Surrendering or Giving Up a Pet



Adopters from FOHA sign a contract stipulating that if for any reason a FOHA pet cannot stay in its home, the pet is returned to FOHA.


Giving up an animal should not be taken lightly; animals bond very strongly to humans, and the longer a pet has lived with a human, the stronger the bond and the greater the pain of abandonment. Adopting a pet in the first place means taking responsibility for a life – for a pet’s WHOLE life, not just for as long as it is convenient or cute.

Friends receives numerous inquiries or pleas from people wanting to surrender or give up a pet. It is unfortunate that, like most other shelters throughout the country, it is impossible to accommodate all requests.

FOHA is a limited-intake, non-profit, no-kill shelter whose mission is to rescue abandoned and abused animals. We visit other shelters in the area looking for pets suitable for re-homing that have run out of time or need medical care that they would not otherwise receive (heartworm treatment as an example). Over 75% of our pets are transferred from these shelters. The remaining animals at FOHA are accepted on a case-by-case basis.

Prior to making the decision to surrender a pet, please keep in mind that many shelters do not have space or can promise that your family pet is adoptable. We at FOHA would like to offer alternatives to surrender that will keep your loving family member in your home. As detailed below, FOHA also offers ideas and suggestions if in fact we are not able to assist in taking in your pet. Make sure you have explored all of your options for keeping your pet before you make this difficult decision. It is a decision that is likely not only to disrupt the pet’s emotional stability and routine, but also members of your family unit, especially children who may not be able to comprehend or accept why a loved family member must leave.

If you are considering giving up your family pet, then you must be prepared to spend time and effort to do the right thing by your loyal family member. You once made a commitment to care for this living, breathing, feeling animal that has come to depend on you for everything in life. It is worth every hour you spend in making the right decision for your pet. Is it truly necessary to give up this pet? Alternatives do exist and you owe it to your devoted companion to explore all possible alternatives prior making such a difficult, live changing decision regarding your pet’s future. Ask yourself if there is anything about your pet behaviorally or medically that could be worked on in order for you to keep him / her.


Aside from the dogs we transfer from other shelter, FOHA does accept surrenders on a case-by-case basis. If you live in the northern Virginia / DC metro area and want to be considered, please read our process below.

    We are a limited-intake facility and take in approved animals only, as we have limited space and resources.

    Pets must be spayed or neutered (some exceptions may qualify)

    We require current vaccinations and your pet’s complete medical records along with a vet’s statement of overall health and behavior.

    Vaccinations, heartworm preventative and city/county dog tag must be up-to-date at time of surrender.

    You will need proof of identification as proof of ownership of the pet you are surrendering

    FOHA reserves the right to require a thorough medical exam and / or temperament test on your dog prior consideration

    FOHA appreciates a donation fee of $350 for accepting your pet but will waive this under special circumstances

    Once your pet is accepted at FOHA and you have surrendered it, he becomes the property of FOHA. We realize that surrendering your pet is an emotional decision which you have made and it would not be responsible of us to return an animal to someone who has told us that they are unable or unwilling to provide care for their pet.

FOHA strives to rehome only the most adoptable pets. We cannot adopt out pets that we believe to be a safety risk. Therefore, we do not accept pets that have a history of aggression. We keep all healthy, adoptable pets as long as it takes to find them a home.

If you would like for FOHA to consider your dog, please email  If you would like for FOHA to consider your cat, please call 703-385-0224. THIS DOES NOT GUARANTEE THAT YOUR PET WILL BE ACCEPTED AT FOHA.


There are many reasons given for giving up a pet. Many of these reasons have solutions and we encourage you do to everything possible to accommodate your pet to stay with your family.

Military deployment

For military personnel who have been deployed to active duty, there are programs that can help you keep your pet.

Insurmountable Vet Bills or Housing Crisis

If your pet is facing non-routine medical case and you cannot afford it, <click here> for resources available.

When you brought your pet into your house, you made the commitment to take care of it forever. There is available pet-friendly housing everywhere. Find a situation that allows pets. They are plenty of landlords that do allow pets. Take the time to find them. Many major cities have services that are dedicated to helping people find pet-friendly housing. And if you’re worried about a pet deposit, just think of this: what’s worth more to you, a few fast-food meals or the life of your loyal friend?


