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Pets As Gifts—Wrap ‘Em Up!

Dr. Emily Weiss puts a tired old myth to bed.

He called to me from over the fence as I was sitting in the yard reading. “I have a surprise for you,” he said. In his arms was something blond and chubby… like a big butter bean.  He opened the gate and put her down. “For you!” he exclaimed. 

My head raced—A PUPPY?! What, are you NUTS? And then I looked down at the most adorable yellow Lab puppy, and she looked at me, all soft blubbery dog of her…  Done. Butter Bean, my lovely, wonderful Butter Bean. 

Bean came into my life as a gift—a completely unexpected surprise given to me by my wonderland husband. I have been so fortunate to have had more than one “once in a lifetime” dogs, and Bean was one of those. She was always ready for some fun—a great running partner and a great spirit raiser. Bean helped me digest my diagnosis of MS; when I was feeling scared and sorry for myself, she would lean into my arms, put her head down so that I could press my cheek against that soft, warm forehead... Then she would grab her Kong on a rope and appear to be saying, “Okay—now put on your big girl pants and go throw this for me!”

She left us way too soon, dying at 9 years of age of a sudden vicious blood clot.  

She took a piece of my heart—I still cannot believe my Butter Bean gift is not with us anymore.  

Yes—pets as gifts.

Every couple of months, the “no pets as gifts” myth raises its ugly head. Christmas is coming up, and birthdays are every day, and dogs and cats in some shelters around the country are missing chances at homes… so it is time to put this myth to bed.

Research conducted years and years ago put to rest the idea that dogs and cats given as gifts were more at risk of relinquishment. In 1996 Dr. Gary Patronek (along with Doctors Glickman, Beck, McCabe and Ecker) examined risk factors for dog relinquishment at one shelter and concluded that dogs received as a gift were at significantly decreased risk of being relinquished, compared to dogs who were purchased or adopted. Dr. Jan Scarlett et al found that “unwanted gift” was rarely a reason for relinquishment of dogs and cats to the shelters surveyed. 

Studies published by John New et al focused on the characteristics of shelter-relinquished animals and animals still in their homes. These studies found that dogs and cats who came from an animal shelter, friend or pet shop, or who had been a stray, were at increased risk of relinquishment compared with dogs and cats who entered households as gifts. Yes, you read correctly, dogs and cats received as gifts were not at an increased risk of relinquishment. 

And now we at the ASPCA have added to this body of research with a survey to pet parents. We conducted a survey of those who had obtained a dog or cat as a gift in the past 10 years. We focused on three simple areas of interest: 1. Were they involved in the selection of the pet or was the pet a surprise; 2. Attachment to the pet; 3. Duration of ownership.

We found no significant relationship between receiving a dog or cat as a gift, whether they received the pet as a surprise or not, and the love or attachment the pet parents had for their pets. Nor did we find any significant difference in whether the dog or cat was still in the home.  Being involved in the decision did not impact love or attachment—and in fact, a higher percentage of those who were surprised reported that how the pet was obtained increased their love or attachment! You can read the peer-reviewed study, published in Animals, here

Many shelters have embraced pets as gifts, but many still perpetuate the myth. Why would it be that pets given as gifts are less at risk? I do not think we yet know, but some hypothesize that the bond may receive a boost from the sentimental emotion of receiving a thoughtful gift. Whatever it is, we need to, as an industry, stop messaging no pets as gifts and start messaging “come here for that next gift of light, love and friendship…”

I am not suggesting that folks bring a gift of a new puppy or cat to the host of the next dinner party… but instead that we allow those husbands, wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, partners and parents to bring love, joy and…yes…surprise home.   

Bailey, Bean, Carlton and Rocco… impulses or gifts each one of them…

 

Related links:
ASPCA Research: Pets as Gifts
“Should Dogs and Cats Be Given as Gifts?”
 

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Comments

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Another great article! Would love to get involved in research of this type myself! Got to get the word out to the masses about stuff like this! There are definitely too many myths out there that are not based on data, facts or the scientific method. Applied animal welfare research is the wave of the future in my opinion.

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I got a puppy from my ex husband as an attempt to save out marriage. I was upset because I didnt want anymore dogs. Months later I lost a dog to cancer. That puppy is now the best dog and I can't imagine my life without her. It didnt save my marriage, but her love saves me every day.

