Should Dogs and Cats be Given as Gifts?
For animal advocates, the idea of giving companion animals as gifts has long been considered a poor practice, that increases the likelihood that those same animals will be relinquished to shelters. However, the results from this U.S. study, suggests we should reconsider this notion, as the data gathered from various research shows that companion animals given as gifts actually have a lower relinquishment rate than others. This study, carried out by various ASPCA members, challenges the prevailing wisdom around animal adoptions, and offers companion animal advocates a potential new avenue to successfully place animals in forever homes, even if it goes against “common sense.”
In companion animal advocacy, giving animals as gifts is generally not a practice that is condoned or endorsed by shelters. Much like opposing the act of buying animals from breeders, the rationale behind the policy seems sensical. In this case, giving animals as gifts seems to encourage impulse decisions about pet ownership, when being a human companion is a long-term commitment, and the human should, at the very least, be aware and agreeable that they are about to take on this important responsibility. According to this study, carried out by various members of the ASPCA, “organizations that support these arguments cite anecdotal evidence that returns of pets from unhappy gift receivers occurs frequently.” However, the researchers say bluntly, “the available data do not support these concerns.” Citing one particular study that looked at the relinquishments of over 5000 animals at 12 different shelters in four regions in the U.S., they note that “dogs relinquished to shelters had most frequently come from friends, shelters and breeders. Relinquished dogs infrequently came from pet shops, as gifts and from veterinarians.” Yet, the researchers note, “the myth that dogs and cats should not be given as gifts still persists.” The researchers then conducted their own study of dog and cat relinquishments to “examine how receiving a dog or cat as a gift, whether a surprise or not, is associated with the receivers’ self-perceived love or attachment toward the pet and if the gift is associated with the pet still living in the home at the time of the survey.”
To conduct their study, the researchers initially surveyed over a thousand people, arriving at a final sample of 222 respondents who had received companion animals as gifts. They asked a variety of questions about how involved the human companions were in the decision to obtain the animal, whether getting the animal as a gift had an effect on their attachment to it, and how long that companion was with them (noting if they had passed away, were relinquished, or were still with them). According to their study, they found “no significant relationship between receiving a dog or cat as a gift, whether a surprise or not, and the receivers’ self-perceived love or attachment toward the pet. Nor was there a significant relationship between receiving a dog or cat as a gift and whether the pet was still living in the home at the time of the survey.” For companion animal advocates, this may be a hard pill to swallow, as it contradicts a long-standing and relatively unchallenged policy. But the study goes even further. The authors note that in addition to gift giving of companion animals not affecting relinquishment, “research from the American Humane Association found that dogs and cats obtained spur of the moment or with little thought compared to dogs and cats obtained after lengthy research were not more likely to be relinquished to animal shelters.” Again, this may be hard for many companion animal advocates to believe. While it seems to be poor ethical practice, making a spontaneous decision about obtaining a pet does not seem to affect the mechanics of a companion animal relationship.
The researchers do note that their study had some limitations – specifically that “the survey represents a small, cross-sectional sample and was not conducted to solely answer this question, thus, the generalizability of these findings may be limited.” However, this study, combined with the outcomes of past, larger scale research, may indicate that “allowing adoptions of dogs and cats to those obtaining the pet as a gift may decrease the risk of return or relinquishment for that dog or cat. Furthermore, it would allow for more animals from shelters to find homes. […] denying potential adopters the right to obtain dogs and cats as gifts may unnecessarily impede the overarching goal of increasing the rate of live-releases of dogs and cats from our nations’ shelter system.” It is certainly food for thought for companion animal advocates, many of whom will have to let go of long-held beliefs if they are to put these findings into practice.
Policies that state dogs and cats should not be adopted as gifts are prevalent at animal welfare organizations, despite the fact that this belief is unfounded. Denying adopters who intend to give the animals as gifts may unnecessarily impede the overarching goal of increasing the rate of live-releases of dogs and cats from our nations’ shelter system. The results of this brief survey show that receiving a dog or cat as a gift was neither significantly associated with impact on self-perceived love/attachment, nor was it associated with whether or not respondents still had the dog or cat in the home. The results from this survey add to a growing body of literature that suggests there is no increased risk of relinquishment for dogs and cats received as a gift.