May 31, 2015

Audience: Executive Leadership, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers, Veterinary Team

Organization: Maddie's Fund
Investigator(s): Amber Freiwald
Grant Amount: n/a
Project Type: Basic Research
Project Status: Research Complete

Project Summary

In this survey, we examined the extent to which the concept of pet rehoming was encouraged or implemented as a pet relinquishment diversion strategy by sheltering organizations. Pet relinquishment (e.g., owner surrender) is a very common occurrence in our work; however, only 49% of organizations surveyed here reported to empower the pet owner to find a home for their pet themselves to a "great extent".


To identify practices that were successful in shortening length of stay, or prevented the pets from entering the shelter entirely; specifically, to understand to what degree organizations are empowering or encouraging pet owners to rehome their pets as an alternative to shelter surrender.


Data was collected from a convenience sample survey distributed via the Maddie's Fund® list serve. The survey covered three scenarios, the third of which is discussed in this report. It sought out respondents who were administrators, staff members and volunteers of U.S. animal shelters, rescue organizations or municipal animal services, with the request that the survey be completed by only one respondent from each organization. Survey submissions represented a diverse group of organizations that varied both structurally and geographically. These results were not analyzed for statistical significance.


  • Among the organizations we queried in this survey, pet relinquishment was a very common occurrence.
  • Excluding those that never saw similar relinquishment scenarios, less than half, 49%, of organizations serving both dogs and cats, as well as those serving dogs only, reportedly empowered pet owners to find a home for their pet themselves to a "great extent;" the number increases to 64% of cat-only groups.
  • Fewer than half reported doing an effective job of supporting owner rehoming efforts.
  • The only major category of assistance provided by the groups we surveyed was advice given over the phone, with practical help such as website listings, space for flyers, or written tips or templates being offered only in relatively few cases. For example, of groups handling both dogs and cats, only 38% offered a free rehoming listing on their organization's website; the number was higher for dog-only and cat-only groups, but still only a little over half did so. In municipal shelters, the number fell to 16%
  • Respondents who reported that their organization didn't empower pet owners to find a home for the pet themselves or empower pet owners "to a small extent" were asked to comment as to why not. Topping the list was fear - fear of animal cruelty or placement in inappropriate homes, of abandonment or "dumping," or of liability and public safety issues. Organizations also saw conflicts with their perceived mission, felt their policies didn't allow it, or even had no idea why they weren't doing it. And a large segment, 21%, believed pet owners had "already made up their minds" and weren't open to alternatives, while 18% believed pet owners "wouldn't do the work" or weren't willing to accept assistance.
  • In contrast, 79% of dog-and-cat-serving organizations surveyed agreed the shelter should be "an option of last resort" for rehoming pets. Ninety-one percent of municipal shelters surveyed believed the shelter should be the last resort even while offering the least support for owner rehoming (of those surveyed).


Given findings, shelters and rescue groups may want to consider the following: networking with organizations that are successfully implementing direct rehoming assistance for guardians who cannot keep their pets; implementing pilot programs to determine the effectiveness of different forms of assistance in stemming the flow of owner surrenders to the organization; and engaging with programs such as Pets for Life for protocols and guidance.