How to Stop Feeling Guilty about Returning a Rescue Dog

Adopting a dog from the shelter is always a risky proposition, and for some people, it doesn’t always work out.

Whether you brought the dog home on an impulse or had a sudden change in your circumstances, it’s okay to admit that your new pet situation isn’t working out either for the animal or for your family.

While you’re coping with this difficult decision, these tips will help you understand how to stop feeling guilty about returning a rescue dog.

Returning the Dog to the Shelter

The guilt of wanting to return a rescue dog often causes people to stall on the way to the shelter.

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you’ve already made your decision and are looking for support or validation.

Shelters exist because people and animals need them, so don’t feel guilty about doing what you need to do.

Reasons to Take a Dog to the Shelter

There are many different reasons to abandon a dog. Whether you’re experiencing a large change in your life or just have to admit that things aren’t working out, here are some of the most common reasons put down on surrender applications.

Behavior Issues

From chewing on shoes to going to the bathroom outdoors, some dogs can be downright destructive.

These behaviors can theoretically be curbed by proper dog training, but many owners do not have the skills or resources to accomplish this.

If you’ve sustained too much property damage and loss of sanity to keep your pet, there’s no shame in taking them to a group of people who are prepared to rehabilitate them.


Although it’s not true that a dog who has bitten a human is guaranteed to attack them again, violent incidents within a family can greatly damage the trust between pet and parent.

Many trainers recommend re-homing a dog after a biting incident, even if the attachment was very deep before it happened.

Health Issues

When dogs get older than the age of 10, they tend to develop a wide variety of health issues that can get stressful and expensive.

Unfortunately, if you can no longer afford to fix your dog’s health problems, there is a good chance that the shelter will not be able to afford to fix them either.

In this situation, it’s a good idea to talk with both your vet and rescue groups to see what your options are.

Living Conditions

Whether you’re moving to a place that doesn’t accept dogs or having new people move into your current household, new living circumstances are one of the primary reasons that dogs are abandoned.

In particular, two of the most common reasons are moving to an apartment or welcoming a newborn baby into the world.

Only you know whether abandoning the dog is really necessary, but know that the members of your community will support your decision.

Return vs. Surrender

There’s a big difference between taking a brand-new dog back to the shelter and re-homing a long-standing family pet.

As you make your decision, think about how long you’ve had the dog. Most shelter staff are fully aware that new pet situations don’t always work out.

In many cases, you can even get your adoption fee refunded if you return the pet within the first 30 days.

Although it can be hard to admit that you’ve made a mistake, returning a pet that doesn’t fit in will often greatly reduce the family’s stress and anxiety.

In contrast, surrendering a pet that has been part of your family for a long time can be an incredibly painful experience.

No matter how valid your reasons for surrender are, you should still accept that you will have a hard time saying goodbye to a dog that you’ve known for years.

Think carefully about your decision, consider your other options, and be ready for a bit of heartbreak after you finally let them go.

Giving Your Dog the Best Chance

When you finally do decide to take your dog to the shelter, make sure you do everything you can to help them find a new forever home.

Start by picking a day for the surrender when you’ll have plenty of time to talk to shelter staff and say goodbye to the animal.

Rushed surrenders traumatize the pet, and they often leave shelter staff without any of the information they need to ensure the dog’s success.

Filling Out the Paperwork

On the surrender application, be completely honest about the reasons why you couldn’t keep the pet.

Hiding behavior issues won’t do your dog any favors; in fact, if you lie on the application, there’s a good chance the dog will be adopted into another poorly-fitting family and then re-abandoned after those same issues become apparent.

Instead, do your dog a favor and write down a medical history that will give them the help they need.

Shelter staff will ask for everything they need on the surrender form, so simply fill it out accurately and honestly.

Saying Goodbye

If one of your family members is particularly emotional about the surrender, it might be a good idea to leave them at home. Have a goodbye party in a comfortable environment that your dog is familiar with.

Then, let their shelter experience feel like a new chapter in their life instead of a traumatic moment that a trusted family member cries through.

With that said, you should definitely expect yourself to shed a few tears when your pet is finally led away by a shelter volunteer.

Just know that your pet will be in good hands and that you don’t need to worry about their well-being because they are no longer your responsibility.

