For years, puppies and kittens have been given as presents for birthdays, holidays, or just as gestures of love. But some shelters, breeders, and more than a few writers frown on the tradition under the unsubstantiated suspicion that someone surprised with such a gift is ill-suited to care for it. The fear is that the animal will be returned like an ugly sweater, or worse, face neglect or abuse.
It’s a frightening thought, but given a number research findings, some as recent as October, the fear is not based in reality. There’s just no proof that giving animals as gifts is not in their best interest. This misconception may not only prevent the movement of shelter animals to potentially loving homes, but also drive potential adopters toward unscrupulous and inhumane sources for pets including pet stores that almost always get their inventory from puppy mills.
In a scientific study conducted earlier this year and published in October, the ASPCA found that 96 percent of people who received pets as gifts reported it either increased or had no impact on their love or attachment to that pet. Also, 86 percent of the pets in the study are still in the home, a number roughly equivalent with the percentage of pets retained following a routine adoption.
The survey further revealed no difference in attachment based on whether the gift was a surprise or known in advance. This supports previous studies conducted in the 1990s and 2000, which also found that pets acquired as gifts are less likely to be relinquished than pets acquired directly by an individual owner.
ASPCA Vice President of Shelter Research and Development Dr. Emily Weiss, an animal behaviorist who authored some of that research, blogged about the findings:
“Every couple of months, the ‘no pets as gifts’ myth raises its ugly head,” Weiss writes. “Christmas is coming up, birthdays are every day, and dogs and cats in some shelters around the country are missing chances at homes, so it’s time to put this myth to bed.”
Knowing that pet gifting isn’t inherently wrong doesn’t mean you should give a pet to anyone. Pets should only be given as gifts to people with the ability, means and available time to care for one responsibly, and to children under 12 only if parents are ready to take on full responsibility. To help with the transition, Weiss recommends delivering a “starter kit”—bowls, food, toys, a collar, an ID tag, or litter—with the new pet, and encouraging new owners to get their pets licensed.
Also, make sure only to get pets from shelters and responsible breeders, not from pet stores or internet sources.
Concern about animal welfare comes from a good place, but too much fear and not enough information can stand in the way of a life-saving match. Find adoptable pets in your area by visiting www.aspca.org/adopt and searching for the shelter or rescue group nearest you.
ASPCA President & CEO Matthew Bershadker (right) on location at a dog fighting bust earlier this year.
By ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker
The holidays are a big distraction this time of year, but all the more reason to keep our eyes on the ball – and in this case, on neglected horses in need.
As you may know, in November, our Field Investigations and Response (FIR) Team traveled to Spokane, Washington, to assist Spokane County Regional Animal Protective Services (SCRAPS) with the sheltering and daily care of 63 horses seized as part of an animal cruelty investigation.
So while many of us were celebrating Thanksgiving, the FIR team was on the ground helping to provide continuing care for these severely neglected animals (among many ASPCA staffers on the job that day). Sixty-two of the horses are responding well to treatment and are in recovery, while one, sadly, did not survive.
The negligent owner is still missing; a hearing to determine custody of the horses will be held on December 16. But our priority continues to be the health and welfare of these animals. We can’t undo their suffering, but with your support we can show them care and love, and put them on a brighter path.
Rescuing this many large animals is, of course, no easy task. So my big thanks go to SCRAPS, to the ASPCA field teams who put these horses before their own holidays, and to you as well for making such important work possible.
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Some good news on a topic laden with horror: Last Friday, the ASPCA helped end the torture of hundreds of abused dogs in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, and Texas and brought to justice those who—for profit and perverse pleasure—betrayed and defiled the trust that connects humans and animals.
In an operation that involved 16 animal welfare organizations, including The Humane Society of the United States, as well as at least 10 federal and state law enforcement agencies, 367 dogs across multiple locations in the Southeast were seized in the second-largest dog fighting raid in U.S. history.
