May 31, 2017
Categories: Organizational Management, Adoption

What if there was a resource that would allow pets in need of a new home find adopters without ever going into a shelter? Increasingly, there is!

When faced with life-altering circumstances,  families can find keeping their pets impossible. Although no one who loves their pet wants them to enter a shelter, alternatives can be difficult to imagine, let alone find. The very circumstances that usually lead to this difficult decision — illness, job loss or a housing crisis — along with the stress of not being able to locate an adoption organization willing or able to assist, only make it worse.

Most people already know how to find a pet to adopt. Searches on sites like Petfinder and, as well as social media and in classifieds like Craigslist, make it easy to find local pets without leaving your home.

But it’s only been fairly recently that the pets of people seeking to find a new home for them on their own have been able to be included in such searches, as re-homing services have achieved greater popularity. Just this year, added direct community re-homing to its services, and a growing number of animal shelters have been providing searchable listings on their websites for community members.

One such shelter is the Dane County Humane Society, which has actually offered such a service for the last ten years. In fact, Maddie’s Fund’s own Dr. Laurie Peek, a veterinarian in Dane County, adopted her Collie, Juno, through a connection made on their site seven years ago.

“I was looking for a dog on the DCHS site, and as I scrolled through the listings, I saw the option to see what animals were available in the community,” she said. “So I kept scrolling until I saw two Collies I was interested in. It was incredibly easy!”

“We started the re-homing service to help people and animals,” said Erin Woodward, DCHS shelter resource supervisor. “We wanted an option for people to re-home their pets instead of surrendering them to the shelter. And we found that many people were very willing to hold onto their animals and search for the right home for them, a home that they would be able to choose. They wanted, and we wanted, an option to surrender.”

It turned out to be a very good option. “It’s a tough thing for most people, to have to re-home a pet,” said Woodward. “Having some control, having the pet go from their home to a new home, is a big reassurance for people who are usually already facing a difficult time in their life.”

The service is popular with adopters and people seeking re-homing assistance alike. DCHS gets at least 2-3 new posts every day, and the pets are almost always re-homed within the first 30 days of being listed.

The organization has the same requirements for community pets as for pets in their own facility: If over 6 months old, the pets need to be spayed or neutered and up to date on appropriate vaccines. They also provide support to help the pet get noticed. “We encourage people to include why they’re re-homing the pet, and notes about the animal’s personality. We tell them what really sets a listing apart, however, is the photos. People connect much  more if there are photos, or multiple photos. It brings people in, creates more interest.”

They also encourage people to be open about the animal, to make sure he or she goes to a home that will be a great fit for the pet.  “We also try to encourage people to talk with potential adopters.,” said Woodward. “Some do home visits, or have the person meet the pet in their home. Everyone has their own way of determining what will be a good fit for their pet. We encourage them to ask questions and become comfortable with the adopters. They know their animal better than anyone, so having them determine who will be a good fit is what we do.”

“We’ve really been pushing this in the last year since we began taking surrender appointments,” she said. “If the animal can avoid the shelter, it’s all the better for the pet, the adopters, the original owner and the shelter.”

Not everyone takes advantage of this resource, however. “Some people feel they’ve already exhausted their options for re-homing, and some just won’t do it,” said Woodward. “But most are very interested. For the most part, people really want to find a good home for their animal, so are very honest and open about if the pet needs a special home, such as one without children. They want the pet to go to a good home. You can tell they really care about them and want to find the best outcome for that animal.”

The re-home option is also something owners are encouraged to utilize while waiting for surrender appointments. “We send an email after we make a surrender appointment, with lots of resources to keep the pets in the home and use the re-homing service,” she said. “Quite a few of them were able to re-home their pets on their own. We get a lot of email asking us to take the listing down early, and saying how thankful they are that this service is out there for them.”

A sample of the comments received by DCHS bear that out:

  • “I am getting flooded with emails! Thank you so much! And thank you for having a section for people looking to re-home! This has been a huge help for us and we have found amazing families through it. Thank you!”
  • “I wanted to let you know that your re-homing board worked. We found a wonderful new home for Zoey with a family in McFarland. They have a lot of land and the time and energy that Zoey really needs right now. They were also willing to let us visit her if we’d like to and after a few visits we realized that they were a fabulous fit. We will not need our appointment tomorrow, (and) thank you for all of your help during this difficult time for our family.”
  • “Callie was successfully re-homed today. We took our time and selected a couple who own a home in Whitewater. They came here and spent time with Callie and us. We found them to be so nice and they love animals (they have a house rabbit). We took Callie to their house today and helped them set her up in their bedroom just to give her a smaller space for a few days to absorb the shock of being re-homed. We happily gave them her cat trees, scratch posts and everything else so Callie will have lots of familiar stuff…. We can’t thank you and DHS enough for the opportunity to post on the site.”

Woodward encourages shelters to implement a similar program for their communities. “We consider it a minor effort on the part of the shelter with a big impact. We don’t have to use a lot of our resources keeping up on this, and it makes a huge difference in preventing animals from coming here, which does take a lot of time and resources.”

Dr. Peek said there are many benefits for the adopters, as well, when they adopt a pet through a re-homing service instead of a shelter. “I got to know all about Juno before making the decision — if he was potty trained, what he was like with other pets, details about his personality. Those are the kinds of things a family or foster can tell you, that aren’t always obvious when a pet is in a shelter, where they can be under a lot of stress and not in a normal environment.”

From the point of view of the original family, Dr. Peek said, “with a re-homing service community members get to expose their pet to a much larger audience that’s looking for a pet, while keeping their pet in the home where he’s safe and comfortable.”

Juno wasn’t being placed by his owners, but by a foster-based rescue group in the community who listed on the shelter website. Dr. Peek saw that as a plus as well. “This wasn’t a dog being re-homed by an owner, but a rescue group that was listing with the shelter,” she said. “People who go into fostering are usually dog-savvy. They meet a lot of dogs. And in this case, she was a great support for the process. She was very invested in him, and in his success.”

Not only that, Dr. Peek said, Juno’s foster mom turned out to be a great pet sitter for all her family’s pets.

All in all, said Woodward, “This is a really great alternative for people who don’t want their pet to go to a shelter, and are able to keep the animal until he or she finds a home. It really helps the community feel more comfortable about re-homing their pet, and helps people who want to go directly to the previous home and know exactly what they’re getting.”

Photo: Juno, by Dr. Laurie Peek