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This is a judgement call. A few years ago the foster group I was with turned down a gentleman who wanted a lab puppy for his wife for Christmas. We talked with him for quite a while,feeling out the situation, and from what he said and comments from his young adult kids (who were all gung-ho) it was quite clear that the last thing on earth this woman wanted was to be saddled with a big high-energy puppy when she was finally an empty-nester and had been looking forward to that status. They weren't hearing her over their enthusiasm to give her a "great gift". We said no and carefully explained why. Dad and kids were absolutely floored. Sometimes no means just that, NO. They just weren't listening.

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My rescue has the policy of not adopting out a dog as a gift. If someone wants to adopt as a gift what we offer is, the person to receive the gift would have to go through our usual adoption procedures but, the gift giver can pay the adoption fee. We explain that many dogs arrive into rescue because the gift receiver didn't want a new dog or a puppy. By having the gift receiver qualify, we know they do want a dog/puppy and with them doing our paperwork, we are able to assist them in the selection of a pet that will best fit into their life and lifestyle. Over the years, I have had quite a few agree to our terms for "gifting" a pet.

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At the shelter I volunteer, more times than one would think we have owner surrenders or contact an owner of a dog 'running at large' that was picked up by Animal Control Officer where the owner says 'Well, it was a gift and I really didn't want him, so I need to get rid of him (or so just keep him)." It is very sad, but I think the person getting the 'gift' should be involved in the decision. We have had several responsible people who did just that and brought the person they were adopting the animal for down to choose which one...much better as a whole than surprising someone with an animal that doesn't fit into their lifestyle or who just isn't wanted.

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If someone adopts an animal as a gift and the "giftee" chooses to return that pet to the shelter, what harm has been done? I teach my staff to view animal returns (for any reason) as a positive thing: one, we now know a bit more about that particular animal and can work to find him/her a more suitable home; and, two, the animal got a chance to get out of the shelter for a while, sort of a "sleepover " if you will. And , in the instance above, do you really think the people you turned down saw the light and went and bought Mom a piece of jewelry as a gift instead because you explained it to them? Nope, they just went down the street to the local pet store and bought a puppy for Mom, or went to another shelter, being very careful not to mention that the pet was to be a gift (people are fast learners, after all). All you accomplished was making sure that YOUR shelter animal didn't get a home that day. It's time for us as an industry to start trusting people and their motives and stop blindly believing these old myths, and I heartily thank the ASPCA for leading shelters in this direction.

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Thank you so much for this post. I've worked in many shelters, and any time an animal has been returned it was viewed as a negative. Thanks for the attitude check! I'll remember this when I managing a shelter someday!

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Studies have shown that animals relinquished after adoption have less chances of being adopted again. U may learn more about the dog, but what about what the dog goes thru being abandoned again at a shelter, back n forth?

I think each situation is unique, but allowing adoptions as a gift just needs careful screening as to the relationship of giver, person who is about to receive such as history, lifestyle, desires, etc., and then carefully matched. People also need to go beyond the looks of an animal and more into personality, lifestyle etc.

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Yes, while the animal may have got to spend time in a home instead of a shelter (which may or may not be a good thing) no one is focusing on the quality of the home. Do you want the animal to stay in a home where they aren't really wanted and just feel too guilty to bring them back? And while some of these people that are turned away may still go get an animal from someplace else, how about looking at the bigger picture? Look at the quality of the home: does this person want an animal, are they financially ready for the costs to take care of the animal, is this household the right fit for this specific animal, is it just going to be kept outside, etc. ? And our job as a shelter is to not just rescue animals but to help get this cycle to STOP. While not everyone will listen, some WILL. And those that listen are going to be one more person out there to help educate others on responsible pet ownership. I agree with the other people on here recommending that someone can pay the adoption fee but the person receiving this "gift" needs to still go through the adoption process themselves.

I've noticed there are two types of shelters out there:
1. There are those that focus on the number of animals they save, adopting out as many as they can.
AND
2. There are those that are focused on the quality of the home, if it is the right match for the person and the animal, and they try to educate people on why certain things are important and how to be a responsible pet owner.

It is a tricky situation because the first kind of shelter will have animals that have lucked out and ended up in good homes. This type of shelter will also save more lives. But these shelters also usually don't do any sort of follow up, checking in to see how the animal is doing. They don't usually take the time to get to know the animal very well other than basics. Their adopters barely have to meet any requirements and so due to a lack of educating these adopters the way animals are treated and cared for, both now and in the future is not going to change.

The second type of shelter may not save as many lives but they are out there educating people/adopters and slowly but surely changing the way animals are treated and cared for, both now and in the future. For these shelters they are at least working towards a better future. And for some of these shelters I know that if an adopter comes along that doesn't meet their requirements but still might be a decent situation, they refer these people to the county shelters and other shelters like the first type. This still prevents them from buying an animal from a breeder or pet store!

