.

Remember? Isn't that our mission?


  1. I've seen the shame posts that go on, and also the animal flipping that goes on too. Also the people that get addicted to watching the euthanasia lists at distant shelters and begin making cross state treks to get the ones from the list. This is a bit different, but It's tough on me to try to believe shelters who used to kill everything but now try to save most, because of the lies told when they did the mass killings. It's very tough on me to trust shelters. In huge situations, I would try to get shelters with bigger adoption venues to take some of the rescued kittens or cats, to adopt out, but often they'd call me back, even a month or two later, tell me to come get the cat now or they were going to kill the cat, either because the cat had been adopted out, but returned or because the cat had been exposed to ringworm. But I was happy they would contact me, at least, to come get the cat to save its life. I would much rather have people trying to offload kittens take them to a shelter or rescue than give them away free, because then they get fixed, vaccinated, all that first. It's a good thing, especially if the local shelter is not a death machine. OUrs were here, for decades, but now they're not. I am trying to overcome in my mind, the remembrance of what they were as recently as a handful of years back, trust them, is not easy to do, for me.

  2. Not long ago, it was considered horribly cruel to bring a cat to a shelter here in Denver because they basically had 5 days before being euthanized. So recently, when I ended up in the situation of having 3 six-month old kittens who were only partly socialized but had been exposed to FeLV, I really didn't know what to do. At first I thought my only choice was to try to keep them myself - to keep them separate from my own animals, to try to further socialize them myself, and honestly, since it's just been one kitty crisis after another for the past 5 years, the thought of trying to do that was more than I could bear. Plus, if they then ended up testing positive for FeLV and I had to put them down after caring for them for several months... well I just didn't think I could take it.

    But then a dear friend of mine suggested that I take them to a non-profit shelter in town where her niece works. At first all I could think was that it would be a death sentence for them, but apparently it's no longer the case. I took a LOT of convincing, but after carefully talking to the people at the shelter and getting many assurances from my friend & her niece, I finally decided that it was OK.

    These days, the shelter has a staff of animal behaviorists (my friend's niece is one) who work with any animal with "issues." They have a 90% adoption rate and never euthanize for time or space - only if the cat is a danger to people or is terminal. They even take FIV+ cats. I was still skeptical, but then my friend showed me all of the paper work from a cat they adopted from that shelter. The cat was sick when it arrived, and the shelter cared for it for over a month before putting it up for adoption.

    Anyhow, I still feel mixed about giving the kittens up, but they all assured me that they would work with them extensively, and two of the three were already to the point where they'd sit in my lap, so I'm not that worried. But they also now have a barn cat program where they adopt cats who are partially socialized, but not tame enough to be house cats. So assuming they don't test positive for FeLV after the waiting period, they told me the barn cat program would be the worst case scenario. I really hope that's true, and that they weren't just telling me lies.

    But I do admit, part of me still feels like a horrible person for taking them to the shelter. And while I was there a man came in with a cat in a box. He was sobbing. Through his tears I heard him say "I just can't afford to keep her." My heart just broke for this guy.

    Anyhow... not sure where I'm going with this, but I am just really hopeful that everything that I was told was indeed true, and that the shelters really have changed from the days when they were just warehousing animals for a few days before killing them. The kittens all tested clean before I surrendered them, and I think they said they'd re-test them in 6-8 weeks. It's still too soon, but I've been watching their adoption pages, and pretty much all of the cats under a year old go quickly - even the ones who are graduates of the "feline fortitude" socialization program (meaning they weren't entirely socialized when they were brought in.) So I'm trying to remain hopeful and to believe that I did the right thing. But since the shelter can't ever tell me what happened to them I'll never know. Leap of faith I guess. Sigh.

  3. it is so easy to condemn and sometimes so hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes. This is a very good post to remind us what we assume to be true isn't always, but even if it isn't that there are way worse options so we should be glad they did what they could.