Rehoming a pet: How to cope with the grief

If you’ve given up a pet for rehoming, it may have been one of the hardest decisions of your life. It’s likely that you deeply loved and cherished your pet but you came to the decision that your family wasn’t the right one for them to really thrive.

As much as we would all like to make a life-long commitment to our pets, the reality is that this isn’t always possible. 

Behavioural issues, a change in circumstances, poor health (yours or your pet’s), clashes within the family, work and family commitments, financial struggles – these can all feed into the decision to rehome.

Having said goodbye to your pet, perhaps to a rescue centre or foster home, you may find that you are experiencing grief that’s as strong as if your pet had died.

However, you may feel that you don’t have a right to grieve because you voluntarily surrendered your pet for rehoming or that other people don’t understand your loss. 

It can be incredibly hard to talk about this and we want you to know that you’re not alone.

The grief and guilt of rehoming a pet

The grief of rehoming tends to be layered with emotions such as guilt and shame. You may feel like you’ll never forgive yourself for this decision. 

Giving a pet up for rehoming is never easy and there are very few people who can do this without any misgivings. 

People who have lived through this experience often say that they still reflect on it years later. However, the majority also believe it was the right thing to do, maybe because it is rarely a decision that’s taken lightly.

What’s clear is that it’s important to show yourself compassion at this difficult time.

We’ve put together some tips to help you find peace and comfort:

  • Acknowledge your grief

Regardless of the circumstances, you have lost a pet for whom you cared deeply. It’s natural to grieve and it’s important that you allow yourself to experience your feelings. 

Loss is loss, no matter what, and your grief is valid. 

  • Reflect on your reasons for rehoming

Most people who give a pet up for rehoming do so because they no longer feel able to adequately meet all of the animal’s needs. 

It takes great courage to admit that an animal may be better off in a different environment or with different people caring for them.

Your needs matter too. Maybe you’ve been doing everything possible to care for your pet but to your own detriment or that of your family. 

When you feel able, allow yourself to reflect on your reasons for rehoming. Remember, you had everyone’s best interests at heart.

  • Animals adapt

Animals are survivors and far better able to live in the moment than us humans. Of course, they remember their past experiences and people but they also adapt surprisingly well to new situations.

Your pet will not be placing blame or judging you. They won’t be reflecting on what went wrong or why life has changed. Yes, they may feel worried, uncertain or even scared at first but they will soon adjust to their new normal.

Have you explored the possibility of receiving some updates about how your pet is settling and life with their new family? This may reassure you that they’re well and loved. However, in some scenarios, it is not possible to get updates.

  • Ignore other people’s opinions

The issue of rehoming a pet is deeply emotive. Often, the only time people will hear about the topic is on television when abuse cases and neglect provide the emotional hook for the programme.

Of course, these cases are horrendous but they are completely separate to rehoming a pet out of love and a commitment to doing the right thing for them.

It’s very easy to judge someone from the outside looking in and you may find that some people do this to you. However, you know the truth of your situation and what is right for your pet and your family.

It’s no one else’s business because they’ve never experienced your unique circumstances. Remind yourself that anyone who’s judgemental of your decision to rehome doesn’t have all the facts. Therefore, they’re judging a fictional scenario.

  • Know your sadness will bring someone else happiness

While you may not have been able to offer your pet the right environment for their needs, their new home will hopefully be the perfect fit.

You know how lovable and special your pet is and now someone else will get to experience great happiness because of your decision to rehome.

  • Don’t feel bad about feeling relief

As well as feelings of grief, guilt and more, you may also have a sense of relief, of a weight being lifted, that you don’t have to factor your pet’s needs into your daily life anymore.

This can be confusing and distressing but, again, it’s an entirely natural response to resolving what has been an ongoing source of stress.

  • It’s time to show yourself kindness and compassion

Right now, your thoughts are probably consumed by your pet’s welfare. You’re wondering if they’re okay, if they’re missing you, if they feel sad or rejected.

Remind yourself that you handed your pet over to someone responsible who would take care of their needs.

Your priority has to be to show yourself some kindness and compassion. What are your needs right now?

Reach out if you need to talk to someone. Rest, eat good food, exercise, do things that light you up inside. 

As with all grief, you will have good days and bad days and eventually find a way to make sense of this life-changing experience. 

Just know that whatever you’re feeling, it matters.

Need to talk? Our supportive pet loss community offers a safe and compassionate space to grieve.

Shailen and The Ralph Site team
The Ralph Site, non-profit pet loss support

10 thoughts on “Rehoming a pet: How to cope with the grief

  1. Robbie Hamilton

    Thank you so much for this. You said everything I am feeling and it helps me not feel so alone. This has been heartbreaking…I can’t stop crying. My Americus was my baby, my constant buddy and I am devastated. 💔

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  2. Joshua Hovey

    I had to surrender my cat Bella due to unexpected changes in our household (Toddler has severe allergy). Ever since I dropped her off I haven’t stopped crying, I wish I came across this article before I did the surrender. I thought I was the only one going through these emotions , and people really do shame you for wanting to surrender. Hardest thing I have ever had to do , I miss my baby dearly !!

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  3. Gary

    We just gave up our 2 dear cats to rehoming group yesterday due to behavioral issues. We have been crying off and on since then. I’ve just been thinking about how scared they must be in a new place.

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  4. Jane

    This has been one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. And it was something that could have been prevented. A few months ago my mother decided she wanted to get puppies but there was no space for them and she couldn’t care for them properly. I begged her not to get puppies but she got them anyway. I tried not to get close to them but I also felt so bad that I ended up exercising and looking after them at times but I never fully committed. Because I can’t afford to look after puppies at the moment.
    In the end I made such a scene that two days ago eventually she let us take them away to the SPCA ( animal shelter ) to be rehomed. Don’t think I can forgive what she did or the fact that she put me through this. It has been horrible these past two days. I keep remembering the look on their faces before we left. I pray that they are rehomed safely. I know it was the right decision but the pain is still there. Thank you for this article. I don’t feel as much guilt as before.

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    1. Amy

      I’m going through the exact same situation. My 75 year old mother decided she wanted two dogs and got a Golden Retriever and a Boxer mix as puppies. I warned her previously that this was not a good idea and that the dogs would be very large and hard to handle. She had them for about nine months and decided it was too much. During that time, I bonded with them and loved them. She eventually found a person that was willing to rehome them, and I had to say goodbye to them today. My heart is broken and I can’t stop crying! I am also so pissed off at my mother for creating this situation and her attitude toward the whole thing.

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  5. Eve

    Thanks for this article been feeling this. We had to surrender our dog because he had health issues and we couldn’t afford his medical bills. He’s in a good place but I feel like I abandoned him when he needed us most but I also know we loved him enough to let go and have someone else care for him properly. We miss him and I know I will feel this for a while. Thanks again I really needed this.

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  6. Cassandra

    I just rehomed my 2 dogs because of a divorce and having to move to an apartment. I didn’t think the situation would be good for them. They were used to a big yard to run and play in, and I have some medical issues that would make it too hard to care for them if I have to walk them on a leash every time they have to go out. I feel so SAD and am devastated being without them. They were my best friends and I loved them so much. I made sure they had good homes to go to, but I wonder if I will ever get over this awful loss! I hope they are happy and are not upset that I had to give them up. I hope Frankie (my frug) is chasing around the little boy he now lives with and loves his big backyard. Maggie, my Boston Terrier, is with my ex husband, who she loves. I hope this pain does not last forever. Sometimes I regret my decision, even though I know it was best for them. I hope they don’t ever think that they did something wrong!

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