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Yes, It’s Okay to Give Pets as Gifts

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 11:30am
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By ASPCA President and CEO Matt Bershadker

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.

And know, yes, they can make wonderful gifts.

Comments

Comments

Anonymous

why? how is that going to make you feel any better knowing that you chose a different set of being to care for? that you rejected the animals in the SPCA?

Heather

Why? Because the results of studies weren't what you wanted?

Michele

Alesia, I am inclined to agree. I may be giving my donations to a different animal welfare organization this coming year.

All my pets are adopted and a greater percent are also special needs. Over the years 6 of 9 of my rescues have come from MSPCA (MA ASPCA). Some of them I adopted because they were received as a gift and then the recipient "lost interest" very quickly so they were put up for adoption. In one instance - they were looking to re-gift this animal on Freecycle, no less, for Xmas. And I have to say... unfortunately... this instance is not an exception.

This "study" needs to be looked at more closely. I would like to know more about the exact study; criteria evaluated; parameters and results, as well as how the conclusions were arrived at.

From what I was able to evaluate this is arrived at based solely on "animals given as gifts" (A VERY broad parameter). I am not seeing information on other specifics such as: Impulse/last minute purchase? Purchased the day before? Proper evaluation on ability to support AND house the pet? ETC... ETC...

I applaud those shop owners willing to forgo "profits" late in the holiday season... in an effort to protect the well-being of their charges. Unfortunately, due to this announcement, those willing to take that stand will endure more than their fair share of "criticism".

I must state AGAIN... I will ALWAYS stand on the side of those… willing to stand to protect the weaker; those without a voice; and those who rely on us to protect them, be they animal or human. Should those actions inconvenience those seeking immediate gratification... so be it.

I would think that the preferred message of the ASPCA would be modeling the behavior of acquiring a companion animal in a way that puts the needs of another before our own. Is that not a better message?

I personally only purchase from a pet store that has restrictions around purchasing and adopting too close to the holiday. I support them in their (and my) convictions around protecting the animals - first.

There are very good ways to educate around adoption – is this really the line (message) that needed to be drawn?

Heather

You obviously didn't read the studies. You can't "read into" it by skimming a summary not even from the original manuscript. You didn't see specifics because you didn't read any of them. And putting quotation marks around the word "study" to insinuate it was invalid shows bias on your part (and is laughable given you didn't even read them).
They gave links for you to research the studies that were carried out and you can easily go to search engines that bring up articles with original research from academic journals. They use actual math not just crap based on absolutely nothing, but your opinion. Everyone here giving anecdotal examples and going on what they think would be right are only doing animals harm. They clearly showed that your opinion is not a correct one. It's that simple.

Anonymous

Giving pets as a present is approrpriate in certain situations. Animal-loving parents giving their kid a puppy? Hell yes! My friend and his wife just brought both their daughters to the local shelter to each pick out a kitten. They, along with the vaccines and necessary equipment at home, were a Christmas gift. But the girls took responsibility for their pets because they were included in the decision, and the parents are willing to help provide care in the event the girls aren't responsible enough.

But...A clingy partner giving a pet to a girlfriend/boyfriend who isn't ready to care for something together is another matter. It's my belief that the giver should be willing and able to provide for the animal in the event that the pairing doesn't work. Animals are not disposable or trendy. They are living beings that we make a committment to when we sign the paperwork, or bring in a stray. We make adjustments and care of them.

I gave my dad a cat for Christmas when I was a teenager, but she never bonded with him. She followed me around the house and slept on my back throughout her kitten days. I think it's because I am the one who saved her from the shelter life. When I moved to college, she came with me. I never lived in student housing and always found pet-friendly rentals so that she was always taken care of...and at 32 years old, I still have the old lady.

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Pam

From everything I've seen this doesn't hold true to the giving bunnies as Easter gifts. Most end up dead in the first year (estimated 95% from most sites I've seen). Rabbits can live for 15 years. I've had mine now for 6 beautiful years, but they are a lot of work and "rabbit proofing" the home, so I'd like to see if this study about "pets" as gifts only included dogs & cats, or if it included other types.

Some animals (dogs/cats) can in some senses advocate on their own behalf, barking, meowing, following, where animals in cages or hutches cannot. I think this makes a difference.

I won't argue whether or not the study is correct re: cats & dogs, but I think it's dangerous to then apply it to all animals, some of which have no voice to let someone know when it's being ignored.

Katie

Pam, I am so glad you brought this up. I have 2 rabbits myself and I am all too familiar with the shockingly high numbers of irresponsible people buying their kids bunnies for Easter and dumping them at a shelter a few months later (or worse "letting them free" which is nothing more than a death sentence). I did not read the full study, but if it did include all pets, I think it would come to a very different conclusion. It's very sad. The mentality may be different for cats and dogs since there are so many huge misconceptions about rabbits and their care, the least of which is their life span. I think that in general a living thing should not be a gift. I say that from a moral standpoint alone, and not based on statistics of success rates for any type of animal. You are bringing a living thing into your family. It's bigger than a Christmas (or Easter) present. Why is it so important to have this idyllic moment? If you really want a pet and you are ready, willing, able, and committed to do your best for it, why would it not be just as special to go to a shelter and pick out your pet on any other day? I also think it is noteworthy that the article mentions (not until the 7th paragraph and without stating this important condition in the title) "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..." If the pet is a complete surprise, it's probable that you don't know all of these conditions for sure. This point should have been much more emphasized, especially in an article titled with such a sweeping statement as "Yes, It’s Okay to Give Pets as Gifts." Disappointing, ASPCA.

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