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Left to Stray: Shedding Light on the Crisis of Animal Abandonment

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

Have you ever seen those billboards or advertisements that show a dog sitting in the road, watching a car driving away? Usually, the text says, “What did I do wrong for you to do this to me?” or “They’ll never give up looking for you.” Those get to me every single time. I have seen evidence of dogs chasing after cars as they drive away. I have sat with dogs after their owners have surrendered them at the shelter. They spend all of their time pacing their kennels and crying, wearing down their paw pads, and even breaking their teeth, trying to escape their kennels.

A photo of Robinson the day he was rescued

When I was working at an animal shelter as a rescue coordinator, we had a dog named Robinson that was picked up after being abandoned along the side of the road, emaciated and with a severe eye condition. He was so malnourished, that he couldn't stand on his own and needed to be carried to safety. His eyes were so damaged by an untreated ailment that our veterinarian had no choice but to do an emergency enucleation on both eyes.

He was only 2 years old.

What was done to Robinson had me in tears many times, and I have been known not to be easily affected by the horror of working in an animal shelter (call it traumatic desensitization, if you will). I was so invested in making sure that Robinson found the brightest future possible that I fostered him for weeks as I obsessively worked to find him the best possible outcome. And let me tell you, caring for a newly eyeless dog that couldn't even stand on his own yet was not easy, especially since Robinson was built to be a 90-pound dog.

Fortunately, Robinson was one of the lucky ones. He made a full recovery and, with the help of an insane amount of wet food and some assisted exercise, he could get around on his own pretty well. I was able to find a rescue for him in Indiana, and he found a home that promised him a future full of love despite the fact that his past was encased in agony.

Animal abandonment is a complex and multifaceted problem that affects countless animals and their communities. It is a problem that has many underlying causes, including financial hardship, lack of access to resources and education, and cultural attitudes toward animals. Despite the efforts of animal welfare organizations and individuals, the problem persists and continues to have a profound impact on the lives of both animals and humans.

I worked in an animal shelter for about 2 years, and I talked daily with members of the public as well as other animal welfare professionals. In doing this, I’ve developed a structure of 5 main points I want others to take away from conversations with me about the homeless animals at the shelter:

  • Reasons people abandon their animals

  • Consequences of animal abandonment

  • Ways to prevent animal abandonment

Causes of Animal Abandonment

There are various reasons why people abandon animals. Understanding these causes is crucial to develop effective solutions, and being open to the voices of your community without judgment is how you implement those solutions.

Financial Hardship

Generally, you will find that when a family or an individual is struggling financially, they tend to downsize and cut out elements of their life that they believe put a strain on their wallet. Usually, pets are the first thing for people to give up. Vet bills, pet food, and grooming bills add up, and they are rarely cheap.

Lifestyle Changes

One of the most common owner surrender reasons I have heard is that the family is expecting a child. Many pet owners have heard of or have seen the things that dogs have done to children, and, with the preference of being safer than sorry, they feel that the safest option is to give up their family dog.

A new baby isn't the only change of lifestyle. Health changes, changes in living situations, career changes, and other major life alterations are common reasons behind people abandoning their pets.

Behavior Issues

Behavior issues are one of the top 5 reasons people give up their dogs. When talking about behavior issues in dogs, that doesn’t always include aggressive behavior. Destructive behavior, high-energy behavior, and reactive behavior are common behavior types that cause many families to seek out ways to relieve themselves of their dogs. With training being expensive or unavailable, many dogs with these behavior types find themselves in a shelter or abandoned.

Pets with Special Needs

Having a pet with special needs can be rewarding for many households, but it can also be a source of frustration and financial hardship. This is true not only for people that have pets with medical disabilities but those with elderly pets are affected as well. The number of vet visits, time, and care can put a strain on many families, and many feel like they don't have a choice but to leave their pets behind.

Unwanted Pets

Many times, animal enforcement agencies will come across a person who simply doesn't want their pet. Whether it be that they got tired of having the responsibility of being a pet owner or because they simply want a better animal than the one that they have, unwanted are regularly abandoned in deserted areas or left behind when someone mives away.

Consequences of Animal Abandonment

Abandoning an animal is illegal in most American states. In the state of Texas, abandoning your animal can fall under “Cruelty to Livestock Animals” and “Cruelty of Non-Livestock Animals.” This is a felonious charge and can come with fine of $10,000 and up to 2 years in jail. Other states have similar laws that also encompass circus animals, laboratory animals, and wildlife.

Legal trouble isn't the only set of consequences that come with abandoning animals. Many seem to forget the consequences that the animals face when left to fend for themselves. Remember Robinson? Abandoned animals regularly face the wrath of vehicular traffic and the excruciating pain of starvation. We also can never forget the animal control officers and the animal welfare professionals that work tirelessly to bring these animals back from the edge of death and psychological despair so that they may find a home and live a normal life.

Preventing Animal Abandonment

First of all, let's start by acknowledging that life can throw some serious curveballs. It's understandable that some pet owners may find themselves facing financial hardship or unexpected changes in their lifestyle. That's why it's important to spread the word about the resources available to help pet owners in need. Engourage your local animal shelter and local animal welfare groups to share information about low-cost vet clinics, pet food banks, and other community resources that can help people keep their pets happy and healthy, even during tough times.

Secondly, let's talk about the importance of education. As a former animal shelter worker, I can't tell you how many times I've heard people say they didn't realize the commitment required to care for a pet. By educating ourselves and others about what it really means to be a responsible pet owner, we can help prevent pets from being surrendered or abandoned in the first place. This could be as simple as sharing articles or videos on social media about the responsibilities of pet ownership, or volunteering at local schools or community centers to teach kids about how to care for their pets. By doing this, it allows households to go into pet ownership knowing the basics and how to find information on growing their knowlegde.

Lastly, let's not forget about the importance of adoption! By adopting a pet from a shelter or rescue organization, you're not only giving a loving home to an animal in need, but you're also freeing up resources and space for other animals in need. Plus, adopted pets often make some of the most loyal and loving companions around. So, let's spread the word about adoption and encourage our friends and family to consider adopting their next furry friend. Together, we can make a difference in the lives of animals and their owners, and help prevent animal abandonment.


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