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Santa Claus is Coming to Town...

... bringing shelter animals to deserving New Orleans families

... bringing shelter animals to deserving New Orleans families

Change is in the air when it comes to shelters’ holiday adoption policies, as the responses to this issue’s question for ShelterSpeak (see page 31) indicate. The notion that no one can handle getting a new pet during the holidays—once a common belief among sheltering professionals—is now being cast aside in favor of friendliness and flexibility. Instead of admonishing people about the dangers of holiday adoptions, counselors are treating them to on-the-spot education, gift certificates, and, most of all, a new kind of open-mindedness about what constitutes a responsible placement.

If folks are determined to get a pet for the holidays, the reasoning goes, they’re probably going to get one somewhere, whether it’s at the shelter or at the pet store down the street. And they might as well be given the chance to bring home an animal in need—especially one who’s already sterilized and comes from a place that’s willing to help when troubles arise.

Pet seekers at the Louisiana SPCA in New Orleans didn’t have that chance until recently; under the organization’s old policy, adoptions were shut down by December 21, says executive director Laura Maloney. “But I talked to many people who said, ‘Well, I’d hoped to get a pet from the shelter,  but I guess I’ll go to a breeder or a pet shop,’ ” she recalls. “And we thought, well, if the person’s that intent on getting a pet, we want to be a part of that and want them to consider a shelter pet.”

The SPCA’s new and improved policy doesn’t loosen the reins entirely; though determined adopters can still move forward, procedures are more strict during the holidays, and only counselors well-trained in sniffing out potential problems can approve a Christmas adoption. “There are a lot more questions for a holiday adoption,” says Maloney. “We ask them what they’re doing for the holiday: Are they traveling? Are they having company? It’s a more indepth discussion to make sure they’re aware and thinking about possible problems.”

But Maloney didn’t leave it at that. New Orleans is a festive kind of town—heck, even funerals turn into parties. So rather than merely lifting the ban on Christmas adoptions, the SPCA is turning them into fullfledged events, outfitting highly trained adoption counselors in full Santa regalia and sending them to adopters’ houses with furry presents in hand on Christmas morning.

The fee for a special delivery is a bit higher than the usual adoption cost, but the extra money is tax-deductible. And this “Santa” comes bearing priceless gifts of knowledge as well, answering any last-minute concerns of adopting parents (even while Junior exults in the lickings and wigglings of his best Christmas gift).

Maloney expects the Santa program will take a few years to catch on; only one Christmas adoption was processed last year, and the family picked up their new friend at the shelter. But Maloney’s already received positive feedback from citizens who like the idea. By suspending the old no-adoptions policy and replacing it with a more community-oriented event, the SPCA is looking at a happy holiday—both for the pleased new pet owner and for the shelter, which seems less rigid, more friendly, and more a part of the festive experience that is life in the Big Easy. 


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