Tough times, tough choices – tips to keep from surrendering your pets

Posted in Husbandry How-to, Philosophy at 9:54 am by ACR&S

It’s been a long while since we’ve posted, but as many of you find, there’s just not that much time to spare these days. Rescue always gets harder when the economy is this bad. There are fewer people adopting animals, fewer people donating money, fewer people with time to foster, and many, many more animals being surrendered. The animals we do take in, stay with us longer and cost more money.

It’s unfortunate, but not surprising. With people struggling to make ends meet for themselves, they often find that they are faced with tough choices regarding their pets. People who have to work a second job find that they don’t have extra time to spend caring for their pets. People without a job don’t have money to put food on their own table, much less pay for pet food and vet bills. People are moving to smaller apartments, sometimes moving in with roomates, and their landlord either doesn’t allow pets, or they just don’t have room.

Unfortunately this also means that when an owner decides they have to rehome their pet, the prospects are not good.

Most people first try to find a new home through Craigslist or similar methods. From what we hear, this isn’t working any more – there are SO many animals available that it’s hard to find any takers, much less one you trust with a beloved pet. If your pet is older or has special needs, it’s almost impossible to find someone willing to shoulder the burden when there’s also so many babies available.

The next step is usually for the owner to contact a shelter. But most shelters are at or above capacity and are euthanizing at a higher than normal rate. The statistics are staggering: “Last year [2010], at least 305,222 dogs and cats were dropped off at North Carolina shelters, and 214,475 were euthanized. The cost of handling all those animals is nearly $30 million. The real numbers are likely higher, because only 73 of 100 counties had reported their 2010 data to state government as of February.” (Source)  Some shelters are outright refusing to accept animals, especially exotics like guinea pigs and rabbits, leaving owners seemingly without options.

So what can you do?

The first option is always to try to keep your pet. Fortunately, with a little ingenuity, it can be done! We’ve heard from scores of owners who have given up trying to rehome their pets and found many clever methods to keep them, and we wanted to share some of the ideas they’ve shared with us.

If space is an issue…
If you don’t have room for a grand 3’x7′ C&C cage anymore, that’s not necessarily a reason to give up your pets. Bigger is better, but if the choice is euthanasia, we’d rather see you keep your pets in a smaller space.

  • For rabbits, use an expandable dog exercise pen as their cage. Fold it down to 2’x4′ or smaller when you’re home and need the extra space, but unfold it to give them room to exercise when you’re asleep or at work. Maybe you don’t have a rabbit-proof room that they can run around in anymore? Consider using a hallway, bathroom, or kitchen. Even though these spaces maybe aren’t as big as they were used to, as long as they can run back and forth a little, that may be enough for them. Again, just try to schedule their exercise for a time when you aren’t using that space. Jessica writes, “we hardly have any space in this apartment, but my husband lets me use his home office for the buns to run around in on Sundays while he’s watching sports. There’s tons of cords everywhere, so we just put a big fence around the edges and they can run around in the middle. It’s only once a week but they clearly benefit from it.”
  • Guinea pigs can also accommodate to flexible caging that expands when you’ve got room. Sally writes: “I moved in with two roommates and one is allergic so I had to keep my guinea pigs in my bedroom, but it’s so tiny that I didn’t have anywhere to put their cage. Then I realized their C&C cage fits under the bed! When I leave for work, I pull it out, flip up the grids, and put them in it. They have to go back in a petstore cage when I get home but they get 8 hours a day in their old piggy palace.” Another owner wrote that she put her rat’s cage in a walk-in closet – “I just have to make sure I leave the door open when I leave so they get some sunlight.”
  • If you can’t sleep with pets in the bedroom, we’ve heard of plenty of other creative cage locations. One adopter built a shelf above her front-loading washer & dryer for the pig cage. Another realized that they rarely use their dining room table, so the pigs are now underneath – “we almost always eat in the kitchen, anyhow. For holidays we just move the cage for a day or two.” One especially creative family assembled their kids’ old bunk-bed in the TV room above the television, and put their pigs’ C&C cage on the top bunk! “We have to use a stepstool to clean it, but it means they’re out with family and get more attention, and we enjoy watching their antics even more than watching TV.”

If time is an issue…
“I just don’t have the time to give them the attention they need” is the most common reason we hear from people needing to surrender their pets. But really, as long as you have time to feed them, clean them, and give them once-a-week health checks, they’ll still be healthy and happy without daily cuddle time.

  • Most small animals are usually perfectly happy without human attention, as long as they have a same-species companion. It may seem counter-intuitive, but maybe adopting a friend for your single piggy or bunny will lessen the time you have to spend with them, rather than increase it. One adopter wrote “I had to take a job where I travel every week and although my husband was good at keeping him fed and cleaned, [my bunny] Snickers just wasn’t getting any attention. Then I adopted Hershey to be his friend and I don’t feel so bad now because they have each other.”
  • You can also save time by changing your petcare routine a little. Most people find that using cage blankets or fleece as bedding requires less cleaning time than using wood shavings. If you normally feed your pets in the morning when you’re already rushed, try doing their big feeding at night instead. Using an extra big hay manger or two water bottles may give you the peace of mind to skip an extensive morning routine.  Rather than making their salad every day, spend an hour on the weekend cutting up veggies, and package it in multiple single serving tupperwares so it’s quicker to distribute during the busy work week!

