Healing Hearts: Grief after Dog Rehoming

Grief after dog rehoming cuts deep. Find out why rehoming is the only option for some owners, and how to forgive yourself as your heart heals from the loss.


Katie Abendroth

2/9/20247 min read

yellow sunflower field during daytime
yellow sunflower field during daytime

Healing Hearts: Grief after Dog Rehoming

Dog rehoming is a controversial topic, and this post is a confession of failure from the heart. The grief after dog rehoming cuts deep. It can be hard to talk about with others in your dog circle, who love dogs.

Yet friends who do not have pets fail to understand the depth of your sadness. Keep reading to find out why rehoming is the only option for some owners, and how to forgive yourself as your heart heals from the loss.

I may receive commission, at no cost to you, if you purchase from affiliate links on this page. 10% of all 2024 proceeds go to The Trevor Project.

Making the Decision to Rehome Your Pet

Deciding to rehome your pet can be a heart breaking, gut wrenching decision. Unfortunately, other people are quick to give their opinion on this topic when they don’t agree with rehoming.

Recent social media posts have quotes like:

I’ve loved you all my life…please don’t throw me away

Giving away your dog? Are kids negotiable too?

and “If you can’t give me forever, then I am NOT your dog. It’s that simple.”

Of course, it is not that simple.

These quotes fail to acknowledge the grief after dog rehoming that owners feel. We cannot predict all life events, and have no way of knowing what you will go through, or how our dog will react.

Additionally, dogs have their own temperaments and reactions to stress. If adopting an older dog, you do not know their back story. Judgment does not help owners who have made the decision to find their dog a new home process the grief and guilt that comes with it.

Top 3 Reasons Why People Rehome their Dog

According to preventativevet.com, here are 3 top reasons why people rehome their dog:

  1. Serious Behavior Issues Aggression, Reactivity, and Separation Anxiety can have a huge impact on a family. Your dog’s mental wellness and human liability are all important to consider if you are dealing with serious behavior issues. A professional dog trainer who specializes in the problem area is essential.

  2. Moving/Housing Barriers Finding housing, especially rentals, that allow large breeds, multiple dogs, or specific breeds can be extremely challenging. Even for homeowners, HOAs may strictly prohibited specific breeds. People may face moves they never anticipated or experience housing insecurity following a break-up or unemployment. These are not life changes you can predict when you adopt your dog.

  3. Finances People who adopt puppies often fail to realize how expensive dog care can be. Dog costs average over $150 per month. Unexpected costs like medical emergencies can quickly exceed this amount. Over the course of your pet’s life, costs can exceed $50,000– a serious amount of money without even factoring other expenses. We want to help dog owners learn preventative and money saving tips, such as our recommendations here for saving money on canine dental cleanings.

Considering All Options

Of course, rehoming should be a last resort option. Before rehoming your dog, work with a dog trainer that specializes in behavior management, hire dog walkers or sitters, explore housing options, and set up savings plans to cover dog costs.

However, there are times when finding a new home for your dog is the best decision.

Below is our story of the rehoming process for a dog named Jax, and how I dealt with the grief and guilt after rehoming.

Confessions of Owner Failure: Grief After Dog Rehoming

The depth of connection you can feel with a dog is hard to explain to someone who has not felt it.

The animal-human bond has evolved over 15,000 years! Although I have owned several dogs over the years, and loved them all, Jax was THAT dog for me.


During the COVID-19 pandemic, like many families, we fostered a dog from our local animal shelter for over a year. Jax was a 1.5 year old “lab mix” when we brought him home and he was scared of everything.

I threw myself into intensive training. He overcame his fear of cars, tubs, water, brushes, nail clippers, and learned dozens of commands. Jax was SMART but REACTIVE, a challenging combination.

Our neighborhood forbade pit bull breeds, and the animal shelter assured me he had no pit, only lab. A DNA test confirmed Jax was 50% pitbull terrier and 50% golden retriever, with no lab.

I LOVED Jax and he trusted me unconditionally, sitting at my feet for hours with a loyal gaze.

He loved our family and other dogs in the home, and loved the dog park more than anything. However, he remained extremely reactive to other children and leash walking.

We worked with the fabulous trainers at Zendog, who I commend for their support, expertise, and generosity after we decided to rehome Jax.

Deciding to Rehome

Unfortunately, when a dog is highly reactive, there are liabilities and risks. You have to manage the environment 24 hours a day. We had strict protocols in place for keeping the dog and neighborhood kids safe.

However, he was protective of us and remained extremely reactive to children and smaller dogs when on leash. Sadly, we realized our home was not structured enough for Jax.

It was a huge liability to have a breed that our HOA did not allow with his behavior concerns. My husband brought Jax back to the animal shelter and provided full disclosure of his behavior challenges, and we provided his actual breed DNA results.

