Faced with Rehoming a Dog or Cat? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

By: Alyssa SparacinoUpdated:

rehoming dogs
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Faced with Rehoming a Dog or Cat? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

For most pet parents, the idea of giving up their beloved animal is heartbreaking. But sometimes, when circumstances change, even the most devoted animal lovers must make a difficult choice: rehoming their dog, cat or other pet.

When Lisa Chernick’s elderly father was diagnosed with cancer last year, her family quickly realized they were struggling to care for their 65-pound dog, Bogey. With his dad sick, Bogey, a then 12-year-old Golden Retriever, wasn't getting much, if any, activity or playtime, and the family didn’t have the energy or resources to care for him properly. So, they looked into rehoming, and soon found the perfect new family for Bogey.

“Bogey went to his new home where he had another dog sibling, and three young kids to play with and walk him every day,” Chernick says. “It was like he had an unexpected second act late in life.”

Bogey’s story illustrates perhaps one of the biggest misconceptions about rehoming dogs or cats. While rehoming a pet should never be taken lightly, it’s also not a selfish act; it is very often in the best interest of both the animal and the previous parents. “It’s not abandoning their pet,” says Dana Puglisi, chief marketing officer at Adopt-a-Pet.com, the nonprofit organization behind Rehome, a nationwide peer-to-peer adoption program launched in 2017. “It’s not leaving them and saying ‘good luck.’ It’s really ensuring they are going to be well cared for and loved.”

There are many resources and lots of expert advice that can help you avoid rehoming your pet (more on these below). But if it does become necessary, this guide to rehoming dogs and cats can help lead you through the process so everyone wins in the end.

What Is Rehoming?

Rehoming a pet essentially means “a pet going from one loving home to another loving home,” explains Puglisi. “It’s not a pet who’s in a shelter, who’s finding an adopter. It’s a pet who’s in a home already and going into another loving family.”

The reasons someone might need to rehome their dog or cat can vary, but common catalysts are:

  • Financial loss
  • Terminal or chronic illness of the caretakers
  • Lifestyle changes such as longer working hours away from home
  • Moving to a non-pet-friendly location

Pet parents sometimes rehome their pet themselves by seeking out a worthy adopter using their own connections. However, animal advocates recommend using a rehoming service to ensure the process is safe and reliable. Working with an established animal organization like Rehome by Adopt-a-Pet.com can widen the pool of potential new parents for your pet, and animal groups are also skilled at screening out unqualified or dangerous candidates.

“We see Rehome as a safety net,” Puglisi says. “It shouldn't be your first course of action—it should be your last. We’d like to see pets remain in their home when they can—Rehome is here for when they can’t.”

Resources for Pet Parents to Avoid Rehoming

Rehoming your pet should be a last resort. There are many resources you can use to avoid having to rehome, including:

  • Professional help for behavioral issues: For difficult behaviors that you’re unable to manage on your own, seek the advice of a trainer, behaviorist or even your vet (to rule out underlying health conditions), if you have the means.
  • Financial assistance: Many local and national organizations offer grants to pet parents who are struggling to afford pet care, covering everything from medical bills to pet deposit fees for renting a new home. Ask your local shelter or rescue if they have a financial assistance program, and also check out RedRover, a nonprofit that offers grants to those who can’t afford emergency veterinary expenses.
  • Pet food banks: If you’re unable to afford your pet’s food, search for a pet food bank in your area. These resources expanded in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to support pet parents who are getting back on their feet.
  • Pro-bono professional care: Some organizations offer free or low-cost veterinary services, spay/neuter surgeries and/or behavioral training for pets. Ask about the options your local shelter or rescue offers.

The Benefits of Rehoming Dogs and Cats

There’s quite a bit of stigma and shame around the process of rehoming pets, Puglisi acknowledges, but choosing to find a better home for your pet has benefits for them, for you, and for your whole community.

For one, rehoming ensures a pet doesn’t have to go into the shelter system. Shelter staff and volunteers work hard to take the best care of their animals, but the shelter environment can be stressful for many pets. “It’s a very unfamiliar environment. It’s loud. There’s a lot of barking and just different noises they aren’t familiar with, different smells,” Puglisi says. Plus, keeping your pet out of a shelter doesn’t just help your pet—it allows limited shelter space to go to homeless pets.

Through vetting programs like Rehome, you can also find comfort in getting to know your pet’s new family. “You can really develop the relationship with the person you end up adopting to. We’ve heard stories where people end up keeping in touch with each other and still actually see their pet later on even though it’s not their pet anymore,” says Frances Vega, marketing partnerships manager at Adopt-a-Pet.com.

Plus, because you had a hand in choosing your pet’s new home life, you’ll see firsthand what the new adopters are able to provide for them. Maybe your dog’s new parents work from home and have a fenced-in backyard for lots of quality time and activity, whereas your job had you out of the house for 12 hours a day. Knowing your furry friend will thrive with their new family makes it easier to say goodbye.

And of course, with the right family, your pet will receive the care they need to live their best life—perhaps the biggest benefit of all.

