A little serious, a little satire, and all opinion on animal welfare.
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Taking Another Look: “Bad” Places to Obtain a Pet

Posted by Karel Minor in Uncategorized

One of the oft repeated wisdoms in the animal welfare world is that animals which are given as gifts or bought from breeders are more likely to end up in shelters than “responsibly sourced” pets.  This is presumably because the recipient did not have the strong guiding hand and depth of experience which can only be brought to you by an adoption counselor with no academic or vocational training in the field and who has worked in animal welfare for a year or two and makes ten dollars an hour, at best.  Also known as the average person handling pet adoptions in the United States.

puppy with bowBefore the letter bombs come, that also represents many of our organizations’ adoption counselors, who are wonderful, well-trained, and do a great job.  But it is a stretch for most organizations to believe that they have some unique and mythic ability to make a permanent and successful match between a animal they’ve known for three days and person they’ve never met.  But that doesn’t stop us from believing it anyway.

Shelters, organizations and websites routinely either directly malign the concept of animals received as gifts or imply it is a problem based on statistics which show that about one third of animals surrendered to shelters were gift pets.  It’s safe to say most shelters prohibit gift adoptions.  Why?  Because we know better, right?  You might be surprised to know that is wrong.

First, we must acknowledge that there is no agreement on the terms used, so some studies refer to gifts, some referred to pets obtained from friends, etc.  Mostly, I’ll just lump anything not found on the street, bought from a store, or adopted as a shelter, a gift, whether it came with a bow under the tree or from a friend.  Studies show that 1/3 of animals entering shelters were obtained from friends or as gifts.  Sound the alarms and ban gift adoptions, that’s horrible!  Now I see why we know that it’s so bad to get or give pets as gifts, after all one in three pets surrendered…

Except it turns out that 40% of pet owners have a pet which was given to them.

Clearly, merging together total household source polls with shelter relinquishment surveys is apples and oranges but it seems like maybe the explanation for three in ten  animals surrendered originally being gifts might have something to do with as many as four in ten animals in our homes were gifts!  If only there were a study which addresses this directly.

There is!  A 2013 study determined that not only are “gift pets” not the problem we’ve been told by everyone and their brother, they are less likely to be relinquished to shelters.  You heard it, less likely.  The study identified a bunch of other factors which had a larger impact on whether animals were given to shelters than where they came from.  It would appear our common sense on why animals enter shelters is based on fantasy, not on reality.

It simply turns out that more people obtain pets from friends or as gifts, buy them, or bring in strays, than adopt from shelters.  Now the call will rise, “Those people should be adopting and saving lives instead!”  Leaving out purchasing pets- and I’ll revisit that one soon- does this even make sense?  Where would those animals have ended up if they had not been taken off the street or taken from a friend who can no longer keep it?  To a shelter, of course.  So what’s the problem with getting it right from the source and freeing up shelter resources for other animals?  Because it will be relinquished at greater rates than an adopted pet?  Only it won’t, as we know from the 2013 study.

Where one obtains a pet may make virtually no difference to the success of that relationship.  There are many, many other factors both within and without of a pet and a pet owner’s control which will determine whether that animal stays in a home, and a magical adoption rescue source is not one of them.

Sheltering advocates and agencies need to stop pointing at shadows and focus on the real reasons pets are given up and die in shelters.

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One Response

  • Jenn says:

    This article brings up several very good points. I myself have six cats. Of the six, ONE came from someone who was looking to find homes for kittens, one of which I expressed interest in as a gift for my husband. That was almost eight years ago. The others are cast-offs from a family member who used to hoard animals, taken-in strays, and rescues.



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