By: Claire Roberson, Communications Director

“Forever” is a strong word. We can’t predict how long our “forever” is or what is going to happen during that “forever.” However, it’s a word we don’t take lightly at the SPCA Albrecht Center. When we are looking for homes for our shelter animals, we base the home on the individual needs of the animals, but one criteria remains constant – that the adopter is committed to giving a shelter animal love, companionship & care for their “forever.”

From 2020 to 2021, the number of animals surrendered or returned (after being adopted from the SPCA) to our shelter more than doubled. In 2020, 16% of the entire yearly intake were surrenders or returns – approximately 190 animals. Just one year later, that number rose to 36%, or 369 animals.

The stats are intriguing yet horrifying. What is causing this spike? What does this mean for the shelter’s future when space is now being limited for stray animals – an even bigger issue? How can we help prevent this number of owners needing to surrender?

The reasons for these surrenders/returns range but have an overarching theme – a lifestyle change. A new baby. A move. A new job resulting in not enough time. Financial constraints. Though we can’t always prevent the unpredictability of life, it is incredibly important to have at least a subconscious plan of how we will handle changes like these and how our companions will factor into that. We would do it for our children, our parents, our family…but aren’t our animals our family too?

In the same way, if we are to adopt from local shelters, we need to also prepare for the fact that these animals will need time to adjust. A growl at a stranger just as their settling into their new space may not mean aggression. Not listening to staff or volunteers that know the ideal home for an animal by allowing their adopted friend that isn’t kid-friendly to meet your friend’s child just because it’s not a kid in their home will set them up for failure.

Now, this is not to discredit the fact that there are absolutely last minute, desperate situations in which loving pet owners find themselves having to make the heartbreaking decision to surrender or return their companion. Or, maybe the home truly wasn’t the right fit for an adopted animal, which we couldn’t have known before trying them in that home. Besides these situations, we have noted an increase in situations that were preventable if only we factor in the fact that our companions should be a primary part of our plan.

Taking time to truly consider if now is the right time for you to welcome a new companion in your home, as well as determining what kind of animal is the right fit, is the best way to prevent this issue before even adopting. Animals should not be an impulsive decision, just as surrendering or returning should not be an impulsive decision. The SPCA Albrecht Center has a webpage that helps guide potential adopters through any questions they should be asking themselves before taking on a new companion:

Now that you’ve considered these factors, trusting our staff to help you find the right companion is also key. We understand how easy it is to fall in love with certain animals – we fall in love with them, too, every day! However, for example, maybe a dog you’ve fallen in love with needs more activity than your schedule will allow. Our staff and volunteers who work that dog every day have all noted his energy. You ignore that fact and tell staff you will make plenty of time. You take the pup home & reality sets in. You’re working long hours but do what you can by going on quick evening walks with your new companion. Then, one day, you come home to a destroyed house. The damage is costly and now you’ve realized you can’t afford the time or the cost of repairs, so your new companion is returned.

Intentions were good. You wanted to save a life by adopting from our shelter and we are so grateful to our adopters. However, what would have the BEST intentions been? Maybe allowing that dog to find someone who could be exactly what they need and finding a companion with the help of our staff that is the right fit for you. Especially as coming back and forth from the shelter is highly stressful for our animals and can result in future behavior issues.

What if you already have a companion and a major change in your life has resulted in you considering surrendering? As soon as you can, begin planning how to incorporate your companion into this new trajectory of your life. There are a ton of online resources to assist you through any change. How to introduce a companion to a new baby or furry friend. Financial assistance and pet food banks for financial challenges. How to find pet friendly rentals. Alternatives to surrendering to a shelter – the most stressful option for your pets.

For alternatives to rehoming, the SPCA Albrecht Center also has a webpage dedicated to helping pet owners find a loving home for their companions when “forever” is cut short despite their best efforts:

At the end of the day, the SPCA Albrecht Center is a resource center for pet owners and the area’s homeless and neglected animals. One of those resources is being a place for owned animals to go when they need to find a new home due to certain circumstances. However, the rise in surrenders and returns cannot continue to rise or else compromise resources and space for the most vulnerable animals. We urge pet owners and potential adopters to please take every precaution possible so that our shelter, or any shelter for that matter, might be the last resort for their animals.

Our staff is always happy to help match you with the right companion, answer any of your questions to determine if a new companion is right for you or give advice to help you rehome or avoid rehoming during life’s uncertainties. All of which will ensure we are their “forever.”

Claire Roberson has been with the SPCA Albrecht Center as the Communications Director for over five years, working in marketing, grant writing & media correspondence. She attended College of Charleston, where she graduated with a degree in Nonprofit Business & interned with Charleston Animal Society, the leader in the No-Kill South Carolina initiative. She is proud to be working for her hometown’s only nonprofit, no kill animal shelter. Outside of work, Claire enjoys the arts, snuggling with her cat Anakin and pursuing ways to make the world a better place.

The SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare is a private, nonprofit, no kill animal shelter in Aiken, SC. The SPCA also operates a local Thrift Store (“Where Shopping Saves Lives”), a public, affordable Veterinary Care Center & a Dog Park. It is our mission to improve the lives of companion animals by rehoming abused, abandoned, and neglected pets while fighting for their well-being through vigorous legislative efforts, humane education, and by offering affordable veterinary care for all.