How To Stop Feeling Guilty About Returning A Rescue Dog

Comforting the Family

One of the hardest parts about returning a rescue dog or surrendering a family pet is dealing with the heartbreak that fills your household.

Even if you weren’t particularly attached to the dog, there’s a good chance that someone else in your house feels like they’ve just lost their best friend.

The dog may no longer be your responsibility, but the people in your life still are. That’s why it’s important to be ready for the emotional impacts that your decision will have.

Immediately After the Surrender

Surrendering a dog is an incredibly emotional experience. If possible, try to have a few days off work to spend with your family immediately after the surrender is complete.

If nothing else, you should make sure that you have the rest of the day to grieve together.

Some families like to deal with this kind of event by going out for dinner or another type of treat.

Family outings are a good way to bond together after a minor tragedy but recognize that some people may not be in a good mood after they’ve had to say farewell to a pet.

Expect the outing to be quiet and thoughtful, and don’t be judgemental if anyone is brought to tears.

Other families like to cope with grief by heading home immediately. Resist the temptation to isolate yourself while more vulnerable members of the family have to deal with their emotions on their own.

Instead, make a point of watching television, cooking dinner, and generally having an evening that everyone is invited to participate in.

Different Styles of Grief

One thing that you may need to accept is that different members of your family will handle the grief of this event with drastically different styles.

Some people will want to spend time together, while others will want to process some of their grief alone or with their friends.

No matter who the members of your family are, make sure to help them through the pain of surrender with tact and affection.

Start by spending time with the family members who clearly handle grief through socialization.

If someone is asking for time alone, they should probably be allowed to have it; just remember to check in with them regularly to make sure they aren’t drowning in their feelings.

It’s also important to acknowledge that you will experience your own forms of grief after you return or surrender a dog. If you’re the head of your household, you’ll probably attend to the rest of your family first.

Still, at the end of the day, remember to give yourself time to process your own feelings.

Cleaning Up Mementos

One of the most painful things about surrendering a dog is returning to the house and finding abandoned dog toys under the couch.

Whether you had the pet for a few days or a decade, you’ll feel at least some emotional pain as you clean up the evidence of the canine in your life.

Be ready for these feelings; if you deny them, you’ll only have to deal with more grief later on.

As much as you may be tempted to callously throw away all of these mementos, give yourself time to process your feelings before you take action.

If you had the dog for a long time, you may want to keep at least a few of the toys. Other members of your family may have similar sentiments as well.

With that said, it’s not a good idea to wallow in your grief, so don’t hang onto all of your dog’s old possessions forever.

Some of their items may be re-usable if you’re planning on getting another dog. Used dog toys cannot be donated because of disease risks, so you will need to decide for yourself whether each item should be saved or thrown away.

Should You Get Another Dog?

When you return a rescue dog to the shelter within a 30-day window, they often refund your adoption fee and invite you to look around for another pet.

This can be a great idea if the pet you got didn’t mesh very well with your family; however, if you’re abandoning the dog because you can’t take care of it, adopting another one can be a terrible decision.

In general, you should always think carefully before accepting another creature into your life.

Identifying What Went Wrong

Before you fall in love with another pet, take some time to analyze why your last adoption failed.

Recognize that behavior issues are incredibly normal for freshly-adopted pets, and there’s a good chance that any dog that you bring home will be nervous and even destructive for the first few weeks.

If you weren’t able to handle a shelter dog the first time, there’s a good chance you won’t be able to handle another.

Luckily, most shelters will let you audition several different pets before you finally settle on a permanent furry friend.

Go ahead and try again if you want to; just be prepared to realize after two or three tries that you might not be a good fit for a shelter dog.

Preparing Your Home

Before you bring another pet into your house, make sure that your environment is truly prepared.

A shelter dog needs food and water, toys, a kennel to sleep in at night, and a place to run around and go to the bathroom several times a day.

Many adoptions don’t work out because the owners don’t have a kennel or another place to let the dog sleep while they get comfortable with their new environment.

It’s normal to grieve after you take a pet to the shelter, but you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Taking care of your family means making decisions that benefit everyone you have a responsibility towards.

Shelters are equipped to take care of problem pets, but many small households are not. Make the right decision for your well-being, then be nice to yourself about any emotions that you do have.