On Christmas morning, a lot of people will check under the tree to see what Santa, in his infinite wisdom, has brought.
But according to pet professionals, Santa might be wise to check his list twice before leaving a heart-melting beady-eyed little furball under the fir.
While potentially among the most adorable and meaningful gifts imaginable (not to mention a life-saving act for many animals), giving a pet as a surprise can prove problematic for both the pet and the new owner.
“We don’t encourage surprise adoptions,” said Darci VanderSlik, marketing manager for the Wake County SPCA, which located in northwest Garner.
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VanderSlik said the SPCA sees an uptick in adoptions around the holidays, which is good as supply always outstrips demand. Like other pet distributors, the SPCA worries gift pets can leave owners with more responsibilities than they wanted, and pets with owners that hadn’t fully committed to the idea of pet ownership.
She said her organization figures that they won’t stop people from getting animals from pet stores or off Craigslist, so they just make sure to let them know what they are getting into.
“If they want to get a pet, we can do our best to educate them on the ins and outs of pet ownership,” VanderSlik Said. “It’s going to poop, it’s going to pee, it’s going to chew on everythying – are you OK with that?”
While the Wake County SPCA adopts pets out of its facility off Tryon Road, it also uses space at PetSmart on Timber Drive and U.S. 70. That store’s general manager Stephany Worley also said holiday sales at the pet suppliers go up generally. (The store doesn’t sell pets, but provides space for various shelters that put pets up for adoption.)
Steve Palowski serves as spokesman for PetSmart Charity, the nonprofit wing of the company that partners with adoption agencies to provide space at stores free of charge. He said PetSmart doesn’t take an official stance on pets as a gift, but also advised against surprising the ultimate caregiver – clarifying that parents surprising children can be fine if the parents are willing to ultimately be responsible for the animal’s care.
“It’s a lifelong commitment,” Palowski said. “And the person who has the responsibility should be responsible for making that choice as well.”
Need for owners
Despite the cautions of surprising someone with responsibility in an irresistable cuddly package, pet professionals said the supply of pets always exceeds demand, so they strongly encourage those willing to adopt.
Every year, 8 million dogs and cats are taken into shelters. Because of space constraints, about 4 million are euthanized.
“And the vast majority are healthy adoptable pets,” Palowski said. “Unfortunately the need to find homes for these homeless pets is endless.”
While the holidays see some increased activities, PetSmart’s quarterly national adoption weekends prove bigger drivers, Palowski said. Annually 400,000 animals are adopted each year through the orgainzation started in 1994, nine years after PetSmart. A few weeks ago, 16,000 were adopted in three days, five times the average annual rate.
Both Palowski and VanderSlik said spaying and neutering are keys to reducing the number of domesticated animals taken in and euthanized.
SPCA, for its part, is a no-kill shelter, but that means it has to have a pet adopted before it can take another into its limited space. VanderSlik said those pets often come from over-stocked, high-kill shelters, largely from rural areas.
SPCA adoptions also come with a variety of offereings covered in the $95 adoption fee.
“That barely covers the cost of the spay or neuter surgery,” said VanderSlik, who notes the organization primarily survives on private donations.
A sit-down with an adoption counselor and access to behavioral team for the lifetime of the pet are provided. That team encourages positive enforcement. (”If your dog has an accident don’t rub his nose in it.”)
And if, after all, one isn’t able or willing to provide the kind of care the pet needs?
“If it doesn’t work out, we ask that you bring it back to us,” VanderSlik said.