Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender

The surrender department at any shelter is always an emotional place.  People from all walks of life are there to hand over their ownership of their pet(s), and it is never a happy occasion.  Unfortunately, the mindset of most pet owners is that their first resort when facing a challenge or obstacle in keeping their pet is to take them to the shelter to surrender.  In reality, this should be the last resort.  Helping owners keep their pets, and helping educate the public that surrendering to the shelter should be a last resort is an important program for every rescue and shelter to have.

There are many shelters and rescue groups that do some or all of these programs to help keep animals from entering the shelter system through owner surrender.  My personal favorite through my work and volunteer experience that has really impressed me is Austin Pets Alive’s PASS (Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender) Program.  Below I’ve detailed some of the main areas the PASS program covered to help with owner surrender.

The PASS program originally started with a team of volunteers who, with the permission from the city shelter, would set up a table outside the surrender door and start conversations with people coming to surrender.  The conversations were always positive, never accusatory, with the goal of working with the owner on how to best serve them and their animal and keep the pet out of the shelter system if possible.  The program later grew to being overseen by a staff person and had a much larger army of incredible volunteers, and was run mostly through a hotline and an email.


Sometimes the reason an owner is looking to surrender their pets is they will be unable to care for them for a limited time.  It may be the owner is having a medical procedure that would make them unable to care for their pet for a few weeks or months, or any other number of reasons the owner cannot care for their pet.

A healthy PASS program will create a database list of boarding facilities in the area that will provide free or discounted boarding, and detail the length of time they are open to providing, along with how many animals they are open to taking on each year.  Volunteers or a designated staff can oversee the management tracking of this database to ensure the relationships stay positive and the pets are well-cared for and returned at the proper time.

In a few rare cases, the owner needs help boarding their pet for more than a few weeks, or even more than a few months.  A prime example is military personnel being deployed for an extended period.  In these instances, having a team of well-trained PASS foster families is a great program to help keep these pets safe and sound until their owner can return from their service.


Sometimes the issue is something as simple as the owner is having a financial difficulty that is leading them to feel they cannot afford the food and/or litter for their pet for a period of time.  A food bank for owners to access and keep themselves on their feet while also allowing them to keep their pets is vital in any community.

Taking it a step further, partnering with the local food bank and/or meals on wheels programs in the community to ensure all individuals utilizing food services for themselves also have an option at the same time to receive food/litter for their pets is extremely helpful.


Many times, the pet is facing a medical situation that the owner cannot afford, so they believe the best chance for the pet is to surrender them over and hopefully get the care they need.  Unfortunately, many shelters cannot afford to take these expensive treatments on themselves, and this ends up putting the pet in a precarious position.

The PASS program concept helps the owner fund raise and/or find a veterinarian that will do a discounted service or payment plans.  A healthy PASS program will create a database list that details all the local veterinary clinics, and the deals they are open to providing, along with how many times a year they are open to taking a discounted service on.

Placement Assistance

Sometimes the reality is simply that the owner can no longer keep their pet(s).  Instead of treating them harshly, or judging them for their situation, the best course of action is to offer to work with them in finding a direct placement for the pet.  This skips the middle man of the shelter, keeps the pet safe from the common diseases of shelters as well as free from the stress shelters can cause, and helps the pet find a good fit for their future home as their current owner knows them best.

Assisting with advertising the pet for new owners, vetting potential new owners for the best fit, and paperwork help to ensure everything is legal in the transition process are all ways the PASS program can help an owner re-home their pet.


A PASS program is vital in every community to allow owners to keep their pets when they are in need of help, and help pets find a new home safely without having to go through a shelter system!


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