Catherine English has heard the myth about shelters across the country bracing for an avalanche of unwanted pets given as Christmas gifts.
Only it doesn't happen that way. English manages the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Center, where the January intake rate of stray pets is what it is most every winter month.
“It's a little bit of an urban legend,” English said. “There's no big influx of animals right after Christmas that we see.”
English said the center has about an 8 percent return rate. That means of the animals that are adopted from the shelter, about 92 percent stay with the family that adopted them, or they are given a home with a family or friend if the original adoption family doesn't work well with the dog or cat.
Pets and People in Yukon carefully screen those who adopt their dogs and cats. The organization also tamps down its adoptions several days before Christmas.
“We don't take our kittens out to Petsmart for adoption events in the days before Christmas,” volunteer Edy Bauer said. “We don't want those impulse buys. We try to fend that off whenever we can.”
And part of that is getting the message out that giving pets as gifts is generally a bad idea. English said that message appears to have resonated over the years.
“I think that's something that all groups who rescue animals or care for them try to get people to avoid,” she said. “You want people adopting animals, but you also want it to be a stable home where it can stay and for that to happen it must be a good fit.”
But even in cases where they are given as a gift, it's worth letting the person receiving the dog or cat meet the animal before adoption or purchase.
“I wouldn't want someone buying a purse for me much less a pet,” Bauer said. “Everyone's taste is different. If five people walked in to our shelter, they would probably each pick a different pet. Everyone likes different things. We like for the whole family to meet an animal that is being considered for adoption, that way it bonds with the entire family first.”
If someone does receive a pet as a Christmas gift that doesn't work out, English advises looking to family and friends first when seeking out new homes.
“Family and friends are always the best places to start,” English said. “I don't advise anyone to give a dog away to someone on the Internet because you just can't trust that it's getting a good home. If that doesn't work, find a rescue group or a shelter. Ask the shelter what their plans are for the animal. Not all shelters euthanize but some do.”