I recently received a call from a friend who wanted to alert me to a problem at a rental property in his neighborhood. The people who lived there had been in the process of moving out, and it seems that one of their dogs had been romping through the streets all weekend, but no one had been calling for him.
When my friend finally corralled the dog and took him home, no one answered the door, so he took the runaway around to the back yard. There he discovered that the little guy was an escapee, having jumped through a window while the family's other two dogs remained confined in the kitchen, with an empty food bowl, a nearly empty water bowl and the expected attendant puddles and piles that the animals had left behind during their confinement. The furniture in the house had been cleared out, with only some boxes remaining in the garage. No one had seen any people at the house for several days.
A large bowl of kibbles and several refills on the water bowl later, all was forgiven by the four-footers, who then proceeded to snuffle around the backyard and roll in the grass. But the rest of us stuck around, considering our next move.
Why do companion animals so often get the short end of the stick when it comes to matters of convenience for their owners?
Abandoned animals are nothing new for any shelter that's been in business for more than, oh, say, a week. A study by the Humane Society of the United States lists "moving" and "landlord won't allow" as some of the primary reasons people abandon their pets at shelters. In some instances, pet owners may even choose, from among their animals, which ones will move and which will be left behind.
For pet lovers, this would be as inconceivable as choosing which of our children would go with us and which would be left to fend for themselves.
What a great many pet owners fail to understand is that adopting a companion animal requires a commitment to care for that animal until its days are over. It means attending to all the needs of that animal and realizing that a cat or dog gets hungry and thirsty, hot and cold, frisky and ill, just like we do, and these are all needs that we are committed to care for.
Pet ownership requires that nasty "R"-word that people often want to avoid: "Responsibility."
Moving with pets is not always easy, but it can be done, and the Internet is filled with sources that will guide you. Among the tips the HSUS recommends is to start looking for pet-friendly housing as early in the moving process as you can. If you're a renter moving to an area with which you're not familiar, jump online to find the area's rental agents. Phone the local humane society to see if staff members keep a list of apartments that rent to pet owners or if the staff members themselves can recommend pet-friendly housing. As you make your calls, find out what size animals the various renters permit and whether they require a pet deposit with the lease.
Although larger complexes may be a tougher sell, smaller renters can sometimes be persuaded to change their policies if you can provide references of having been a good caretaker of your companion animals. This may include letters from previous landlords or your veterinarian, who can vouch for the quality of care you give your pet. Also make known to the landlord that you disapprove of people who don't discipline or sufficiently provide for their animals and allow them to be noisy, make messes or damage the doors, walls and carpeting.
Sometimes your pet will be his or her own best advocate. If you are moving within town, invite the landlord to your present home to show him or her that your place is clean and your pet is well-behaved. (A few charming tricks on your pet's part probably wouldn't hurt, either.)
Above all, be willing to abide by whatever rules the landlords set and don't try to sneak pets in and keep them hidden. This seldom works, and it only creates worse feelings between landlords and pet owners.
If, despite your best sincere efforts to make it happen, you simply cannot find housing that allows your pet to join you, please put at least as much effort into finding a good home for your pet. Start by asking responsible family and friends, preferably someone your pet already knows and with whom he or she would feel comfortable. Let your pet visit the home first, and then perhaps try an overnight or two, just to get used to the idea. Leave your pet's toys, dishes and bedding, and don't make the leave-taking long and sad - your pet will pick up on your emotions and react accordingly.
And do check in from time to time after you move, to make sure the new arrangement is working out for both parties.
If you can't find an appropriate home for your pet, your local shelter should be your last option. While we do our best to place all our animals in loving homes, the procedure is stressful for the animals, who will be scared and lonely at first. Dogs especially bond with their "pack" members, and some take the abandonment particularly hard.
But please, never EVER leave your animal behind in the building when you move. Your pet's welfare is not the responsibility of your landlord, and to leave an animal to die of thirst or starvation is an act of cruelty that is now a felony in the state.
Fortunately for my friend, his neighbors returned for their dogs, and he took the opportunity to educate them about caring for animals. But it doesn't always work this way. If you suspect an animal has been abandoned in a house or apartment by a previous renter, please call for help immediately. We're available at 843-6835.