Re-homing: a potential solution, not a ‘magic bullet’ - Veterinary Practice
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InFocus

Re-homing: a potential solution, not a ‘magic bullet’

FRANCESCA RICCOMINI argues that while re-homing is a perfectly valid potential solution for some animals with some behaviour problems, it is an area with a considerable list of dos and don’ts…

IN the last article (February issue) I discussed my recent re-homing of a cat given up for house soiling.

So far I can report 100% success and my grateful acquisition of a splendid feline companion. This, however, should not blind anyone to the fact that even at its most straightforward, re-homing any animal of any species is an enormous responsibility.

When the dog, cat, small furry, etc., has been relinquished because of problematic behaviour, the stakes are even higher and the burden of responsibility considerably greater.

Whatever the particular pet’s circumstances and the specific nature of the problem, this is one situation where it is imperative that no one makes unsubstantiated assumptions or leaps to precipitate conclusions.

It is absolutely critical that every aspect of the case is examined in detail while everyone involved must strive to prevent their hearts ruling their heads – something that’s often easier said than done.

Don’t lose sight of the risks

No one should ever lose sight of the risks inherent in placing an animal, no matter how appealing and apparently hard done by, in a new home containing unfamiliar people and perhaps other pets – either in the household or in the vicinity – that will be affected by the newcomer’s behaviour.

And, of course, any such effect is likely to be a two-way process, which also needs in-depth consideration, especially if the current difficulties relate in any way to contact (however remotely) with other animals.

It’s likely that anyone who works on the frontline in first opinion practice or sees behaviour cases on a dedicated basis has from time to time come across a delightful or seemingly deserving animal whose owners have given up on it because its behaviour was considered unacceptable or inconvenient.

It may even be that what the pet does has simply worn them out without anyone apparently bothering to try to understand or properly resolve their difficulties. Then, as an outsider, it can be easy to feel that people are being unreasonable and the animal is being let down.

In these circumstances, it is a short step to the assumption that a change of location and more educated, experienced or tolerant ownership is all that is required to make things better.

And indeed many of us will have encountered cases where unrealistic or frankly unfair owner expectations have been difficult to comprehend, as have the minimal efforts that some people are prepared to make on their pet’s behalf.

Undoubtedly also, under some circumstances a change which brings with it greater understanding, dedication and perhaps relocation to a radically different environment will resolve the problem behaviour. My own cat is just such a case and I can think of others where the solution to even quite complicated and challenging behavioural difficulties has been similarly straightforward and successful.

It really is crucially important, however, that we do not allow these positive outcomes to influence us to such an extent that we overlook some self-evident truths. Life generally can be a tricky business and pet ownership not uncommonly challenging; while problematic behaviour is sometimes much more complex than it appears on superficial examination, especially when the reviewer does not have a great deal of specific knowledge of the topic.

Resistant to resolution

Behaviour problems can also be resistant to resolution and prone to deterioration after initial improvement. Therefore, when it comes to such difficulties, whilst avoiding an unduly pessimistic approach, no professional in whatever capacity does any “problem pet” a favour when they view re-homing as an option with anything other than great caution.

With some animals in some circumstances it is undoubtedly a potential solution but it is imperative that everyone is honest, realistic and responsible in their approach.

Underplaying, for example, the nature, severity and/or longevity of the problem, no matter how well-adjusted and re-homeable the animal appears to be or uncomplicated the issue, is not only irresponsible but can be disastrous; as can making assumptions, especially if this leads to over estimation of the prospective adopters’ ability to sort out the problem(s).

They may be kindly, willing, knowledgeable and experienced with current circumstances that seem to lend themselves to achieving a positive outcome. But what about the future? Is this an issue that will disappear now only to return if things change?

What, for instance, will happen if new owners acquire life-partners – even older single people often find someone with whom to bond and combine their lives, homes and perhaps pets.

Young people may have children or their parents start caring for grandchildren and while anyone can move house, some individuals and age groups are more commonly mobile than others.

Some previously problematic animals cope well in spacious accommodation with large gardens in quiet locations only to struggle with close proximity to high concentrations of people and other pets. So things can easily unravel at a later date, particularly if initial overly optimistic expectations have blinded everyone to reality.

Naturally, adopting an unwarrantedly pessimistic attitude could lead to paralysis and unwillingness to take even the most well-thought-through and reasonable chance. But no one, least of all the “problem pet”, benefits when well-meaning people avoid facing all the facts and relevant issues full on.

Skimming over the evidence, donning rose-tinted spectacles and hoping for the best often results in animals being bounced around from place to place, problematic behaviour that intensifies and becomes more complicated or tough decisions that are simply shifted further down the line.

Therefore, while re-homing is a perfectly valid potential solution for some animals with some behaviour problems, this is an area where the list of dos and don’ts is significant. My next article will highlight some of them.

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