The number of animals brought into Virginia shelters and pounds in 2011 was over 200,000 which is almost one animal for every twelve households in Virginia which is just one year’s intake. When thinking about how to find homes for these animals we need to recognize the sheer number of animals in need each year and the fact that only approximately 20% of households acquire their pet from a shelter, a percentage that has not changed for more than a decade.
Giving animals as gifts to others is widely recognized as generally not a good idea.
Adopting a pet is a very personal and unique decision and we believe that adopters need to ensure that the animal is a good fit with their family’s lifestyle and personality. Most people wouldn’t want family and friends picking out their pets any more than their cell phone plans. Yet, according to national statistics, the majority of pets in this country are received from family and acquaintances.
In 2011 at the Virginia Beach SPCA, 63 animals were relinquished by their owners because they were given as gifts and the recipient did not want them. So far in 2012, 22 animals have been relinquished as unwanted gifts. An additional 14 animals were relinquished this year because the animal was given to a child who wouldn’t take care of it. This is data from just one shelter in our region.
Our advice is, if you know your friend or family member wants a companion animal, a better choice may be to give a gift certificate to a local shelter. Most facilities, including the VA Beach SPCA, offer gift certificates. If you want the recipient to have a present to unwrap, accompany the gift certificate with a gift basket of pet care items. If the person you are buying for does not want a pet right now, but is an animal lover, maybe a donation to your local shelter in his/her name would be welcomed. You could even mark it as an “adoption fee gift” for another family. In either case, you are inviting the full participation of this new owner in the decision. Also, we have a lot of families who come in after Christmas to choose and fall in love with a new companion with everyone enjoying the experience.
Why adopt from shelters rather than shop? Our organizations care for the vast majority of animals needing homes and even a 10-20% increase in adoptions would be a huge lifesaving success. Often the perception is that an adopter can’t find a great selection at shelters or a specific breed. On the contrary, 25-35% of shelter animals are purebred, and while most automatically think of dogs when hearing this statistic, it also applies to cats. Here at the VBSPCA we have had at least 20 different breeds of cats in our care in the last two years, and cats comprise the bulk of shelter populations nationwide.
Adopting, donating, purchasing gift certificates, and otherwise supporting your local animal shelter is a gift to both someone on your holiday list as well as a homeless animal. Share the love and spirit of the season with a companion animal or your local shelter and thank you for being an animal lover.