A Happy Ending Despite the Grief after Dog Rehoming

I fell into deep grief after surrendering Jax back to the animal shelter. Sadly, Jax was on the euthanasia list, but fostering him required us to sign paperwork saying we would bring him back if we could not keep him.

I went into overdrive posting on social media to find him an another home. Again, the awesome trainers at Zendog offered free training to the next owner.

I will be forever grateful to them. Happily, Jax was adopted by someone who saw our posts.

Although I count this as a happy ending for him, the grief after dog rehoming exceeded anything I expected.

Exploring Grief after Dog Rehoming: Why it Hurts So Much

Loss of Identify

One reason grief after dog rehoming can run so deep, is that you have left no stone unturned in trying to make the situation work.

For me that meant tremendous time, energy, expense, and worry about how to control behavioral concerns. In the course of that time, my bond with Jax grew deeply.

My free time was spent at the dog park, letting Jax pull my bike, or with dog trainers. Screen time was spent watching dog training videos, and my money was spent on countless toys for mental stimulation.

We also spent time and expense on vet visits, treating issues that came with a shelter dog, including heartworms, allergies, ear infections, and weight.

Needless to say, when we made the decision to rehome Jax, I suffered a loss of identity that was unexpected and painful.

Driving home past our dog park or riding my bike alone would cause me to burst into tears.

Some days I would park outside the dog park and cry my eyes out. Unfortunately, I tried to bring my smaller dog to the dog park to stay connected, but he was not having it! My sidekick, Jax, was gone, and in that space I had to find new routines.

Facing Judgement

Another reason grief after dog rehoming is unique is that people face the judgement of others. Friends who loved dogs as much as I did could not imagine “giving away” their pet, and people who were not animal lovers did not understand my feelings.

I received hurtful comments and messages on social media posts, and had to decide not to respond. Truthfully, I even felt resentful towards friends who had “easy” pets and had not faced this decision.

I had to forgive myself that we were not his forever family.

Forgiving Yourself and Looking Forward

Coping with Guilt and Grief after Dog Rehoming

Feeling guilt and grief are natural after pet loss of any kind. I encourage you to find a supportive online community or family member who can help you process your feelings.

The grief journey is not a straight line; feelings may overlap. Journaling, mindfulness, new routines all help, but if you are feeling immense grief please talk to a licensed therapist who can help you unpack your feelings in a non-judgmental space.

Consider Your Dog’s Well-being to Reduce Grief after Dog Rehoming

Sometimes the most loving decision is the hardest, and rehoming your dog is the best decision for their personality, temperament, or safety.

Taking your emotions out of the equation can help you see the situation more objectively.

Grief after dog rehoming is very real for you, but pets are resilient and can thrive in lots of positive settings, even if that is not your home.

Resources to Help Grief after Dog Rehoming

No matter the circumstances, letting go of a pet is painful. Below are 3 tips for healing and support for rehomed dogs’ owners.


Find a supportive community or licensed therapist to help you process the grief and trauma you feel with pet bereavement. Follow social media pages, such as our non-judgement zone on Instagram @hope_after_pet_loss.

Your spouse or partner may not be the best sounding board, as they are also grieving. Young kids should never have the responsibility of holding you up. You must find healthy outlets so your children can express their own feelings to you, and learn positive coping strategies.


Preserve your dog’s memory. Even if the pet is still alive, your grief is real. Design a pet plaque or ornament to find closure.

You can also plant a tree to reflect the fact that your dog’s journey is still going. Many people choose to get a tattoo in honor of their favorite pet. Journal or write a letter to your dog.

A piece of jewelry (like this necklace or ring) to remember your pet fondly is another great option.

I keep a small picture of Jax in my jewelry box for safe keeping and choose when to take it out and send positive energy towards him in his life journey.


Resist the urge to sleep and lounge in PJs after the first 24 hours of rehoming your pet. Force yourself to dress, eat healthy food, exercise, and socialize.

These steps hurt at first but are key to finding your new normal after saying good-bye to a pet.

For weeks, I had to take a different route home because driving past our dog park was so painful, I would burst into tears. It is okay to cry, and it is okay to create new routines (or new routes home) to preserve your mental wellness during this time of grief.

I cannot say this enough: talk to a licensed counselor. This post should not replace counseling if you are experiencing extreme grief after dog rehoming.

However, it can be a roadmap to having conversations and processing your own feelings about this experience in the safe space of a counseling session.

You will get through this and I send you peace, love and support as you make decisions about pet ownership.

Pet Loss Memorial or Gift Ideas

  1. Plaque

  2. Ornament

  3. Jewelry like this necklace or ring