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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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