About 15% of the population is allergic to dogs and / or cats. However, there are many ways to still live with a pet even though a family member is allergic.

Make sure you are allergic to pet dander and not something else in the house. Your pet may not even be the cause of your allergies. Visit your doctor to find out if your allergies can be controlled through medication and/or diet. Consult your doctor to find out exactly what you are allergic to.

Create an area, most likely the bedroom of the person who is allergic, where your pet simply isn’t allowed. Close the door to this room at all times to ensure this area doesn’t have any of the allergens from your pet.

If medications do not help you entirely, then try these following solutions. Use Apperpet/D, available in many pet stores and by mail order. Apply to pet’s fur using washcloth once a week. It neutralizes the dander. Use HEPA air cleaners throughout the house to rid the air of allergens. These are available at most home and garden stores such as Home Depot.

Bathe your pet on a regular basis. This will significantly reduce the amount of allergens your pet carries around.

Terminal Illness / Owner Death / Movement into an Assisted Living Facility

Having lived with a guardian for many years, it is hard for pets to understand this drastic loss in their lives. Look to family members that would be willing to take in the pet as a way to honor the desires and / or memory of the loved one. Medical science has shown that people tend to live longer and healthier with pets. Even if the pet’s guardian has been moved to an assisted living facility or other housing, they would have more peace of mind knowing that their beloved pets are with other family members. Not knowing what happened to their loyal companions would be one more worry that could affect their health and reason to live. FOHA is in development of a lifetime care program that will offer you a means to ensure that your feline and/or canine companions will be cared for at the time of your disability or death. For more information, contact

New Baby

You made a commitment to your pet just like you are making a commitment to your expectant baby. There are many resources available to make your pet accepting of a new family member. If you treat your dog as dispensable, how will you treat your child? How you treat your pet will likely dictate how you treat human family members. There are many resources on the internet that discuss making a successful introduction and transition when the new baby arrives, so please do your research before making the decision to give up your pet.

No time for the pet(s)

This often happens in households where all family members are not committed to the responsibilities of having an animal. Was the pet a gift for someone whose enthusiasm for owning a pet is not equaled to yours? This reason for giving up a pet is not the pet’s fault and a poor one for having a pet destroyed. Giving up a pet for this reason might result in euthanasia only because of the unpardonable sin of being a member of the wrong family. You will likely be killing an animal because no one wanted the responsibility. Is this the kind of example you want to set for your children? That pets are cast aways?


Don’t give up your dog if he/she has behavior problems. PLEASE remember, if you are giving up your pet because of behavior problems, no one else is going to want to deal with them either. You made a commitment for better or worse, please honor that commitment.

Again, fault does not always lie with the dog. Most behavioral problems can be modified with assistance from a qualified trainer or behaviorist. Training is often the only thing needed. Positive reinforcement methods work faster and better than punishment. Punishing a dog may cause the dog to stop doing the behavior in front of you, but it does not provide information to the dog on what is expected of him. FOHA will be happy to refer to a qualified trainers or behaviorist or visit The Association of Pet Dog Trainers website at and look for trainers with the Certified Profesional Dog Trainer designation ("CPDT") in your area.

Unruly Behavior

“My dog won’t pay attention. He is basically out of control.” That’s what Basic Manners obedience classes are for. There are many organizations that offer these group classes. We will gladly make referrals to classes that endorse and teach using “positive reinforcement” methods. There is no such thing as a dog that cannot be trained to be a well-behaved member of the household. Most canines thrive when given training in Basic Manners. After all, your dog is just acting as a normal dog and it’s up to you to teach your dog how to function in a human world and home. Please give your dog the benefit of training and take them through a “positive reinforcement” Basic Manners class before you give up on them.

Dogs also require a lot of exercise so make sure our dog has plenty of outlets for physical and mental stimulation on a daily basis. Unexercised dogs tend to be unruly.

