Giving Up a Pet

On a daily basis, heartbroken people choke back tears as they say goodbye to their pets when they surrender them at our shelter. Deciding to turn a pet into an animal shelter is often a very emotional and difficult experience. It catches people off guard, even when they thought that they were prepared and had made the best decision possible.

Whatever the reason, whether it’s the pet’s behavior or some kind of lifestyle change for the person that has led them to the conclusion that they cannot keep their pet, most people report feelings of grief and guilt. For the pet, it is the loss of the life and people they know and love. The saddest part is that, in at least some cases, there are other options that the heartbroken person was not aware existed.

Given the emotional cost of giving up a pet, we try to help people make that difficult decision for all the right reasons. In a surprising number of cases, we are able to help people find a way to keep their pet as a member of their family. Sometimes the solutions are challenging, but in most cases it is far easier than you might imagine.

Finding Alternatives

The two most common reasons for giving up a pet are a troubling behavior the pet is exhibiting or a lifestyle change for the person. When a pet is doing something that is not acceptable, it can be rather distressing and perplexing. However, there are often solutions to even seemingly intractable behavior problems.

One family called us last week to give up their cat because their cat was missing the litter box and doing her business in the most annoying places. A young woman called because she had given up on her out-of-control dog; she could no longer have people over and walking the dog was a chore because the dog was pulling constantly. Another caller talked about how his dog just would not stay in the back yard and kept getting out and into trouble; it seemed impossible to keeping the dog contained. Each of these callers felt that there was little hope of finding a solution, but our Animal Help Desk staff at Nevada Humane Society was able to help each of the callers resolve the problem and keep their pet.

In some cases, resolving a behavior problem can be as simple as a visit to a vet clinic. What can seem to be behavioral can actually be a symptom of a medical problem  treat the medical problem and the behavior is resolved too.  In other cases, some training or basic behavior modification techniques can put things back on track. There are things you can do on your own, but the help of a professional trainer can make a tremendous difference very quickly. There are also many types of tools and specialized pet supplies available that can help you control a strong dog on a walk, keep a pet in the yard, end chewing or clawing furniture, or draw a kitty back to the litter box.

Lifestyle changes, such as relocation, a new baby, pet allergies, or the loss of a job, are the most common reason for giving up a pet. While these can seem even more intractable than behavior problems, this is not necessarily so. We have helped people find pet-friendly housing, manage allergies, and find temporary care for their pets.

Since most people are not animal behavior experts or aware of every option available for their pet, Nevada Humane Society’s Animal Help Desk is an invaluable free resource available to everyone. We often hear from grateful people who have found the solution they did not dream was possible. But even if, in the end, the pet really cannot stay with their person, a shelter still may not be the best option. We can help people find the best solution for both them and their pet.

Those who seek out help and advice find that, even if they cannot keep their pet, they feel better and experience less stress and guilt over their decision. We all feel best when we know that we are making the best possible decisions for ourselves and our pets.

What Happens If Your Pets Outlive You

Pets play an important role in the lives of the people who love them. We get great pleasure from them and they depend on us for love and daily care. So what happens if your pet outlives you?

  • Who will keep him in the loving atmosphere you created for him?
  • Who will make sure she is fed her favorite food?
  • Who will take him to the vet and ensure he gets special treatment and care if needed?
  • Who will take her for a walk and out for play dates?
  • Will he end up being taken to animal control and euthanized because nobody adopted him?

Sadly, most people have not thought much about the fate of their pets in the event of a tragedy. For once-loved pets, the results can be sad and painful. Here at Nevada Humane Society and other animal shelters, a steady flow of pets come in whose owners have died.

If a pet owner has not made arrangements for the care of their pet, the pet is at risk of becoming homeless, and sadly for some, that ends in death. Assuming that friends or relatives will step in to provide a home for your pet, puts your pet in danger. By making arrangements in advance and putting these in writing, you can protect your pet from an uncertain future.

