Rehoming a dog – or giving your pet away – is incredibly intense and sad. You’ll find no judgment here, only understanding and compassion. I know how you feel; I had to rehome my dog a few years ago, and the decision was agonizing. Here’s how to deal with the guilt and grief you feel now and that you may always feel.
First, want some good news? Your dog is a survivor! Your dog is lovable and adaptable, and will adjust to his new home so quickly that you’ll feel insulted. Here’s how I know: several months after we rehomed our big black Lab German Shepherd cross, we adopted a little white toy Poodle Bichon cross. Her name is Tiffy and she was three years old when we adopted her. Her previous owner was devastated that she had to give her beloved little dog away, and I was happy/sad to tell her that Tiffy happily made our home her home within three days. Dogs are survivors, they live in the moment, and they adjust so quickly it makes your head spin. So, while you’re reading through my tips on how to deal with the guilt and grief of rehoming a dog, remember that your dog is probably curled up in front of the fireplace or happily playing with other dogs in the dog park at this very moment.
One of my most popular articles about dogs is How to Decide if You Should Give Your Dog Away. I wrote it because I had to rehome a dog called Jazz – she was a 77 pound black Lab German Shepherd cross. Since then, I adopted two new dogs: Tiffy (the wee white one in the picture) and Georgie (a the black and white terrier you’ll meet later).
So, I already gave you the good news: rehomed and adopted dogs adjust quickly to their new environments. Dogs adapt because they live in the moment, and they’re survivors. Rehoming a dog is more painful for dog owners than the dogs themselves – though I have no doubt that our dogs miss us! I just don’t think they dwell on their loss, and they definitely don’t have to learn how to deal with their adoption.
The bad news is that the pain, guilt, and grief you feel about rehoming your dog won’t easily go away. The truth is that even though I may sound like I had no problem giving my dog Jazz away, I still feel terrible whenever I think about that day. We took our dog back to the SPCA, and both my husband and I wept like our hearts were breaking. Because our hearts were breaking.
The other bit of bad news is that the grief and guilt of giving a dog away doesn’t just disappear – even after you read my tips on how to deal with this type of pet loss.
5 Ways to Deal With Rehoming a Dog
If you’re overwhelmed with guilt, you may find How to Deal With Guilt After the Loss of Your Beloved Dog helpful. Pay particular attention to the readers’ comments, because you’ll see that you are not alone. Our dogs are so important to us and we love them so much…and causing them any pain is incredibly difficult for us to resolve. Rehoming a dog is traumatic, and I want you to be gentle with yourself.
1. Write a letter to the dog you gave away
Take time to say goodbye to your dog. Allow yourself to grieve your loss and work through the guilt you feel about adopting your dog to a new home. Face those ugly feelings of shame and guilt – don’t push them down, or they will overwhelm you in the future. You need to process the pain of giving a dog away, or it will eat you alive.
One of the best tips on how to deal with rehoming a dog is to write him a letter. Tell him how much you love him, how sorry you are, and why you did it. Weep. Put your head on the paper and bawl like a little kid. Tell your dog exactly how you feel.
Read through the comments below – you’ll find several letters written by dog guardians who had to give their dogs away. You can write your letter here in the comments section, or in your own journal.
Wherever you write it and however long it is, be honest with your dog. Just let yourself be a kid talking to his dog.
2. Read the letter my adopted dog Tiffy wrote to her previous owner
Below, I share a letter my newly-adopted dog Tiffy wrote to her previous owner. Learning how quickly and solidly she adapted to my home might help you see that rehoming a dog can have a very happy ending. You might also begin to understand how incredibly adaptable and resilient our dogs are.
Dear Old Ma,
I miss you, but I am very happy and glad to be in my new home! I get lots of love and attention here. My new Mama and Papa don’t have human kids to take care of, so I get all their attention. I have a Big Sister called Georgie, who is a dog like me. She’s bigger, but not nearly as smart as me. But she is showing me how to run and jump and play.
You should see me now – I’m so fast, racing through the forest like a speeding bullet! I run and sniff and get to follow all sorts of exciting new paths that take me on fun adventures. I chase squirrels and raccoons and birds – but they’re too fast for me. I don’t care, I just am so happy to run around after them. I feel big and brave in my new home, and when I bark I am even bigger and braver!
