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Right up there with “don’t adopt pets during the holidays” and “don’t adopt black cats at Halloween” stands one of the longest lasting truisms of animal welfare: Pets given as gifts are a bad idea. They don’t stay in homes because the recipients didn’t necessarily want them, weren’t prepared for them, and are therefore more likely to give them up.
The problem with truisms is that not all of them are actually true. Over the years, many shelters have had huge adoption successes with Home for the Holidays programs, and we reported in our Sep-Oct 2013 issue about groups that are placing animals at Halloween (“Never Mind the Myth,” p. 12). In a field where myths can sometimes cost animals good homes, it’s important to do some debunking from time to time.
With the holidays approaching again, we now have new data from a survey funded by the ASPCA that indicates when it comes to pets given as gifts, there’s little cause for concern.
In a national telephone survey of 1,000 people, 26 percent reported receiving a pet as a gift within the last decade. Of these, a whopping 96 percent reported that having received the animal as a present either had no impact on their love for/attachment to the animal (36 percent) or actually increased it (60 percent). What’s more, the majority (74 percent) said the gift animal was still part of their household—and in the 25 percent of cases where the pet wasn’t with them anymore, nearly half were because it had passed away.
“The takeaway for shelters and rescues is that pets obtained as gifts are not at higher risk of relinquishment—or of being less loved,” says Emily Weiss, who holds a doctorate in animal behavior and serves as vice president of shelter research and development at the ASPCA. “It is time for the industry to shed this myth and increase opportunities for those coming to save a life at our shelters.”