Surrendering your pet to an animal shelter - what are the physical and mental effects for the animals?
Many people surrendering their pets to our facility claim to do so because they are leaving the country and believe that taking the pet may be expensive, complicated, and stressful for the pet among other reasons.
It is a commonly held belief among some pet owners that abandoning their pet will not affect the animal’s mental and physical health. Unrealistically they hope their pet will find a new home, fall in love with their new owners and live happily ever after. This is a complete misconception; nothing could be further from the truth!
Animals do feel anxiety, loneliness, stress and fear when they are surrendered. Animal’s brains have evolved in such a way that the parts that process emotional pain and intense physical pain are regulated in the same area so to a dog or cat, emotional pain actually feels like physical pain.
Nikki Gammans, professional dog trainer and owner of the Pleasurable Pooch says: “Numerous studies have proven that psychological or emotional pain is just as harmful and has longer lasting effects than physical pain. To love and be loved as a family member and then be abandoned when you become inconvenient is nothing less than traumatic. What could be more damaging than to be torn from the only people you have ever known?”
Nikki continues to explain “The more anxious an animal is, the more its brain will try to focus on survival, the body will be pushing adrenalin, decreasing oxygen intake and toileting properly becomes increasingly difficult. These unresolved emotional issues can lead to an animal having real physical ailments as well. Abandoned or surrendered animals lose the ability to completely trust humans, although some trust can be rebuilt, it will never be what it was before the trauma of being left behind. Through no fault of their own these animals have lost their family, their home and their ability to completely trust.”
At RAK AWC we do everything to ensure through our adoption process that all prospective adoptees know all of the responsibilities required when taking on a pet to minimise the risk of surrendering the animals and minimising their distress.
Veterinarian Frank McMillan has done a lot of research on the psychological effects of neglect and abuse in animals. Based on a range of scientific studies (many of them horrific and unconscionable), we know that emotional harm actually hurts more than physical harm, and that animals will “choose” physical suffering over emotional suffering, if forced to pick. McMillan cites an experiment in which an electrified grid was placed between a puppy and a person to whom the puppy was socially attached. The puppies crossed the grid, despite being shocked the entire way, to be reunited with their social contact. McMillan also mentioned the well-publicised case of a cat named Scarlett who ran into a burning building five times to rescue her kittens, despite severe burns to her face and head. These animals are willing to suffer physical pain to alleviate emotional suffering. It is also known that cats and dogs can remember their owner’s years after their separation.
All these facts combined, paint a picture of dogs and cats, who would rather cross an electric grid or go into a burning building to be reunited with their loved ones even if it means suffering physical pain, than suffer the emotional pain of being separated.
We would plead with everyone to please reconsider your options and bring your pet with you to your new home. What is the stress of relocation compared to the stress of abandonment? In Nikki Gammans’ words: “What sort of pet parent do you want to be? Relocation can be expensive but it is the right choice for ALL the members of your household as the pet is not the only one to suffer the effects of a broken family.”
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