Giving the ‘purr-fect’ present

Giving the ‘purr-fect’ present
Praline is filled with Christmas spirit

Few sights evoke heart-warming holiday sentiments as perfectly as images of a puppy, kitten, dog, or cat with a festive bow. Perhaps the furry creature is being hugged by a delighted child under a Christmas tree, or peeking out from inside of a beautifully wrapped gift box. The question of whether to give a live animal as a gift is not easily answered. It is a decision that requires careful consideration and pre-planning, according to recognized animal welfare professionals and experienced veterinarians.

Many animal shelters have traditionally discouraged the idea of giving a live pet for any occasion because in many cases, gifted pets are returned or surrendered to shelters and do not remain in the home of the recipient. At shelters, January intake numbers are often the highest of the year, and gifted pets, often take the blame.

Although there continue to be different viewpoints, new research has shown that with advance planning, a gifted pet can thrive and may even be more cherished because it was given by a close friend or loved one. More in-depth analysis of January intake numbers at animal shelters, found that gifted animals were not the predominant cause.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has changed its position regarding gift pets based upon their own research. They support a gift pet if specific criteria are met by the potential owner such as the recipient has expressed a sustained desire to own a pet; has adequate space, time and income to own and properly care for a pet; the pet is legal at the location where it will reside; and the parents have been consulted if the recipient is a minor.

 Before selecting any animal to give as a gift, it is important to verify and understand restrictions of the return policy if there is an unexpected problem, such as recipient allergies, pet illness, or conflict with other pets. Finally, only obtain a gift pet from reputable animal shelters, rescue organizations, or licensed, ethical breeders.

Other animal welfare organizations state that it is always best to know the potential recipient’s specific pet preferences, such as type of pet, age, size or weight, hair length, mixed breed, mixed breed that resembles a purebred type or a purebred animal. Some communities, rental apartments and homes enforce ironclad pet type restrictions, including breed, size, and weight limits. Many also charge additional pet fees or penalties.

 Pet temperament and energy level must also be considered. Grandmother might do much better with a small lap dog or cat, rather than a large dog that could be too much for her to handle and requires extensive daily outdoor exercise. Animal shelter professionals interviewed for this article consistently stress that the daily exercise and space requirements of any pet are critically important to the success of the gift pet in its new home.

“In most cases we support the giving of pets as gifts provided the intended recipient has expressed interest in acquiring a pet and has the ability to provide responsible care. If the recipient is a child, we strongly encourage a parent or guardian to be involved in the decision,” said Jennifer Walter, shelter manager at Jacksonville’s Animal Care & Protective Services on Forest Street. “Several studies have been conducted on this topic and have found that pets received as a gift are less likely to be relinquished or returned than pets acquired by the owner. We offer and encourage ‘sponsored adoptions,’ which provide a coupon for a free adoption that can be given as a gift.” 

Some of her happiest childhood memories are of pets received as holiday gifts, said Denise Deisler, president and CEO of the Jacksonville Humane Society (JHS). Last Christmas, the only thing she and her five-year-old granddaughter wanted to find on Christmas morning was a kitten under their tree.

“We got our kitten, and it has been wonderful,” she said. “JHS will help people choose a pet. If it is to be a gift, that must be a careful decision and the giver must know the recipient and situation very well. Specific circumstances do matter. While it might be a good idea for grandparents to have a dog to walk for exercise, for companionship or protection, it may not be a great idea to choose that pet without talking to them. Sometimes the joy and experience of selecting a pet together with loved ones is very special. JHS offers a Pet Gift Certificate. That certificate allows the recipient to take their time and visit the shelter as often as they wish until they find the perfect pet. Also, the return of an animal does not mean it was a bad gift, but that it might not have been the right fit for that recipient.”

Other important reasons to thoroughly discuss a pet gift with the recipient beforehand, are possible circumstances of which the giver is unaware. The recipient may have an upcoming job change, pending move, or new pet restrictions where they currently reside. There may be financial pressures that would affect the addition of a pet to the family.

Dr. Howard Acree, DVM of Cedar Hills Animal Hospital said that, in his opinion, it is a wonderful idea to give a pet as a gift. “Just be sure that you do your homework beforehand and know for certain that the individual is going to be happy with a pet. If you have any reservations at all then a gift pet is not a good idea,” he said.

When asked about gift ideas for pets this holiday season, Acree said it’s usually best to stick to new dishes, beds, collars, harnesses, leashes, clothing, bandanas, sweaters or toys instead of food or treat items. For instance, it is important to purchase the best quality pet accessories your budget will allow to avoid accidents or breakage.

“It is also best to stick to the pet’s regular diet during holidays because new foods can cause stomach issues or illness. Some food and dessert ingredients are toxic to dogs or cats. If treats are purchased, read labels carefully, purchase ‘Made in America’ items and absolutely avoid any product manufactured in China. They have no quality controls and are known to use questionable or potentially toxic ingredients. Many pets have become extremely ill or worse from the consumption of treats made in China,” he said.

Acree also warned of the dangers of pets eating or chewing on holiday plants or floral bouquets, ornaments, and decorations. These items, even if not toxic, are irritants that can cause gastrointestinal upset, pancreatitis, vomiting, diarrhea, or obstruction that requires surgery. Cats and dogs will eat tinsel, ornaments, ornament hooks, rubber bands, plastic ties, and pieces of live or artificial Christmas trees with disastrous results. He suggests pet-proofing the house, just as parents will child-proof a home, to avoid pet emergencies or accidents. Acree has been in veterinary practice for 32 years at Cedar Hills Animal Hospital.

Jacksonville Humane Society and the city’s Animal Care & Protective Services shelter both welcome holiday gifts for their animals awaiting adoption. JHS has a wish list on its website and needs dry cat and dog food, especially with the COVID pandemic increasing demand for their food bank. Their lobby gift shop offers wonderful gifts for pet-lovers and pets alike and is open during regular shelter hours with proceeds going to benefit the animals.

ACPS shelter dogs love to receive gifts of Pup-Peroni®, bully sticks, Nylabones, Kongs, Kraft Velveeta® cheese, and easy-walk harnesses. Their cats would be thrilled with cat treats, cardboard scratch posts, cave/enclosed cat beds, Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR®) and Miracle Nipples. Donations of dog and cat food are always needed, and they also maintain a wish list on their website.

National Mixed Breed Dog Day, aka National Mutt Day, is Dec. 2, 2020. It is a time when the public is encouraged to consider the adoption of a mixed breed dog or cat, which fill overcrowded shelters and rescues. Reasons to adopt a mixed breed animal, which are often rescues, include that the animals are generally hardy with fewer health issues due to genetic mixing and have lower veterinarian costs over their lifetime as a result. They also tend to have more moderate temperaments, and, according to owners, they exhibit extreme loyalty and lifelong appreciation once adopted into a forever home.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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