Generally those of us in the animal rescue business discourage giving pets as a gift at Christmas. But research show we may have been wrong. We believed it is based on the fact of seeing pets dumped us, or the shelter just 30 or 60 days after Christmas, when the reality of taking care of a puppy or kitten overwhelms some people.
Some rescue groups and shelters also have a long-held belief that animals not specifically chosen by their new owners may be considered less valuable.
This belief, however, is actually counter to new research by the ASPCA and other experts in the animal-welfare field.
In 2013, the ASPCA surveyed people who had received their pets as gifts in order to learn more about their attachment to – and the retention of – that pet. They also explored the difference in those factors for those that obtained their gifted pet as a surprise. Research found there is no correlation between getting an animal as a gift and an owner’s love and attachment to the pet even if that pet was a surprise gift and no increased risk of relinquishment for dogs and cats received as gifts.
An earlier study, identified the source of approximately 2,600 dogs and 2,300 cats relinquished to 12 shelters in four regions of the U.S. They found that dogs relinquished to shelters had most frequently come from friends, shelters and breeders. Relinquished dogs infrequently came from pet shops, as gifts and from veterinarians. That study found that the odds of dog relinquishment were higher when acquiring an animal from a shelter, friend, as a stray, and from a pet shop compared to receiving an animal as a gift (and controlling for other factors such as gender, neuter status, length of ownership and purchase cost).
In addition, Scarlett et al identified 71 reasons given for pet relinquishment. “Unwanted gift” was listed as a reason for only 0.3% of dogs and 0.4% of cats entering the shelters surveyed, compared with “No time for pet” as a reason 10% of dogs were relinquished and “allergies in family” as a reason 18% of cats were relinquished.
And finally Patronek et al examined risk factors for dog relinquishment at one shelter and concluded that dogs that were received as a gift were at significantly decreased risk of being relinquished, compared to dogs who were purchased or adopted.
These are exciting findings that may help open new adoption options for rescue groups and animal shelters, allowing more animals to be placed in loving homes. The ASPCA recommends however that the giving of pets as gifts be only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one, and who have the ability to care for it responsibly.