When Your New Pet Isn’t a Good Fit for You

Kitten looking at camera
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After two of Alexandra’s four cats died, she decided to add to her feline family. But it wasn’t as easy as she expected.

Her surviving two cats were rather aloof, and she wanted more of a companion. First, she brought home Rufus, a 12-year-old orange tabby. Although Alexandra* liked him right away, he would growl and hiss any time her two other 12-year-old cats came near him. Her veterinarian thought Rufus was afraid the other cats would hurt him if they jumped on him.

She took him back to the rescue, and it found a home for him in a big duplex. “He got to be the only cat, and I think that was very much what he wanted,” Alexandra says. “I’m glad it worked out for him.”

Then she adopted Homer, a little black kitten who’d been sick and was nursed back to health by her vet. “As he started getting better, he got bouncier and bouncier and bouncier and had never been socialized with older cats. He hadn’t learned any cat manners,” she says. With her older cats terrified of Homer and her small apartment in chaos, Alexandra called the rescue, and a foster was found.

“I just had this huge feeling of relief and guilt,” she says. “I wanted to give this cat a home, and I failed him.”

Sorting Out the Options

Like Alexandra, most people have the best intentions when they bring new pets into their homes. But for a number of reasons, the new residents might not be good matches for those homes. If you decide things aren’t going to work out with a pet you intended to adopt, what can you do?

Some surrenders can be avoided if potential adopters understand the amount of work they’re taking on, understand the emotional and financial commitment a pet deserves, and make sure it’s the right time in their own lives to take care of a new pet. Adopters of canines can educate themselves about the dog’s breed so (although breed doesn't tell you everything about a pet) they have some idea what to expect. Potential adopters should also consider their existing pets. How have they responded to other dogs or cats in the past? Could getting a new pet negatively affect quality of life for current pets? Your veterinarian can probably help with some of these questions, but a bit of soul searching can go a long way when deciding whether getting a new pet is the right move.

Still, even if you do all your homework, there can be unforeseen circumstances.

About 6 percent of adopted dogs are returned to shelters, but that number doesn’t include people who decide to rehome animals themselves, says Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research and development for the ASPCA. Fewer cats are returned than dogs, possibly because it can be easier to find new homes for them.

“People relinquish their pets to shelters for a variety of reasons — someone in the home is allergic, the pet sheds more than expected… One potential reason tends to be that it’s simply not the right match,” Weiss says. “Depending on the facility, the information about a particular pet before he goes home may be pretty limited.”

*Note: We've changed the names of the pet owners and their pets in this story to protect their identities.

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