The best gift I ever received was my dog Jake. It happened 11 years ago. Not during the holidays but a few months later for my birthday. I might not be the typical pet adopter, but then again, why not? So let’s talk about that. With the holidays coming, we repeatedly hear the old warning that you should never give a pet as a gift. Well, I have news for you—that’s not a warning we believe in.
It’s a Norman Rockwell holiday scene as iconic as Santa himself – a puppy or kitten donning a big red bow on Christmas morning (or Chanukah evening). We’re big fans of animal companionship so the inclination to share that love with those we care about is understandable.
As animal advocates, we’ve all heard those warnings I mentioned: never, ever give pets as gifts because they’ll end up right back in a shelter. It turns out that nothing could be further from the truth. According to the ASPCA, and our experience is just as true, national adoption statistics show that pets adopted as gifts are not likely to be returned to shelters. In fact — brace yourselves – they’re actually less likely to be returned.
To prevent animals from finding homes for the holidays this way is as counterproductive to the lifesaving work we do as closing for two weeks over Christmas.
Our goal is always to get animals into the right homes as soon as possible.
We all know there’s no shortage of animals needing those homes. Gifting a pet can actually be a wonderful opportunity. The key is preparation – ensuring the recipient understands that this particular gift is a long-term commitment and is willing to provide for their pet’s needs, now and way down the road. Caring for an animal goes well past the holiday season – it’s a lifelong commitment, and one any adopter should take seriously, regardless of the time of year.
While pets as gifts are a departure from what we all thought was best practice, there are other ways to bring a new animal into the family. Adopting a pet is exciting and something the whole family might want to experience together. That’s why we also offer gift certificates for the cost of the adoption fee, so you can come in and fall in love together when you find that new furry addition to your family.
We know these changes are a big shift from the traditional adoption approach. But, with data in hand, we also know those traditional views are outdated. We want our animals to find homes quickly, and we want those homes to be the right ones. Instead of building roadblocks, we want to put our efforts toward helping people provide the very best care possible for the animals who depend on us. This open approach to adoption helps us save lives, which is all the proof we need that sometimes, letting go is the best thing we can do for our animals.
We’re fortunate to live in a community with many compassionate people who care about animals. This holiday season, two very generous donors, Sharon Blanchet along with Pam and Phil Reed, have graciously offered to pay the adoption fees for all animals adopted from Dec. 16 through Dec. 24. Like us, they want every homeless animal to spend the holidays sleeping soundly in the comfort of a warm bed with a loving family, rather than in a shelter. In so doing, they have truly embraced the spirit of the holiday season, and we’re grateful for all our community does to give animals a better life. It’s the reason why San Diego is such a terrific place to have an animal (or to be one).
Thank you for your own compassion for animals and supporting us every step of the way as we – together – create a better future for the animals we love. From all of us here at SDHS, have a very happy holiday season with your loved ones (furry, feathered and otherwise). And if you want to bring in the whole family to adopt a new pet together before, during, or after the holidays, we’ll be here to help you every step of the way!
By the way, if you want to know what happened to my gift 11 years ago, he’s my best bud in the world, with or without a bow.
Gary Weitzman, DVM, MPH, CAWA
President and CEO
San Diego Humane Society