The most reliable method to provide for a pet that outlives you is to create an enforceable trust that will require distributions to a designated human beneficiary to cover the pet’s expenses while at the same time requiring the beneficiary to take proper care of the pet.

You will need a lawer to assit you in drafting the trust, as pets are not allowed legal standing. So selecting the right human beneficiary and a lawyer who can help ensure that your plans are carried out are the two most imporatnat decisions you will make to safeguard the well-being of your pet into the future.

Another option is finding an animal sanctuary, shelter, or pet retirement home and making them the designated beneficiary who will be responsible for the care of your pet. It is always wise to visit the facility in person to be sure that it meets your standards. You will also want to ask questions, including:

  • Will they adopt the pet out? What are their adoption policies?
  • Will they provide lifetime care in their facility?
  • What is their euthanasia policy?
  • What kind of daily care and veterinary care is provided?
  • How much individual human attention will the animal receive?

At Nevada Humane Society, we seek new homes for pets who are orphaned by their people and provide care until an appropriate home can be found. Other shelters have similar programs available; some organizations offer lifetime care in their facility, but do not do adoption. You will want to check out the various options and decide what is best for you and your pet.

If you select an individual instead of an organization, you should name several alternate caretakers should your first choice be unable to serve for the duration of the pet’s life. It is often a good idea to authorize the trustee to select a good home for the pet should none of the named individuals be willing or able to accept the animal.

The pet owner should compute the resources necessary to care for the animal. The animal’s life expectancy, the standard of living the owner wishes to provide for the animal, and the need for potentially expensive medical treatment will be among the factors to consider.

You will also want to consider your individual pet’s preferences. Particularly with older pets, finding a situation that will provide the pet with a good quality of life is important. Often, older cats or dogs find change stressful and adjustment to a new environment can be difficult for them. Finding a new person to care for older pets in a home environment is usually a far better option than life in even the nicest of facilities.

There are several wonderful resources available for pet owners who want to learn more about making plans in case their pets outlive them. A search online will turn up helpful websites and you may also want to read When Your Pet Outlives You: Protecting Animal Companions After You Die by David Congalton.

The most important thing is to not put off planning for your pet’s future. After all, tomorrow isn’t promised to any of us.

Adopting Older Pets

Puppies and kittens are cute beyond words, but older pets have other charms and benefits that come with maturity. Adult pets, especially those with a few years of life experience, are often already housetrained, and they are usually calmer than more rambunctious, younger pets. In spite of these benefits, older pets are more likely to be overlooked in animal shelters, even though they may have many more years of love to give.

While older pets can be a joy to people of all ages, they are a natural fit for older people. For that reason, Nevada Humane Society and many other shelters offer special adoption rates to senior citizens when they adopt a mature pet.

The benefits of pets for seniors are well documented including lower blood pressure, reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, and improved overall health resulting in fewer doctor appointments. Many seniors also report that pets give them a renewed sense of being needed and provide companionship that wards off feelings of loneliness.

There are a few things to consider before showing up on your grandmother’s doorstep with a new dog.. If the pet is not for you but a gift for someone else, giving a gift certificate for a pet adoption is definitely the way to go. That way the recipient gets to select their own pet. All relationships depend somewhat upon chemistry and adopting a pet is no different. Selecting the pet is a great experience and one you can share with the senior citizen in your life.

“That was quite an experience coming to pick out my present from my granddaughter, a new cat,” wrote Lois who is 79 years of age. “I was looking for a striped cat, but when I passed Missy, a tuxedo cat, she curled up her paw as if to say, ‘come here, I want you!’ When I first took her home she hid under the couch, but she soon came out and right to me and into my heart. When a visitor comes over, into their lap she goes. I have always had cats, but never one like this!”

We recently received a photo of a contented orange kitty sprawled on the floor with a note from Phyllis that read; “Almost three years ago, I adopted Taffy. I had lost a cat I had for 18 years and came to the shelter to find a new kitty. Taffy picked me and she is my best friend. ”

Lifestyle should also influence choice of pets for everyone but especially for seniors. If you or your older friend or family member likes going for relaxed walks, a nice older dog may be a perfect fit.