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How Rehoming Works

The rehoming process will vary depending on the organization you choose to work with. Here’s how it works through Rehome by Adopt-a-Pet.com; other local or regional networks often follow similar steps.

1 Create an Adoption Profile

First, a pet parent creates an adoption profile using Rehome, sharing everything from their pet’s interests, temperament and behaviors to special quirks or traits (i.e. loves belly scratches; not a fan of cats; would do best in a no-kid household). They can also add photos and videos, which are great for showing off a pet’s personality, explains Vega. Once published, that profile will appear in the Adopt-a-Pet.com search results (among shelter and rescue animals) for the site’s millions of potential adopters to see.

2 Potential Adopters Apply to Adopt

Prospective pet parents who are interested in your pet’s profile fill out an application, sharing information about themselves and their family, as well as why they’re seeking a pet, among other questions.

3 Learn More About Potential Adopters

Current pet parents can review the applications and reach out directly to the potential adopters to learn more. Adopt-a-Pet.com’s Rehome experts will provide tips and smart questions to ask of candidates. They’ll also offer advice around what a good answer and a “red flag” might sound like, so overwhelmed pet parents know what to look for and what to avoid.

3 Choose the Right Fit for Your Pet

When you’ve decided on the perfect new home for your pet, both parties sign a document making the adoption legally binding—a measure for added security that makes rehoming through a service like Rehome a preferable option over doing it yourself. With Rehome, you also have the option to supply veterinary records to your pet’s new parents.

Rehoming Fees

Does it cost money to rehome a pet? No, it shouldn’t cost you anything to find a new home for your pet—in fact, according to animal groups, your pet’s future family should always pay for the privilege of giving them a home. You should never adopt out your pet for free. While it might be tempting to cast a wide net of potential adopters by offering your dog “free to a good home,” this can invite potentially dangerous applicants. “You may not know why someone is seeking a pet at no cost, how many pets they have already, and for what reason,” Puglisi says.

Additionally, when vetting adopters, asking for a fee can be seen as an indication a potential pet parent has the means to care for the pet long-term. “If you can’t pay a nominal adoption fee, what would you do in a case where there’s a large vet bill or some kind of unexpected cost that arises?” Puglisi asks. Paying a fee is an indication that the person is serious about caring for your pet, not making an impulsive decision.

When you adopt through Rehome, this fee goes either directly back into expanding and improving the Rehome program or to a shelter or rescue if the organization referred the former parent to the Rehome program.

How to Adopt a Rehomed Pet—and Why You Should

Adopt-a-Pet.com’s Rehome program is currently registering 15,000 to 17,000 animals per month nationwide. That’s a lot of pets who need new homes, and for many prospective pet parents, taking in a rehomed pet is the best decision for their family.

Many rehomed animals are adult dogs and cats, which can be a great solution for animal lovers who don’t have the bandwidth for, say, potty training or keeping their chewables hidden from a feisty puppy. Older pets have often grown out of those issues, Puglisi says.

Interested in adopting a rehomed dog or cat? Here’s how to do it:

1 Get Registered with an Organization

Some groups let prospective pet parents fill out applications in advance. That way, you are vetted and approved when the right animal comes along.

2 Browse Available Pets

The search for your new pet is on. Scroll through hundreds of thousands of available pet profiles from 19,000 animal shelters and rescues as well as from private owners using Rehome on Adopt-a-Pet.com or through your local shelter or rescue. On Adopt-a-Pet.com, any pet with a profile that says, “being cared for by a private owner,” is a rehomed pet, and you can apply to adopt directly from the bio. You can also follow your favorite shelters and rescues on social media for opportunities to foster or adopt if an animal comes back into their care.

3 Apply for the Pet You Want

The process for adopting a pet will vary from one organization to the next, but usually includes filling out an application, answering questions about your lifestyle, and paying an adoption fee. Find out more about the pet adoption process.

4 Connect With Your Pet's Parents

In addition to the questions in a standard application form, many pet parents will also want to get to know you better before allowing you to adopt their pet. Expect questions about your home, lifestyle, and ability to manage any behaviors or medical issues that have led them to rehome their pet.

5 Pay an Adoption Fee

When your application has been accepted, the final step in the adoption process is paying an adoption fee, which is typically at least $50. The adoption fees are typically much less than what it actually costs to care for a pet in the time leading up to adoption. You may also be asked to sign a legal document certifying the adoption, and can collect any medical records or other information about your pet from their parents.

6Bring Your Pet Home

Congrats! You’re giving a good pet a happy home, and helping your fellow pet parents in the process. Find out everything you need to know about caring for a new dog.

Didn’t find your perfect match? Thousands of pets still need loving homes, and you can search available pets from thousands of shelters and rescues nationwide here.

Rehoming dogs, cats and other pets is a last resort, but sometimes it is necessary—and when done right, it can improve the lives for everyone involved, including the pets themselves.

“Most people who are going through this process are heartbroken that they need to go through it,” Puglisi says. “It feels good to know that we’re providing peace of mind that their pet is well cared for longer term.”


By: Alyssa SparacinoUpdated: