What are you hoping to find underneath the Christmas tree this year? A sparkling piece of jewelry? A 70 inch smart TV or a new iPhone? Maybe your kids have their fingers crossed for a new Xbox?
Imagine instead finding a cute puppy or cuddly kitten wrapped in a red bow. Would you be thrilled? Or would you be overwhelmed with the unexpected responsibility?
Pets have been popular gifts for a long time - birthdays, holidays, or just because. The act can make for a sweet moment, the recipient being surprised and excited, but is that excitement short-lived?
That has long been the fear for many people who work in pet adoption, be it a breeder or animal shelter - that the pet will eventually be returned like an ill-fitting sweater, or worse - forgotten, mistreated or abandoned.
That fear has been enough for many shelters to establish policies against giving pets as gifts, based on the belief that pets who aren't chosen by their owners are less valued and at higher risk for mistreatment.
However, according to research conducted by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), that fear is largely unfounded. In 2013, they surveyed 200 people who had reported receiving pets as gifts and found that 96% of those surveyed thought that receiving the pet as a gift either increased or had no impact on their love and attachment to the pet. The survey also revealed that the majority, 86%, of the pets were still in the home of the gift recipient.
This research led to the ASPCA changing their position statement on pets as gifts, asserting that "denying adopters who intend to give animals as gifts may unnecessarily impede the overarching goal of increasing adoptions of pets from our nations' shelter system."
Since then, many animal shelters have followed suit, softening their adoption policies in the name of facilitating more adoptions, and permitting pet adoptions as gifts - under certain circumstances - usually the circumstance being that the pet is not a complete unexpected surprise.
But that doesn't mean that the gift-giving act has to be any less exciting. For example, the Charleston Animal Society has been offering their very popular "Homes for the Holidays" Christmas pet delivery program since 2013. According to Kay Hyman, Director of Community Engagement, the program offers anyone who adopts a pet between December 17th and 23rd, the opportunity to have that pet delivered , at no additional cost, to their home on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day by "Santa's Helpers" who consist of shelter staff, volunteers and program sponsors.
While the delivery may not be a complete surprise to everyone in the home, it can make for a very exciting moment for children whose parents adopted the pet, or for a spouse who's wanted a pet but just not yet taken the step of visiting the shelter.
While no such program is available (yet!) at the SPCA Albrecht Center, and we discourage the gifting of a pet as a complete surprise, the adoption of pets to be given as gifts is permitted as long as the person adopting the pet is part of the intended home and lists themselves as the adopter. For example: adopting a pet and gifting it to your unsuspecting neighbor is prohibited, but adopting a pet and presenting it to your kids on Christmas is fine - as long as the adopter is still the responsible party.
When considering pets as gifts, it helps to change the way you think of the word "gift". Pets should never be viewed as objects of commerce to be bought, sold and disposed of when no longer useful or desired. Instead, a pet is truly a gift that keeps on giving long after adoption, by enriching your life and giving greater joy than any television, iPhone or shiny piece of jewelry ever could.
Ready to find that special gift for yourself or your family? Visit the SPCA Albrecht Center and meet lots of wonderful pets wishing for a forever home for the holidays. See a few of them online and learn more at LetLoveLive.org.
Sarah Neikam is the Marketing Director for the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare. She is an Aiken native and has been with the SPCA since 2012. Sarah's family includes three adopted cats: Bastian, Luna and Grady, who are all living happy, loved lives thanks to the efforts of the SPCA.