“Millie came to live with us just after New Year’s Day. There’s still a lot of pup in this 10-year-old,” wrote Linda. “Millie and Bella, our other dog, play every day. We are so thankful we found her!”

For many less active people, an adult cat or small dog may be the best choice. Just this week, Mr. Fantastic, a handsome 12-year-old cat who had been at the shelter for quite a while, was adopted. The description on his cage card said: “I am a fantastic cat – all love and sweetness. I will shower you with affection!” Charlene, a 72-year-old who recently moved to Reno, came and fell in love with Mr. Fantastic’s good looks and sweet nature. Talking with Charlene, it is obvious that they are delighted with their life together.

Retirement and the void created when children have moved out leave some people living alone and lonely. The companionship of a pet not only helps people to live longer, but dramatically improves their quality of life. The pets are winners too – adopting an older pet can quite literally save their lives.

Understanding Pit Bulls

Sadly, pitbulls are the dogs who most often lose their lives in animal shelters. At Nevada Humane Society, we strive to judge each dog as an individual while at the same time, understanding specific breed characteristics.

It’s helpful to know that the term, pit bull, is a generic term commonly used to describe dogs with similar traits and characteristics. The term “pit bull,” as it is used here, enompasses American Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers.

To provide an overview of the breed characteristics of pit bulls we often refer pople to the Pit Bull Rescue Central website. Here are excerpts from their postings:

It’s unfortunate that one of the original purposes of the pit bull was dog fighting, but it is a fact that cannot be denied or ignored. Even more unfortunate is the fact that they are still chosen for this purpose, even though it is illegal in all fifty states and in certain instances, as the Michael Vick case illustrates, a federal crime.

To provide an overview of the breed characteristics of pit bulls we often refer pople to the Pit Bull Rescue Central website. Here are excerpts from their postings:

It’s unfortunate that one of the original purposes of the pit bull was dog fighting, but it is a fact that cannot be denied or ignored. Even more unfortunate is the fact that they are still chosen for this purpose, even though it is illegal in all fifty states and in certain instances, as the Michael Vick case illustrates, a federal crime.

Pit bulls have superior physical and mental characteristics that make them excellent partners for responsible, active, and caring owners. These same outstanding qualities can also make them a little difficult to handle for people who don’t have a lot of experience with dog ownership or for those who don’t understand the breed well.

Pit bulls are intelligent, very responsive to training, and, above all, eager to please. Therefore, pit bulls should be enrolled in obedience classes as soon as they are up-to-date on their shots. (Pit bulls are more susceptible to parvovirus, so it is important that they receive all their vaccinations.) A well-behaved pit bull is the best ambassador for the breed.

Many pit bulls are easygoing couch potatoes, but like all terriers, they can also be somewhat rambunctious until they mature. Maturity can come relatively late with this breed (two to three years old). They are energetic, agile, and strong. They are also very resourceful and driven – which is why training is so critical.

Perhaps the most important characteristic of pit bulls is their amazing love of people. Many people are surprised by the loving personality of these dogs the first time they meet one. Pit bulls are remarkably affectionate and truly enjoy human attention. In fact, most pit bulls think they are lap dogs!

Humans have created dog breeds by emphasizing desirable traits and eliminating unwanted ones. It is no different with pit-bull-type dogs. In the same way that Labrador Retrievers were bred to retrieve birds, pit bulls were originally bred for dog fighting and bull and bear baiting. This does not, however, mean that fighting is the sole purpose of these breeds.

Throughout their history in America, pit bull dogs have been valued as beloved members of the family. Their negative media image developed only recently. In fact, pit bulls have fulfilled important roles throughout the last 160-plus years of American history. In the nineteenth century, pit bulls were family pets of settlers crossing the United States. They were trusted to watch the children while the adults worked in the fields. As the years passed, pit bulls achieved a position of reverence among Americans, and they appeared in advertising campaigns such as Buster Brown and Pup Brand. A classic children’s television show, The Little Rascals, featured Petey the Pit Bull. The pit bull is the only breed to have graced the cover of Life magazine three times.

