Policies that state pets should not be adopted as gifts are prevalent at animal-welfare organizations, likely based on the longstanding belief that animals who weren't specifically chosen by their new owners may be considered less valuable.
This belief, however, is actually counter to 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. We also explored the difference in those factors for those that obtained their gifted pet as a surprise. Our 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.
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An earlier study, New et al. (1999) 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).
Similarly, cats that were relinquished to shelters had originally come from friends, as strays, and shelters most frequently. Relinquished cats infrequently came from breeders, veterinarians, or were gifts. The odds of cat relinquishment were higher when acquiring an animal from a shelter, a friend, as a stray, and from a pet shop compared to receiving an animal as a gift.
In addition, Scarlett et al. (1999) 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. 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 shelters, allowing more animals to be placed in loving homes. The ASPCA recommends the giving of pets as gifts only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one, and who have the ability to care for the pet responsibly.
"We are hopeful that this additive research will open more doors for more dogs and cats in the sheltering system to go home," says Dr. Emily Weiss, Vice President, ASPCA Research & Development.