HSHV staff member Cathryn O'Connell with two dogs at Walk & WagStudies show a growing number of pet owners, now about 90%, think of their animals as family.  We buy them birthday presents and special treats, and even dress them up in pretty dresses. As such, HSHV is widely celebrated for connecting so many animal lovers with new furry family members.  But there are so many other ways we help pet lovers that don’t get as much notice.  I recently received an emotional reminder of one of them.

I was contacted by a former Ann Arborite who had surrendered her two cats here last year.  She explained that her mother was dying of cancer, and she had to move across the country to take care of her.  Because of her mother’s illness, the cats couldn’t go along, and the urgency of the situation left no time to explore other options.  Then she told me of her two young girls who had not only lost the home they knew, but also their grandmother—and they were still grief-stricken over losing their kitties, too.  She felt heavy pangs of guilt for leaving them behind and for hurting her daughters.  Then she asked, ever so humbly, if I could check in with their adopters just to see if they were okay, hoping this might give them all some needed solace.

When you haven’t been in this type of situation, it might be easy to judge.  Many people say, “I would never leave my animal at a shelter!”  But life is messy.  Often these are folks facing personal crisis or who have found themselves in a place where their animal needs more than they can provide.

I felt deeply for this mom.  I have never faced such a decision, and of all things I have put my daughter through as a part of our journey, I am grateful this was not one of them.

I reached out to the adopters, and both were gracious and kind.  They sent me updates and beautiful pictures.  Both cats were more than okay; they were truly loved…one noted as “Queen of the Castle.”

I sent the information on, and while it did offer some relief, it also stirred a little more heartbreak.  I encouraged this mom to let go of her guilt, reminding her that this painful decision was an act of selfless love.

We see people like this mom all the time.  They’ve surrendered their beloved pet but anxiously watch for adoption news on our Facebook page or website, or continually call with worry about how their animal is adjusting to shelter life.   They make me think about the agony experienced by those who don’t have a place like HSHV to turn to—a place where the care is poor or where death is more certain than rehoming.

Boy with catRight now, we are seeing many heart-rending images of people braving the storms while holding on tightly to their beloved companion animals.  (Fortunately, since Hurricane Katrina, rescue agencies have learned the importance of having pet-friendly evacuation shelters because so many people will not leave if they must leave their animals behind.) And then there are those who’ve sadly had to give up their animals to shelters because the long-lasting level of devastation has made it impossible to provide basic care.

Of course, surrender stories are not always filled with altruism. Let’s face it: not everyone treats someone well because they are family.  There are people who should never own an animal.  Like those who left their pets behind in the hurricanes, chained up or leashed to trees, with no way to escape.  Regardless of the statistics, there are still many on this planet who lack the ability to emotionally attach or to feel empathy for animals, or who lack the personal responsibility needed to humanely care for another living being.  And we are very glad we are here for those animals.

From giving shelter, to offering needed veterinary care, to providing free pet food assistance through our Bountiful Bowls program, HSHV does much more than help animals.  We help people help the animals they love.