I personally don't agree with gifting pets. They are living breathing animals with feelings, not a piece of jewelry and everyone should be involved in the decision. It is a long term commitment. So what are you? Quality or Quantity?

Comment

Actually, I think you are wrong. People who are turned down for adoptions for reasons that they think are trivial (and which really might be) aren't getting educated to your way of thinking. They just say "animal adoption groups are crazy" and go to another one that might be more reasonable, or go to a breeder or a pet shop. I know an extremely experienced family that was turned down last year for a hard-to-place year old rescue that was rambunctious and big and needed some training. The father is a stay at home dad who has worked professionally as a dog trainer in the past. They are ultra responsible and an exceptional home. They were turned down for this dog because they didn't have a fenced yard. Guess what? they gave up and went to a breeder. Their new lab is having the time of his life - going on vacations with them, camping on the beach, hiking in the mountains, sleeping in the bed with their son. And the dog they were turned down for? Dead. The "humane group" that had him didn't find the home for him they thought was perfect, so he was put down. Who was served by throwing a barrier up to prevent the hard-to-place dog from going to a loving, exceptional home that had time for him and was willing to make the commitment to love and save him? Certainly not the dog, and certainly not the concept of animal rescue. Wouldn't it have been nice PR for the dog on the family vacation to have a story that says "see what great animals you can get from rescue?" Instead of, if you want to get a dog, you need to buy one because rescue groups have intransigent rules.

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I guess this study never touched lower Texas. Every dog that has been given as a gift has been returned or found dead on the road. We would never allow anyone to adopt a pet as a gift for someone else.

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You're smarter than these people. Adopting animals as gifts for others is absolutely irresponsible. Good for you for not doing it. Too many rescue and shelter people are just about reducing their euthanasia numbers. They claim anyone is a "good home." If that were true, we wouldn't see the millions of homeless, neglected, and abused animals.

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We don't turn down pets as gifts. That being said there are extenuating curcumstances where additional counseling is needed for the giftee. Such as how to introduce a new cat to a multi cat household. We also want to be involved with any rehoming for the same reason. To create an acceptable outcome for all existing and new pets.
I personally get at least 20 calls per day from people who were either given pets as gifts or found a stray and they just threw them all together with very unfavorable outcomes and want me to take their problems off their hands. Many times these animals just get dumped outside as people just don't want to do what is necessary to fix what they created.

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I think the harm in a "sleepover" with someone who has not been vetted could result in long lasting trauma for that pet. Either emotionally or physically. Same goes for children in foster care.

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Why would you think that they are '"not properly vetted'? Pets as gifts does not mean they are given to just anyone...

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I have to say I whole heartedly agree with Barb. Since we are a County Animal Shelter, we don't have the luxury of telling a prospective adopter "NO". The only way we can do this is if they have been listed as non-adopters because of recorded animal abuse or neglect. That being said, you can no more really get to know a prospective adoptor through a few minutes conversation etc, than you can forecast what would happen if they did adopt. With alot of folks out there, the problem is ignorance. They just don't know any better. The only cure for that is education & that IS one of the reasons we're here. When an adoptor comes to the shelter & wants to present an animal as a gift, the thought is not usually spur of the moment. Most folks will check with a family member as to how the gift might be recieved. They aren't going to just run out & adopt a pet for a loved one without checking first to make sure the gift won't be rejected. If, by chance the pet is returned, well, at least it will be returned to us. As Barb said in her post, the animal has been out of the run for some human interaction, and when returned, alot of information comes back with the pet. This is all info we probably had no clue about because the pet was more than likely a stray with no relevant background otheer than observations by our staff. I get calls all the time, so "What is so & so's story"? I have to tell them there is no "story", the animal came to us as a stray & no one called to claim it. Well, if the pet is returned, then we have enough info to give it a "story". And, having been homed & returned through no fault of the animal's, at least there are usually kind souls who think that's enough of a story for them. Of course, we don't want any pet juggled from one home to another to another, but that is our job. We will see to the pet's emotional welfare along with everything else. There are ups & downs to every situation. But, we are champions of makeing the best out of any situation. As long as we greet returned pets lovingly & do everything we can to keep it from being traumatic, they'll be all right. We'll make sure of it. If that means we need to love them a little harder, than we love them a little harder. Every Single Day.