House soiling

Most dogs can be housetrained, with the exception of extraneous medical issues that prevent a dog from being able to biologically hold its bodily functions. Puppies require frequent trips outside until they become able to physically control bodily functions. Puppies cannot be expected to “hold it” for more than 2 – 4 hours, so don’t set your puppy up to fail by leaving him unattended and not able to get outside.

If your dog consistently urinates and defecates while the house while you are gone, but is otherwise reliable when you are home, it is possible your dog is suffering some level of separation anxiety. Please see below.

If your reliable pet suddenly starts having accidents in the house, please have your pet examined by a vet for possible urinary tract infection, stones or worms. Too often, pets are given up because of a sudden “relapse” when the problem was a treatable medical condition.

For more information on housetraining, there are many books and online resources that discuss useful techniques.

Chewing / Destruction

Chewing is a natural behavior for most dogs, especially puppies and adolescents. It is up to YOU to provide the appropriate items for chewing. Your dog can be trained to chew on proper items. It is also equally important that your dog not have access to things that are inappropriate to chew. Your dog can’t distinguish between a squeaky toy, children’s Barbie dolls or the TV remote, so it is up to you to make sure your dog does not have access these things. Don’t allow your dog free reign or access to certain rooms where these items are within reach.

Most destructive behavior comes from dogs that are bored. The dog that is left in the backyard and interaction is limited to a quick pat on the head when being fed or as you pass through the yard easily becomes bored and can entertain themselves in unacceptable ways like chewing, digging or barking. Exercise, training, and lots of chew toys will help eliminate these behaviors.


Dogs bark for a variety of reasons: boredom, alerting someone of an intruder, attention, pain, fear. Usually a consultation with a behaviorist can pinpoint the reason for the barking, which will go a long way in modifying that behavior.

Separation anxiety

Dogs are very social animals and some are not prone to being left alone. Dogs that experience separation anxiety usually urinate and defecate during the owner’s absence, refuse to eat and chew or destroy exit points such as door moldings, windows or blinds. Crating a dog with separation anxiety likely leads to physical and mental harm.

Many people think that a dog that destroys furniture, toys, books and other effects (non exit points) has separation anxiety when in fact the dog is just plain bored, under exercised or under stimulated.

Sometime, we as owners inadvertently contribute to our dog’s anxiety about being left alone. A change in a dog’s routine (moving to a new home or divorce) might escalate some anxiety for a dog. Sometimes, changing how you interact with your dog prior to leaving for the day and when you come home can ease the anxiety level of your dog.

A trained behaviorist can assist in modifying and managing separation anxiety. Don’t expect a shelter or a new family to deal with separation anxiety. This is best treated in your home rather than rehoming or surrendering the dog. Rehoming a dog with separation anxiety usually results in making it worse, as the dog has learned that he has a valid reason for being anxious- abandonment. If you try to conceal this behavior and pass it this along to a new owner, the new owner will likely surrender him in disgust to a shelter that will immediately euthanize. The best way to work with separation anxiety is to desensitize the dog by leaving for only a couple minutes at a time, and building your way up to several minutes and eventually hours. A behaviorist can also be very helpful with offering advice and getting your dog started on the right track. It takes time and patience, but you owe it to your dog to work through these issues.

For more information about separation anxiety, <click here>.


What constitutes aggression? Growling? Snapping? Biting? One bite? Numerous bites? Only bites that require medical attention of the victim? It’s hard to pinpoint. All dogs bite – it’s their own natural instinct.Isn’t it interesting that we as humans accept some level of aggression amongst ourselves and other humans but we have zero tolerance when an animal acts out aggressively? There is a reason your dog acted aggressively and you are in the best position to determine the root cause and work through it. Don’t pass it on to an unsuspecting shelter or new family.

Did the dog growl or snap without being provoked? Were you attempting to take something from him? Did this happen when food was involved? Did a stranger or child approach and lean over the dog, stare at him, hug him around the neck or stick out his hand toward the dog’s face? Was the dog protecting itself from unintended abuse by a child? Does your dog react aggressively only while restricted on a leash? Dogs will react the only way they know how.

Sometimes, the “aggressive” reaction of the dog is our own fault. Are we using punishment, alpha rolls, yelling, leash jerks and other aversives as a way to “show your dog who is boss?” These methods backfire and can be the cause of the aggressive behavior.

