Dr. Emily Weiss is regifting this year. Today she’s sharing some powerful data, old and new, to help bust the myth that pets shouldn’t be given as gifts.
“I am hoping you can tell me more about why it is not a good idea to give pets as gifts.”
So started the conversation I had with a reporter…
It’s the same one I have every holiday season—and maybe you, too, have gotten this question from your local media. But guess what? This is a great opportunity for us (yes, you too!) to help put the myth to bed that pets shouldn’t be given as gifts.
To clarify—when we talk of giving dogs and cats as gifts, we do not mean giving dogs and cats to very casual friends and strangers, but instead to friends and loved ones who have communicated a strong desire for a pet. This is a great point to share with your community and media, as well as passing the following powerful data to back it up:
- Back in the late ‘90s and early 2000’s, several studies showed that pets obtained as gifts were no more likely to be relinquished—and in some cases, less likely—than pets obtained directly by the individual owner.
- In 1999 Dr. John New and other scientists published a study in which they found that dogs relinquished to shelters had most frequently come from friends, shelters and breeders—and only infrequently had they come from pet shops, as gifts and from veterinarians. That study also showed that the odds of dog relinquishment were higher when acquiring an animal from a shelter, a friend, as a stray, or from a pet shop—compared to receiving an animal as a gift. In other words—pets obtained as gifts were less likely to be relinquished!
- Similarly, this study found that cats who were relinquished to shelters had most frequently come from friends, from shelters or as strays. Relinquished cats infrequently came from breeders, veterinarians, or were gifts. The odds of cat relinquishment were higher when acquiring an animal from a shelter, from a friend, from a pet shop or as a stray, compared to receiving an animal as a gift.
- In addition, Scarlett et al. (1999) identified 71 reasons given for pet relinquishment. "Unwanted gift" was listed as a reason for only 0.3% of dogs and 0.4% of cats entering the shelters surveyed; in comparison, "No time for pet" was cited as the reason that 10% of dogs were relinquished, while "allergies in family" was named as a reason that 18% of cats were relinquished.
- Finally, Patronek et al.  examined risk factors for dog relinquishment at one shelter and concluded that dogs who were received as a gift were at significantly decreased risk of being relinquished, compared to dogs who were purchased or adopted.
The data from these studies is powerful. But despite all of this data available, we found the practice of denying adoption of pets as gifts was still quite prevalent in shelters. Unfortunately, this means missing the opportunity to save lives--and it also means that those who would have rescued a pet must choose a source other than shelter or rescue.
We heard that some organizations were especially concerned by the idea of giving dogs and cats as a surprise. We weren’t aware of any data that probed into this aspect of the issue, so we wanted to learn more from the owners about the impact of receiving their pet as a gift.
Using a random dial method through an omnibus survey, we reached 222 folks who reported they had obtained a pet as a gift. We asked them if obtaining a pet as a gift increased, decreased or had no impact on the love or attachment to the pet. Sixty percent of folks communicated that obtaining the pet as a gift increased their attachment, while only 3% reported it decreased it. Wow.
We then asked if the pet was a surprise—and if so, were they okay with that surprise. Sixty percent noted that the pet was a surprise, and they were okay with it being a surprise. Only 6% of those who noted the pet was a surprise wish they had been involved in obtaining the pet.
Overall what we found is that receiving a pet as a gift, whether the gift was a surprise or not, did not impact love and attachment nor retention. Over the past several years, many of you have taken this information and turned it into creative lifesaving—and incredible memories for many adopters and families.
It is really time for us to put this myth to bed. What will you do to help make that happen?
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