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NO way is "pets as gifts" a good one. People have no clue what all is involved in being a responsible pet owner. My sister ran a small dog rescue for years. She never did this but she knew plenty of others who did. All of the dogs adopted as gifts for others were returned. You need to match the pet to the people and the home. One size fits all doesn't work. Sorry, but this is a stupid and irresponsible idea. You're just trying to get the numbers of euthanized pets at shelters reduced but it's not doing right by the animals.

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Your study is flawed! No time retention shown and no way to actually tell if the people still had the pet or actually was a gift and the big thing with shelters and rescues is the surprise gift and not just the gift part. There needs to be a bigger study with actual documentation and not phone calls to people that adopted from a shelter that claim the puppy or kitten is a gift. I would love to know why the ASPCA is not on board with the "no kill" movement and yet spends money to fund un-needed studies like this. Adoption should be based on each individual and not have a generalized opinion.

Comment

Jeremy, thanks for your comment. Our research was a supplemental study and supports an existing pool of research that shows that pets obtained as gifts are not at a higher risk for relinquishment. The ASPCA is committed to saving more lives and ending the killing of healthy or treatable homeless dogs or cats. One of the ways we do this is by encouraging shelters nationwide to adopt innovative and robust adoptions programs.  Our recommendations are grounded in data and research and our pets as gifts research is a great example of this. 

-ASPCApro Blog Team

Comment

Hey Jeremy --

Our study was an additive study -- and as noted in the publication and blog post, there is already a pool of research showing pets obtained as gifts are not a higher risk for relinquishment.  The results of this study will help more animals leave shelters alive and go home.

Dr. Emily Weiss

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I too have been volunteering in shelters where dogs gifted are dumped and rescue groups where people try to gift dogs to unassuming friends/family.
If you push forward this study, the rescue groups that embrace it will be the ones that have poor return policies (not always taking their animals back) and are all about keeping up the facade of quantity adoptions vs quality adoptions. Home visits, vet reference checks, personal reference checks may not be perfect (and are certainly time consuming) but save dogs from misery, death and flippant people. I've had people contact me to tell me their friend is looking for a dog.. they're great.. and then when they fill out an app and screen it, realize they never vet their dog, have given away numerous animals prior to their friend knowing them... etc etc. As a rescue community it is our job to ensure the animal is placed safely with someone we know as best as possible and that also has a good relationship with us in case they need assistance.

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Giving pets as gift is good and you must also ensure that the person will take care of the pet.

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I don't think we can make blanket statements such as "giving pets as gifts is good" or "giving pets as gifts is bad". This isn't a one size fits all situation. There are extenuating circumstances to consider.

What about when someone gives a pet to a child without asking the parents first? When a person is buying a pet for someone else, even if the receiver is in on the decision,how much thought has gone in to that decision? Have they done the research they need to do in order to know which, if any, kind of pet will fit in to their lifestyle? Are they getting a high energy type pet even though they live in a small apartment? Do they know how the pet is going to be trained or taken care of when the humans are at work? Do they have time to take care of it? How many hours a day will it spend alone? Can they afford the care of this pet from the time of adoption until it crosses Rainbow bridge? If the husband buys it for his wife, what do they plan to do with it, when they start having babies? And on and on.

There is more to giving the pet as a gift than giving the pet as a gift. It is supposed to be a lifetime commitment. So the pet is given and then eventually, for whatever reason, the person can't/won't keep it anymore. It's given to a shelter. MANY people don't realize that most shelters are not no-kill. Many people think the shelter will keep the animal till it finds a new home. Not only that, but my understanding is that owner surrendered animals are usually set high on the euth list, especially if they are older.

So give or don't give? I don't have an answer.

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I do not object necessarily to the concept of giving pets as gifts, just as I think that we as a rescue should be open to other "risky" adopters, like military personnel and students. Every individual adopter needs to be considered on their individual merits. Where we do encounter an issue with gift adoptions is the contract: every pet leaves our rescue with a lifetime contract. There is no legal way for the gift-giver to enter a binding agreement on behalf of the person receiving the pet, except in the case of a spouse if the pet is co-owned, I suppose.

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Something I'm noticing here is that the folks commenting positively about this are working at/running shelters, while those opposed are involved with rescues or volunteering at a shelter.  I think those who work at/run shelters are more open to ideas like this because of the sense of urgency that accompanies the responsibility of taking in thousands of animals a year.  Certainly both rescues and shelters experience returns or occasionally accidentally place an animal in a less than ideal home, no matter how thorough your screening is, so why not take a chance on that animal?  The majority of the time the alternative is death.

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