It is unlikely that any shelter will take in or adopt out a dog that is aggressive so you are the most logical and realistic hope in addressing aggressive behavior. Please do not expect any organization to accept and/or place a pet that is aggressive or has a serious behavioral issue.

If your pet is showing aggressive behavior you should IMMEDIATLEY contact a behaviorist. Only a trained behaviorist can help come up with the root cause of the aggression and recommend the correct modification and/or management program. DON’T RESPOND TO AGGRESSION WITH AGRESSION.

Also, have your pet examined by a vet to see if the root cause is medical related. A dog will act aggressively if he is sick, in pain, or has limited eye site or hearing.


Many owners are led to believe that most dogs act aggressively in asserting dominance. This is bunk. Most dogs aren’t trying to take over a household but rather are looking for gentle, trusting leadership from you. After all, your dog is dependent on you for ALL his resources (food, water, play, walks, etc) so he is looking up to you for trust, love, guidance and direction. It is up to you to make your dog feel safe and provided for. Most aggression is rooted in fear rather than in “the need to be dominant” as many trainers and TV personalities proclaim.

Fearful dogs react one of two ways: flight or fight. If the “flight” option is not available (the leash is restricting his ability to flee, or the room has no escape route), dogs might resort to the “fight” option. Fear aggression (such as lunging at and biting other dogs on the leash, snapping or biting children or men, food guarding) can be modified and managed under the direction of a qualified behaviorist using desensitization and counter conditioning techniques. Without such guidance, the dog’s fearful behavior will not change and might get worse. Using the wrong techniques (punishment, alpha rolls, yelling, jerking on the leash, hitting) will only escalate the dog’s fear and need to protect himself by growling, snapping or biting.

Acute onset of behavioral issue

Sudden behavioral changes (such as house soiling, aggression, barking, anxiety) are most likely due to a medical change, whether it is a urinary tract infection, loss of eyesight, hearing loss, joint pain, worms, or other disease. If your dog has an acute onset of a behavioral issue, you owe it to your dog to have a complete medical exam and blood screen to try to determine the cause.

Many older dogs are given up due to a lapse in house training, aggression or other unacceptable behavior without fully exploring the reason for the change in behavior. How can you give up on a loyal family member of 10+ years without fully exploring the reason for the lapse in behavior??!

Also, any change in a dog’s routine (whether it is switching foods, moving, adding a family member, being boarded) can be very stressful and might result in a relapse of behavior. Go back to basics while at the same time reassuring your dog that he is still safe and not going to be abandoned.

If you have a challenge with your dog that you want help with, please contact us at We can provide referrals and resources that are available to help you keep your pet.


If you have exhausted the alternatives listed above, or feel that these are not applicable to you and therefore have made the decision to give up your pet please remember that this is your responsibility and don’t except anyone else to come up with the solution – you have to do it. Live up to the role of concerned caregiver. Do the right thing by the animal. If that means finding him/her a new home, do so carefully and with much thought. Before you make that decision – remember that it is YOUR decision and that your pet has no say in it. Think one last time what you can do to maintain your friend and companion in your home.

While FOHA might be able to help in your particular case, we cannot possibly assist with all the requests we get for help. Listed below are steps to consider when FOHA is not able to help.

Contact the group / person from whom you obtained your pet. If you signed an adoption contract, you may be required to return the pet to that group / person. If your pet is a purebred, find a breed rescue group in your area by searching the internet or checking the local phonebook.

If you are thinking about surrendering to a local shelter, ask that the shelter can contact you before he/she is euthanized so you can re-claim them. While some animals are lucky enough to be adopted from shelters, don’t delude yourself: many are killed within days because there are too few adopters for the thousands of worthy animals hoping for a good home. Owner turn-ins are often the first to die in some government funded shelters – often within 24 hours – with the rationale that if the owner does not want them why would anyone else?