If food bills are an issue…
Guinea pigs and rabbits mostly eat grass, so why does it seem like their food is so expensive?! Here’s some tips to cut food costs:

  • Buy hay in bulk. It doesn’t go bad as long as you keep it dry so it doesn’t mold, and keep it cool and out of sunlight so it doesn’t go brown.  A 50-lb box of hay costs $50, which is a dollar per pound. A 40-oz bag (2.5lbs) costs $8, which is over $3 per pound! 50 lbs should last two pigs or rabbits about 6 months so it’s not a frequent expense – that makes it worth the hassle of a long drive or ordering online if you don’t have a supplier near you who can get the big boxes.
  • Start a hay co-op. Check with your local shelter or rescue – where do they get their hay, and can you buy some from them? Some rescues buy in bulk from local growers and are willing to resell at incredible discounts. You can also search for other owners in your area and go in together on bulk purchases from online retailers like Kleenmama’s Hayloft. This can often give you huge savings on shipping charges!
  • Find veggies at your local farmer’s market or community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm. Veggies are much cheaper when they’re locally grown, because there’s no transport or distribution costs; your money goes right to the farmer. You might even be able to exchange litterbox compost for veggies! Search for local CSAs here.
  • Check the grocery stores for discount veggies. Grocers have to sort their produce at least once a day to remove items which are going bad or are too bruised to sell. Stop in on your way home and ask the produce manager if you can have some of what they’re throwing away! You may have to do a bit of sorting to find the peppers and romaine among the onions and cabbages, but it’s definitely worth it. Bagged salad mix is an especially easy thing to find – has to be thrown away by the printed expiration date, but it’s usually still perfectly fresh. Just don’t feed the kinds that have iceberg lettuce in them.
  • Reduce pellets. Because pellets are the most “processed” of pig and rabbit foods, it’s the most expensive per unit. The more hay and veggies you feed, the less pellets you need. Reducing pellets can also reduce vet bills by reducing the incidence of bladder stones and tooth problems.

If vet bills are an issue…
Speaking of vet bills – the most expensive part of owning an animal, this is also the hardest cost to control, but these tips can get you started:

  • Prevention is cheaper than treatment. It’s always cheaper to provide preventative care than to provide emergency care, so don’t let health fall by the wayside, even when times are toughest. Weigh your pets EVERY week to spot illness early. Feed a good diet to prevent the leading illnesses, which are obesity, tooth malocclusion, and bladder stones. If you think your pet is sick, get treatment immediately, rather than waiting to see if it will “just get better”. It usually won’t, and the treatment costs usually triple if you wait till the animal is visibly ill.
  • Start an emergency fund. Put one, five, or ten dollars a week – whatever you can possibly spare – into an emergency vet fund. Giving up just one venti frappachino per week can give you a nest egg of over $250 in one year! If you’re crafty, you might find a unique way to raise a little money – several of our friends have started selling craft items on Etsy to help build up a little extra cash for their pets’ vet needs.
  • Find a vet before you need one. If you aren’t already on a first-name basis with your vet, you should be! Just talk to them. Find out which clinics extend credit or offer payment plans. Find out which emergency clinics see small exotics, and which ones are cheapest for the initial consult. Don’t hesitate to look outside your immediate area – if an hour’s drive to a distant vet saves you $200, that’s more than worth the extra gas you spend!
  • Check your local shelter for vetcare options. Some shelters and rescues offer free nail trim clinics, low-cost spay or neuter, and even free wellness checks. They sometimes don’t advertise these services except for cats and dogs, so you may have to do some phone work to find which ones also provide services to pocket pets. Some even offer low-cost euthanasia and cremation services, in case your pet is very ill.
  • Take advantage of your vet school. If you live near a vet school you’re living on a gold mine. They frequently offer free or dramatically reduced care services if you’ll let your pet be treated by a student doctor. You may not feel comfortable with this if your pet has a serious illness, but use this resource for preventative wellness visits, it’s like getting a free checkup!

We hope this information is helpful to you, and we’d love to hear your other suggestions or stories of how you made these ideas work for you.


  1. celia said,

    October 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm

    Wonderful suggestions…from wonderful Humans. I will refer others to this blog.
    The economy is tough right now. we all need to hold on, especially for little friends.

  2. veterinary 24-hour emergency said,

    June 20, 2013 at 11:06 pm

    Amazing ideas!!! Pets should be treated like family members. They should be given same love and care at times of struggle as we give to our other family members. When we do not leave our family members then how can we leave our pets?

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