Many people find that they have to rehome their pets due to reasons such as allergies, moving, or some other unforeseen circumstances. When you’re talking about rehoming small pets such as guinea pigs, rats, and hamsters, there are many dangers to watch out for. Rehoming small animals has its own unique set of challenges. You can’t just put a sign out for “free guinea pigs” and expect they’ll all go to good homes. Snake owners may be watching for free food, a parent may drive by and think the small pet would be a good gift for their 5 year old, or a collector may wish to take all of your animals off your hands.
When faced with a decision to adopt out their pets, many people turn to shelters. The problem is, shelters are overcrowded and your pet may or may not be adopted. For small pets, the chances of being adopted are slim because a lot of people don’t even realize they can adopt a small pet from a shelter. Depending on your area, the shelter may just euthanize your pets as soon as possible. Some shelters don’t even show potential adopters the small pets. They may just be kept in a back room.
Even if you’ve found an excellent shelter that is no-kill, they could be full already. There are many homeless animals, don’t think for a minute that you are the only person who ever moved and couldn’t take their animals with them. If at all possible, try to rehome your pets on your own first and use the shelter as a last resort. Think of it this way: a shelter with a staff of 10 people might have 200 animals to place.
Even if each one of these shelter workers was working diligently to find the animals homes (and that’s not generally going to be the case, because they have many other things to get done), that’s one person trying to rehome 20 animals at a time. But if you’re rehoming just your pet, or maybe 5 pets, but probably not 20 pets, you’re going to have a lot more time to devote to your individual pets than they are.
The key thing is to act quickly. As soon as you find out that the apartment you are moving to isn’t going to allow pets, start the rehoming process! Time is critical. Obviously, in some scenarios you will not have the benefit of time. Perhaps a relative died and you need to permanently leave the country in a week. Some situations are entirely out of your control. But if you do have the time, don’t waste it. When I used to volunteer taking surrender calls for animal rescue organizations, so many people would tell me that they tried to cope with their allergies for the past 3 months and now they just can’t take it any longer.
These people would then tell me either I took their pets that day or they’d take them to a shelter. They had 3 months that could have been put to good use, yet they threw it away. Don’t procrastinate on this. Even if you aren’t 100% sure, there is no harm in looking for a home, finding one, and then realizing you don’t need to rehome your pet afterall. If that happens, you can always redirect the adopter to another needy animal. Waiting until the last minute to part with your pet is different than waiting until the last minute to even think about rehoming. If you’re going to move in 2 months and you find an adopter within the first month, work something out so that they’ll get the pet the week you leave or something. But whatever you do, don’t put things off. Your pet will be the one who suffers from it in the long run.
After you’ve realized that the need to rehome your animals is a real possibility, start posting ads. Try the Petfinder classifieds, Craigslist, and contact animal rescue groups to see if they have a private adoptions program as well that will help advertise your pets. Make posters and put them at your vet’s office if permitted. Now you’ll have a source of potential adopters. The better you make your ads, the more potential adopters they will draw in. Give a detailed description of personalities, and if at all possible, include a cute photo with your ads. Photos greatly increase the chances of your pet being adopted, especially if you know someone who can take some good photos for you. You want to find as many potential adopters as you possibly can.
The more time you have at your disposal, the more you’ll be able to screen potential adopters and make sure they really will take care of your pets. While a lot of responsible snake owners feed pre-killed frozen food, there are a lot out there that will still take free small pets. Generally, they aren’t going to be willing to do much work for them. A lot of small animals owners that are faced with rehoming their pets fear this group of people the most. However, there are some very simple things you can do to ward off the snake owners. Charge an adoption fee and you’re much less likely to get snake owners. Ask some questions and maybe even request to see a cage and supplies before you hand over your pets. Snake owners aren’t going to take the trouble to come up with supplies just so they can get snake food. Snake food shops are out there and they don’t give them any hassle.
This small amount of hassle should protect your animals from that fate. Aside from screening out snake owners, you’ll also want to screen out collectors. Some seemingly well-intentioned people collect small animals (think of the cat lady, but for guinea pigs). They’ll take every small animal they see in the newspaper. But they simply take on way too many and before they know it, they can’t afford to feed them, take them to the vet when they get ill, or even provide them with sufficient space for living. These are not the type of people you want to give your small pets to. An adoption fee should keep these people away as well, but a second precaution would be to ask for a vet reference. It’s unlikely that someone who collects small animals would have a vet to give a reference. If the vet had seen their animals previously, they might have seen signs some problems.
By far the most common group of people you’ll get though, are the people who think a small pet would be a good “starter pet” for their young child. Don’t rule out parents with children of any age, but be cautious and ask if the pet is for them or for their child. Make sure your pets won’t be stuck in the child’s bedroom where they won’t be frequently seen by other family members. If you’re confused about what kind of questions to ask people, talk to an animal rescue near you (or even online if there isn’t one near you). A hamster rescuer would be able to tell you what kind of questions they ask adopters on their application. While you may not agree with all of the questions they ask, you may find some questions that you hadn’t thought of before that are important to you.
If once your time is up, you find you still have not been able to rehome your animals, see if a local rescue has room. Some charge a surrender fee, some don’t. Some don’t take surrenders no matter how much you beg. You can’t expect magic. A spot won’t appear in a rescue just because your pet needs a place to go. Next, if you have a choice on shelters, check them out. See how the animals are kept there. See where they are kept. Are they going to be inside or outside? Are guinea pigs being fed hay and pellets, or are they getting cat food? If you must surrender your small pets to a shelter, give them some proper supplies if you can.
Animal shelters often only have dog and cat food available. If they’ll keep your pet up to 2 weeks, donate enough food for then. At least if your pet does end up being euthanized, they will be properly cared for until the end rather than being given an improper environment. You have to remember that most shelters just aren’t equipped to deal with the pets you are surrendering. They are ready for dogs and cats to come through their doors. They didn’t expect you to come in with your rat. Maybe no one who works there ever had a rat before. You need to keep this in mind and bring along the proper food, a cage, and basically, everything your rat will need for their stay. They may take the supplies, they may not. But at least you tried.
The main thing to remember, is to act fast. It’s not always easy to find new owners for your small pets. You may think everyone would want hamsters, but then when moving week comes, they do not. Screening is important as well to ensure your pets find good new owners. Animal rescues and shelters are often overcrowded and therefore should be last resorts.
They have enough animals to rehome and while this may make it seem like they don’t care about your animal, it’s not that they don’t care, it’s just that they’ve heard your story hundreds of times. If you actively seek out adopters for your pets, at least then you have tried, which is more than a lot of people would do for their small pets. See the links at the end of this article for additional resources. Best of luck in rehoming your small animals!