I spent several years overseeing the ASPCA’s anti-cruelty group, where I witnessed or heard first-hand accounts of unspeakable acts of cruelty, but rarely have I encountered suffering of this size and scope. Dogs ranging in age from several days to 12 years were found emaciated and bearing typical scars of dog fighting, and left to suffer in extreme heat with no visible fresh water or food. Some were tethered by chains and cables to cinder blocks and car tires. Remains of dead animals were also discovered where the dogs were housed and allegedly fought.
These are the tell-tale signs of the horrors of dog fighting, the ultimate betrayal of the unique relationship that exists between humans and animals. Manipulating a dog’s intense desire to please its owner, perpetuating a life of chronic and acute physical and psychological pain, is the most horrific form of animal abuse.
The only consolation to this tragedy was the fact that, for the long-suffering animals who survived, lives of brutal torture and neglect had come to an end, and days of medical care and attention were about to start. Never again would they be forced to fight, live in squalor, or be neglected and deprived of bare necessities. No animal on earth—much less those often described as "man's best friend"—should have to endure such brutality at the hand of man.
As part of our raid, which we assisted at the request of the United States Attorney’s Office and the FBI, federal and local officials also seized firearms, drugs, and over $500,000 in cash from dog fighting gambling activities. All of these efforts were the result of a three-year investigation initiated by the Auburn Police.
Ten suspects were arrested and indicted on felony dog fighting charges. If convicted, they could each face up to five years in prison.
I believe these atrocities and the subsequent results will have positive and practical reverberations that will make a difference. The raid elevates the issue of dog fighting -- a reprehensible and vile activity – to people who will not only be appalled, but moved to share news and information, and fight for common-sense legislation. Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, but that doesn’t seem to stop the atrocity. Earlier this year, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act was reintroduced in the U.S. Congress, which would make it a federal offense to attend an organized animal fight and impose additional penalties for bringing a minor to a fight, expanding the implications of participation in this terrible crime.
I'm very proud that we saved these animals, and the unprecedented ways we did. This is not the last dog fighting ring we'll break up, but you can be sure we'll be working hard until the day we can finally say it is.
ASPCA President & CEO Matthew Bershadker (right) evacuates an animal with Tim Rickey, Vice President of the ASPCA's Field Investigations & Response team, during Hurricane Irene in August 2011.
We are very excited to announce that on June 1 our new President and CEO, Matthew Bershadker, is officially taking the helm. Matt has been with the ASPCA for 12 years and most recently served as Senior Vice President of our Anti-Cruelty Group.
Matt is succeeding Ed Sayres, who expanded the ASPCA’s reach by leaps and bounds during his ten-year tenure and changed the fate of millions of homeless animals. We are immensely grateful for Ed’s service to the organization and the animals who count on us.
Under Matt’s leadership, the ASPCA Anti-Cruelty Group has established a new national standard for responding to animal cruelty cases and natural disasters. He helped form the Field Investigations & Response team to provide skilled support to state and federal agencies during large-scale puppy mill busts, dog fighting raids, animal hoarding cases, and other instances of animal cruelty, as well as natural disasters like the tornado in Joplin and Hurricane Sandy.
Matt has been instrumental in the creation of the ASPCA’s new Behavioral Rehabilitation Center in Madison, New Jersey, the first-ever facility dedicated to the behavioral rehabilitation of canine victims of cruelty. During Matt’s tenure, the ASPCA also launched the Cruelty Intervention Advocacy program, a ground-breaking effort to help protect companion animals that are in danger of potential abuse or neglect, and the No Pet Store Puppies and Farm Animal Welfare campaigns to crack down on puppy mills and vastly improve protections afforded to our country’s farm animals.
In May, when the appointment was announced, ASPCA Board Chair Tim F. Wray said Matt’s “extensive experience, energy and unwavering commitment to animal welfare, coupled with his strong understanding of business management and the non-profit world, make him the ideal leader for the organization as we pursue our mission.”
“I am thrilled to serve the ASPCA, its members and the many communities around the country where we play a vital role,” Matt said. “We have made significant strides on behalf of animals around the country, but there is much more to do.” He added that he looks forward to developing new initiatives “to take animal welfare to the next level.”
Matt lives in New York City with his wife, Nina, son Elias and their dog, Thelma. Please join us as we issue a warm welcome to our new President and CEO!