I’ve met all my Big Sister’s friends – she has so many friends, and they all fell in love with me as soon as they saw me. They’re called Nico, Shore, Benji, Hunter, Ivy, Bumpy, Senna, Kyla, Ruff, Diablo, and Smokey. See how many new friends I have? They think I’m cute, and the big ones finally stopped stepping on me (it took them awhile to remember how itty bitty I am).
My Big Sister Georgie taught me how to work the thing called “Kong” that gives us yummy treats. Did you know I get homemade chicken soup every day, for breakfast and dinner? And most nights I watch Papa Bear cook steaks or chicken or pork chops on the bbq. Sometimes he drops pieces of meat, and they are more delicious than anything I ever tasted.
Mama Bear always makes sure I have real chicken and crunchy bits to eat with my chicken soup meals. I love it so much, I lick the bowl clean every meal! Sometimes I chew on soup bones, because Mama and Papa say it’s good for my teeth. I don’t know anything about that – I just love the way the bones taste!
Even though I am very happy dog in my new home, I remember you in my dreams. I have a special place in my heart for you, and when I dream of where I was before I came here, I remember how good it felt to be held and hugged and kissed by you. You will always be in my heart and soul, and I will always love you.
3. Know that your decision to rehome a dog has brought happiness to another family
Last night, the person who gave my dog Tiffy to me emailed to say thank you for adopting her. She had to rehome Tiffy because she just couldn’t take care of her anymore. I am so grateful she gave her dog away! And she is so grateful that I was able to adopt her dog and love her fully and completely.
If you feel like you can’t deal with rehoming your dog, take heart. Know that your dog will adapt – and perhaps even be happier with his or her new family. After giving your dog away, you have to believe that the next home will be the right place for him or her. Otherwise, you’ll just keep spinning your wheels in the thick muck of guilt. Believe that your dog and his new guardians are very happy together.
Are you dealing with overwhelming sadness or depression? It’s possible that you haven’t dealt with past grief and trauma. Read How to Recover From Loss and Survive Grief.
4. Be gentle with yourself as you deal with the grief of pet loss
Are you beating yourself up for giving your dog away? I sure did, for the longest time. I regretted our decision, and wished I hadn’t rehomed our dog Jazz.
But regret and guilt got me nowhere. If I kept ruminating on my pain and condeming myself for taking our dog back to the SPCA, I wouldn’t have found the strength to write this article. Maybe I had to experience the pain of rehoming a dog so I could help you learn how to deal with pet loss. Maybe we really are all just walking each other home, through the dark shadowy wintery late afternoons of our lives.
You made the right decision. You had to give your dog away for reasons that make sense to you.
5. Learn how others dealt with the pain and grief of pet loss
I wrote How to Heal Your Heart After Losing a Pet: 75 Ways to Cope With Grief and Guilt When Your Dog or Cat Dies to help pet lovers deal with death.
Yes, you are coping with grief after losing a pet – even though you made the painful decision to rehome oyur dog. Dealing with the guilt and grief after rehoming a dog is perhaps even more intense than coping with heartache after a losing a pet to death. Why? Because we had more choice in the matter. Most of our pets’ deaths are natural and caused by old age or ill health. The feelings of loss, shame, and guilt caused by rehoming a dog can be traumatic.
Give yourself time and permission to grieve. Rehoming a dog is a painful experience, and you need to allow yourself to process your emotions in healthy ways.
I hope this article has helped you think differently about giving away your dog, and maybe even eased the pain a little bit. Your thoughts are welcome below, but I can’t offer you advice on rehoming a dog. I do understand how you feel, though, and I send you warmth, compassion, and loving kindness.
My prayer is that you heal from the pain and grief of giving your dog away. May you find freedom and self-forgiveness, and peace knowing that you made the right decision. Woof.
One last tip on how to cope with rehoming a dog, from a surprising source (who wasn’t talking about how to deal with pet loss, but it fits so well):
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs.
Trust that giving your dog away was the right thing to do. Have faith that your dog is being well taken care of, and that your souls will meet again one day.