The practice of pet gift-giving tends to come under fire every year during the holiday season, but all the furry commotion may not be as harmful as a lot of people think.
"There are a whole lot of myths going on out there about the risks of obtaining a pet as a gift," said Dr. Emily Weiss, Vice President of shelter research and development for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
A study done last year asked approximately 1,000 adults living in the U.S. if they received a pet cat or dog as a gift in the past ten years or so. Those who answered 'yes' were subjected to questions concerning involvement in selection, duration of ownership, and self-described attachment.
Results showed that there was no significant relationship between receiving a cat or dog as a gift and the owners self-perceived love or attachment to the animal. Also, there was no significant correlation between receiving a pet as a gift and whether the pet was still living at home at the time of the survey.
"Those pets obtained as gifts – whether as a surprise or not – were just as likely to remain in the home as pets obtained in other ways," said Dr. Weiss.
The concern from some animal shelters and activists stems from the surprise factor of gift-giving.
"We believe that it is important for the person receiving the animal to be involved in the adoption process," said Connie Ball, Executive Director of the Kingston Humane Society.
There is a better lifetime commitment to the animal if the owner has a voice in choosing, she said. We do see a lot more adoptions over the holidays, but it's better to give them a card so they can adopt a pet themselves and be part of the experience.
"You can't just buy a pet and hand it off and think everything will be okay," said Scott Sylvia, an inspector with the investigations department of the Ontario SPCA. "People are always looking for a unique gift around main holidays … but it's very important for anyone taking on a pet to understand what their needs are," he said.
Some animal rescues practice an "Adoption Freeze" around the holidays to thwart animal gift-giving.
"Bringing home a new dog or cat requires twenty-four-seven focus which is not usually possible during hectic holiday plans, is why we have an Adoption Freeze Dec. 22. to Jan. 1.," said Laurie Ristmae, Managing Director of The Animal Rescue Foundation of Ontario, in an email.
They prefer the alternative option of giving "adoption gift certificates" for a New Years adoption, she said. This allows the gift recipient time to think about the commitment and not just focus on the initial "wow-factor."
"There are lots of perceived controls within the field of sheltering, people think certain policies are necessary in order to make a match happen," she Dr.Weiss. "But we are starting to see a change in the states, with shelters embracing the idea of pets as gifts."
They even go as far as to offer Christmas morning deliveries.
The research was prompted by an observation of missed opportunities for saving the lives of shelter animals. "We thought this research would help the drive to obtain pets and help shelters open their doors and their minds," said Dr. Weiss.