In the early twentieth century, pit bulls were so respected for their loyalty, determination, and bravery that they were chosen to represent America in WWI posters. The first decorated canine war hero was a pit bull named Sergeant Stubby. He was, until his death, a guest of every White House administration.

Pit bull type dogs can be wonderful, loving, and very loyal companions just as much as retrievers, shepherds, or terriers. However, it is important to understand the breed’s nature, to provide a structured environment, and to establish a positive leadership role. In order to do so, pit bull owners must understand the original purpose of the breed, respect its limits, and help their dog fulfill its tremendous potential. This is sound advice for dog owners of any breed.

For more information on pit bull type dogs, please check out the following websites:

• Pit Bull Rescue Central –

• BAD RAP, Bay Area Doglovers Responsible About Pitbulls –

Nevada Humane Society has a variety of lovable pit bulls, as well as many other breeds, available for adoption. Come meet our many dogs and cats at 2825 Longley Lane in Reno – all any of them want is a loving home and family.

New Animal Services Leader Talks about His Work and Plans

The animals who end up in animal shelters are totally dependant upon the people who work in the shelters to do all they can to save their lives. In turn, the shelters rely upon the community for their help and support. In Washoe County, local humane groups and thousands of animal lovers have worked together to achieve one of the highest save rates in the country for homeless pets. There are still many more animals in need in our community, but the progress is something of which we can all be proud. Animal Services, with their dual role of public safety and animal protection, is a key player in this success.

Recently, Mitch Schneider was named Manager of Washoe County Regional Animal Services (WCRAS). In many ways, this role is the next logical step for Schneider in a lifetime interest in animals.

“According to my mother, I was bringing found animals home as early as three years of age,” said Schneider. “Our first dog was a German Shepherd that was adopted from a shelter; she turned out to be a fantastic dog.”

Schneider began his career with animals as a professional dog trainer. In addition to competing nationally and winning awards in the dog show circuit, Schneider taught basic canine obedience training. “I really enjoyed helping people with their dogs,” said Schneider. “When I got into animal services work, I found I was able to continue helping people and that my dog training background came in handy.”

As the former head of field services for WCRAS, Schneider lead a proactive effort to reunite pets with their people rather than impounding them. WCRAS has one of the highest return-to-owner rates for dogs in the country, with over 60% of the dogs being reunited with their people.

“We need every pet owner to help by spaying or neutering and getting identification on their pets,” said Schneider. “Identification allows us to get found pets back home instead of impounding them; this reduces shelter costs and is better for the pet and owner alike. A microchip is the best form of identification.”

Schneider’s passion for seeing people reunited with their lost pets has made him a strong advocate for microchipping. A microchip, about the size of a large grain of rice, is inserted under the skin of a dog, cat or other animal. This chip can then be read with a scanner and the resulting number links the pet to their owner. Unlike a collar that can come off or be removed, the microchip provides permanent identification for a pet. Any vet clinic or animal shelter can scan for a chip to identify an animal and reunite them with their owner.

WCRAS recently launched a new web site,, which includes links to view found pets housed at their shelter and obtain dog licenses.

One of Schneider’s current projects is developing a volunteer pet detective program to assist with reuniting lost pets with their owners. Anyone interested in volunteering as a pet detective should call WCRAS at 775-353-8908.

To help ensure that animals who are not reunited with their people are given every opportunity to find a new home, Schneider is committed to working with Nevada Humane Society, the SPCA of Northern Nevada, and other animal rescue groups who in turn adopt animals out to people in our community. These cooperative relationships are key to the lifesaving success for homeless pets in Washoe County.

“If it is true that you can judge a community by the way it treats its animals, then Washoe County can take comfort in knowing they are one of the best communities,” said Schneider. “However, I’m also going to add a plea to every pet owner to microchip their pet, because it’s so important to keeping pets in their homes and out of animal shelters.”

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