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Surrendered To Love: Two Volunteers Who Never Give Up Finding Homes for Surrendered Dogs

Kaitlin (left) and Shannon Duffy (right) work tirelessly to help dogs who must be surrendered find a new and loving home.

“It breaks my heart to write this…” 

“Our situation is dire. Can you help?” 

“We have nowhere else to turn…” 

These are just some of the email subject lines Where the Love Is Animal Rescue (WTLI) volunteers Kaitlin and Shannon Duffy see three or four times a day in our inbox. Each email contains a desperate plea from dog owners across Connecticut asking to surrender their pet into our care. 

"Their two pairs of hands are almost like having a full house of helpers."

Kaitlin and Shannon want nothing more than to find their dog a new home. This heart-wrenching – and very challenging - mission couldn’t be in more capable hands. 

The Duffy sisters – 36-year-old identical twins -- have been volunteering for WTLI for almost 10 years and have rescued and rehomed more than 1,500 dogs throughout Connecticut. They serve as WTLI Board of Directors vice presidents, shelter managers, adoption managers, caretakers, and “dog huggers,” too.  

“There’s a saying that ‘many hands lighten the load,’” said WTLI Founder Gabrielle Scirocco. “In the case of Kaitlin and Shannon, their two pairs of hands are almost like having a full house of helpers. They wear so many different hats as Where the Love Is volunteers, it seems like they are everywhere at once.” 

Recently, Kaitlin and Shannon have been devoting a great more time to managing the alarming surge in pet-surrender requests every day. They answer every email, which is only the beginning of an exhaustive effort, to reach a happy conclusion.


In this new landscape for animal-rescue shelters, we thought it was a good time to ask Kaitlin and Shannon to explain WTLI’s surrender protocols and procedures so that our supporters and the community can see that our mission goes well beyond rescuing abandoned and abused dogs from Connecticut and other states. 

When did you first notice an uptick in people asking to surrender their dogs? 

We began to see more emails requesting surrenders early in 2022 when people were returning to their workplaces after the height of the Covid pandemic had eased. 

Where are these requests coming from? 

The vast majority of the surrender emails we receive are from Connecticut residents. We prioritize the rescue and surrender of Connecticut dogs, but also occasionally accept abandoned and abused dogs and their litters from reputable shelters in other states when those dogs are faced with immediate euthanasia.  

How do you process requests to surrender a dog? 

When we receive a request, we read it through and record the information provided. (We do not have a cat facility, so we rely on people to foster any surrendered cat. All of our cat fosters are currently at capacity.) We provide a list of organizations specific to cat rescue. We also let them know that if the listed organizations are not able to help, please email us back and we will provide them with an additional list to reach out to.  

If it is a surrender request for a dog, the main goal is to keep the dog in the home whenever possible, so we provide a list of suggestions on how to do so. Those include reaching out to the rescue organization or breeder where the dog came. (WTLI requires adopters to reach out to them first); asking friends or family for temporary assistance; employing a trainer or animal  behaviorist; providing the owner with small behavioral/training tips; hiring a dog walker to come in during the day to provide the dog with extra exercise and interaction; and suggesting breed specific rescues that may be better able to assist.

Once we have exhausted all options that would keep the dog in their current home, we often offer a courtesy post on the WTLI Facebook page to see if the dog can get any interest from our Facebook followers. If the post receives attention, we will contact the interested parties to talk to them and request they fill out an application. This enables all to know that the dog is going to a safe home!  

From there, we will help set up “meet and greets” and help to complete the transfer/ adoption to a new home. Those who surrender are required to sign a contract and pay a fee of $80 (unless this is a financial hardship, in which case we ask for a donation of their choice).  

Surrender situations are all unique and we try to respect the wishes of all involved parties -- does the surrendering family want to meet the new adopter and vice versa? Does the surrendering family want updates and pics or not? Is the new owner open to this, etc. This also includes how the dog is handed off -- in many cases they will hand the dog off to us at a neutral location and leave before the new family comes by to pick up the dog. This can be emotionally easier for all involved. 

We keep in touch with the surrendering families to let them know if we get interest or, if not, to see how else we can assist. If we can help a pet find a new home while they live with their current owners, everyone wins! In some cases, however, we do take the dog into our rescue. 

Under what circumstances will WTLI accept a surrendered dog? 

We try to find the right fit for WTLI and the dog. It always depends on whether we have enough shelter space or an open foster family who fits the needs of the dog. If the need is urgent/timely, especially if the dog is at risk of euthanasia, we will make every effort to find a place, but, unfortunately, our rescue is almost always full. 

We like to think that surrendered dogs have a lot of things going for them: they have likely been living in a home environment so their behavior in a home is known; they are (most often) house trained; they may have been socialized with other dogs, cats and even kids; and their backgrounds may be known (or more complete) than other rescue dogs. 

Under what circumstances will WTLI decline to take in a surrendered dog? 

Usually it’s because we don't have the room. An overcrowded shelter is more likely to spread illness and lower the quality of life for all dogs. Or, because it can be very traumatizing for a dog who is used to living in a home to suddenly end up in a noisy environment with lots of new dogs and people. This trauma not only affects a dog's emotional well-being but can also affect their physical health. This is especially true for older dogs. Finally, we may not have the proper resources to care for the dog (due to intense behavioral issues or medical issues). Surrenders can also be more challenging to place because they have likely been living in a home environment so their behavior in a home is known, including the not-so-favorable behavior (Do they chew furniture? Will they howl if left in a crate alone? Will they dig under the fence? Do they need a lot of exercise to keep from destructive boredom?). Many people incorrectly associate the word surrender with behavior issues. In a majority of cases, the surrender is NOT a  result of the dog's behavior or needs (but instead due to owner circumstances).  

What are the most prevalent reasons for surrenders? 

We see a lot of different reasons for surrenders and many are quite unfortunate. In a large majority of cases it is NOT families who just don't want a dog or don't care about it. In the last year or two, we have seen a sharp increase in cases where an owner cannot afford their current housing and must either move somewhere where dogs are not allowed or are going to become homeless. We have also seen the rise in surrender requests that are a result of an inability to give the dog enough attention and care due to work changes or family changes (such as divorce, new baby, etc). Of course, we do have owners who become very ill or pass away suddenly. In most cases, the surrendering families really are doing what they feel is in the best interest of their dog. It is not an easy decision for them.

While all surrender cases are certainly difficult for us, the most challenging are those that involve older dogs. The older dogs have in many cases lived long happy lives with the same owners and are likely to be very confused upon surrender. They are also more challenging to get into adoptive homes because many adopters do not want the heartbreak and medical bills that come along with geriatric dogs. 

Find out more about Where The Love Is surrender options

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