Prior to surrendering a pet, spay or neuter your pet. If you were thinking that your pet might make a good breeding animal, STOP! Why breed when there are obviously too many pets in this world to place in homes as it is! Why make more unwanted animals in a world where even great pets can’t find a home? You want someone to adopt your animal as a COMPANION, not because it might make a good or profitable breeding animal. You are much more apt to find a responsible, permanent home by placing an already sterilized pet. Get it done: it’s the least you can do, and the best thing you can do. There are many unscrupulous backyard breeders who look are unaltered pets. They will convince you that they are looking for a family pet, when in reality they are looking for ways to make more money for themselves by breeding your dog until it drops. Never give a new family AKC papers – unless your pet is already altered. If they truly want a pet to love, having AKC papers will not be important.

If your pet is already spayed or neutered, and does not have a history of biting anyone, try to find a new home for your pet through advertising. Advertise through friends, neighbors and local vets first. You increase the chances of finding a good home when you can check the references with someone you know.

Place classified ads in the paper and on the internet, and screen callers carefully. Be completely honest about your pet’s behaviors, good and bad. No pet is perfect, and people are more likely to adopt a pet they know about, for better or worse. Before approving a caller on the spot, or setting up a time to see the pet, tell the callers that you are still taking names, telephone numbers and references from inquirers and will get back in touch with them. This gives you an out if you think the caller is not right for you or doesn’t check out with the references. It also weeds out impulse callers who might not have the necessary commitment to care for a dog for the rest of its life. Keep in mind also that there are unscrupulous individuals who peruse the classifieds looking for pets to use for laboratory testing and animal fighting so screen callers carefully.

Ask for a fee. This deters people who have made a spontaneous decision and may not be ready for the responsibility of a pet and hopefully weeds out the individuals looking for laboratory specimens or fighting games. People who aren’t willing to pay a fee may not be willing to spend money on vet care and decent food. In addition, people tend not to place as much value on something that they have obtained for free.

Ask questions. Get a feel for the new home, and what the potential new owner is looking for in a new pet. Ask for a vet reference. You must make sure that you pet’s needs will be met. Here are some sample questions:

    What are the new family’s expecations of your pet?

    Has the family had pets before? What happened to them?

    Are their current pets vaccinated and neutered?

    How often will the dog be walked?

    How often will the cat’s litterbox be cleaned?

    Are the parents willing to supervise the children to make sure a small animal received proper care?

    Does anyone in the home have allergies?

    Is anyone in the home afraid of animals?

    Are the new owners thinking of moving soon? If so, will they arrange for the pet to join them in the new home?

    Where will the pet stay while the new owners are at work? Vacationing?

    Will the pet be kept inside (please don’t adopt out if the new family intends to ban the dog to outside at night and while the family is gone for the day)

Be honest about your pet, and why you must rehome him/her. It is not fair to your pet to send him/her to a new home with false expectations or medical requirements. This new owner might possibly take the dog immediately to a vet or shelter to be euthanized.

Visit the prospective home. As the caregiver of the animal, it is up to you to ensure your pet goes to a responsible, caring home that is able to meet his needs.

Ask for valid identification. Keep a record, along with a contract signed by both of you, outlining the requirements you both agree upon.

Do not be afraid to say NO. You have a responsibility to your pet to find him a good home.

Take a few good, color photos and make some posters. Include your pet’s name (it personalizes him) and include his best traits, his most enduring qualities and some guidelines for the best possible home (i.e., no small kids, someone who’s home a lot, no other pets, good for experienced dog owner).

If your pet is aggressive, or has nipped or bitten someone, EVER, then please consult a professional behaviorist to try to work through this problem. Remember, unless this behavior is identified and modified, your pet will take it with him to his next home and once it raises its ugly head, your pet will likely be surrendered by the new owner to a shelter where it will be euthanized immediately. If you chose to try to pass aggression off to someone else, can you live with the knowledge that you are simply just passing off the deadly act of euthanasia to someone else? Do the right thing. There is usually a valid reason with a solution that causes aggression (see above). Also, check with state and local laws, too, about liability in re-homing a pet with prior knowledge of aggression. Do not try to find a new home for an aggressive animal without professional help.

If your pet has a behavior problem that goes untreated, he’ll take it with him to the next home. Many problems are workable, or at least manageable. Contact a trainer or behavior counselor and see if its possible to work things out so you can keep your pet. We can help find a trainer or counselor for you by emailing