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Yes, It’s Okay to Give Pets as Gifts

Tuesday, December 17, 2013 - 11:30am
adoptable dog

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 and searching for the shelter or rescue group nearest you.

And know, yes, they can make wonderful gifts.

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I don't agree with you. The pets that I've witnessed being given as gifts ALL turned out in the return of the pet or giving it away months down the road. Unless the recipient is intent on getting a pet and is prepared for the gift, an unexpected surprise of a kitten or puppy is nice at first, but almost always is brought back or given away in a short period of time.


So your anecdotal observations are more accurate than their scientific study, which likely had a large sample and compared instances of pets being returned between samples of pets that were gifts and samples that were a standard adoption?


I got a call out for donations from the RSPCA here in Australia yesterday on email due to the influx of puppies and kittens dumped there after Xmas. They started sending out these requests ten years ago when I joined and sadly it happens every single year. The RSPCA is a very trusted organization over here and I doubt they'd be lying. I think the ASPCA is being very irresponsible writing this article.


Yes, in this case I dare say shelter workers and the like do have a more accurate idea of what goes on. I'm curious just who was asked about this scenario when conducting this "scientific study" and whether or not they took into account how many people would have even admitted dumping an unwanted animal at a shelter (or worse).

I think this was an incredibly irresponsible statement for the ASPCA to make, and it only cements my previous misgivings with them as an organization. Clearly they have NO real world experience with the animals they supposedly care so much about.


Yeah.... I have received all of my dogs as gifts, and I have never given them away, my oldest gift is 15+ years. You must know some pretty shitty people.


I dissagree. A pet is a long year responsibility - financially, time-consuming, physical, psychical... Even if you give a pet to a pet-loving human, who definitely wants a pet in his hife: They have to fit together. That's not always given in case of a surprise-gift! Better go for a voucher and make an event out of visiting the shelter.


I agree with you Lena, the pet already has the best gift ever , having a loving home.


They are reporting what the findings of the studies were. So if you are trying to argue that those findings are inaccurate, you have to show where their methods or analyses were wrong. Otherwise, they've shown your view to be a misconception.


The study found only about 200 people who had received pets as gifts. That's a pretty small sample. And of those, almost a quarter reported that the pets had been rehomed or died. That doesn't sound like anything to celebrate.


200 is not a small sample; if you are familiar with research methods, this is a solid sample size to draw conclusions.