I have a confession to make. Many years ago, I gifted an incredibly funny, loving, and lanky dog to my mother for Christmas. I was fostering him through some medical issues and my mother had met him during that time. After those meetings, my mother would talk about him nonstop.
Then, one day near Christmas, I visited my parents with the pup. When it was time to go, I began gathering my things. My mother helped gather up the pup. I stopped her and said, “No, he’s staying. He’s yours now.” I walked away from my mother’s shocked face and went to my car to get all the supplies she needed. I had a box filled with toys, bowls, food and more. Then, I left.
This scenario goes against so many myths and memes seen on social media. The fear of animals returning to the shelter because they were “unwanted” gifts prevents the hope of finding love. And what gift is better than love?
The Williamson County Animal Shelter is overfilled with cats and dogs wishing for a home, for a family, and for love. The holidays are a time to celebrate the joys of family and home and love. The combination of these two things creates the potential for a lifesaving and life-fulfilling way to spend the days off from school or work – by helping a new furry family member transition to a home.
Fear should not be confused with proper preparations and a clear understanding of the home life and needs of the humans in the family. For example, many parents look to the holidays as a perfect time to give their child a dog or cat. This can be such a life lesson, not only in the love the child will now experience from their new friend, but also the responsibilities that come with adding a new family member. However, as with all life lessons, the child will need guidance and help to learn what new chores are needed and how to complete them. It is also the responsibility of the parent to know that if the child is unable to perform the necessary tasks, they must step up and be an example of how to care for the new pet. Doing so illustrates that this dog or cat is a member of the family, and all the family members must be invested.
Finding a wonderful dog or cat to give someone outside of your household is possible as well. It starts again with knowing the needs and routine of the home and the capabilities of the family. Then, knowing what they are really hoping for in a new dog or cat. An exercise buddy? A couch cuddler? This is essential to find the right match. And, if the person doesn’t quite know what they are looking for in a new dog or cat, a trip to the local animal shelter might help them hone in on what personalities attract them the most. This decision may take time and should not be rushed. Another alternative to make sure the gift is timely, even if the perfect pet hasn’t been met yet, is to give an adoption gift certificate to the person wishing for a dog or cat. With a gift certificate, the person does not have to worry about the adoption fee – just finding the right dog or cat for them.
In 2013, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals released findings from a research study focused on pets as gifts. They found that 96% of people who received pets as gifts thought it either increased or had no impact on their love or commitment to that pet. The study also found that 86% of the pets listed in the study were still in the home with their family. With this information and knowing that many individuals give loved ones a dog or cat during the holidays – why not make that gift more meaningful and keep adoption as the first option.
And what happened to the dog I gifted my mother? He became a staple member of the family. He was by my mother’s side to play and to comfort, in laughing and in frustration, and to eat every single snack she happily fed him. He lived his whole life in that house as a cherished member of the family and was mourned as such when he passed. He was given the gift of life entering that home and gave the gift of love every day of that life.
Misty Valenta is the animal services director of the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter.