A puppy or a kitten under the Christmas tree seemed like a great idea. But after the holidays, children go back to school and adults go back to work.
What happens to the new pet then?
In a 2015 study, “Goodbye to a Good Friend: An Exploration of the Re-Homing of Cats and Dogs in the U.S.,” researchers from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found that roughly 7.6 million dogs and cats enter shelters every year; though data is hard to come by and varies by community, they said an estimated one-third of the animals entering shelters were given up by their owners.
Heritage Humane Society has developed a method to combat this issue, especially during the holidays.
Heritage Humane saw 12 families adopt pets on Christmas Eve, according to shelter officials. But they don’t anticipate seeing a lot of those animals returned to their facility after the holidays. On an annual basis, they say, about 10 percent of their adopted pets are returned.
“The best thing we can do is make a match that is going to last for a decade or more,” said Kimberly Laska, Heritage Humane Society’s executive director.
In some shelters, pets are returned for a variety of reasons, whether the owner becomes ill or a pet suffers from behavioral issues. According to Laska, staff members try to match animals to owners based on lifestyle needs that would make a pair last, such as a lap cat for an elderly owner or an energetic dog for a family with children.
Highlighting strays during the holidays
Heritage spotlighted adoption this season, as it did last year, with an initiative called “The 12 Strays of Christmas.”
The campaign highlights pets who’ve been in the shelter the longest and are trying to find a loving home, Laska said.
Usually it features six dogs and six cats, but sometimes there’s variety. Last year, the shelter included a pack of rat brothers on the list.
For the featured animals, Heritage waives the adoption fees. This helps potential owners because getting a new pet can become expensive, said Darci VanderSlik, the marketing manager.
More than half of Heritage’s featured strays of 2017 were adopted.
Still, Heritage officials don’t anticipate a rush of returns, known as “relinquishments,” after the New Year.
Heritage counsels families about the responsibilities of pet-ownership before adoption, according to Laska.
Heritage also asks potential owners about their history with animals, their lifestyles and factors that make for a good animal-owner pair.
“The best way to do that is by asking these questions at the very beginning, while they spend time with the animal and our team here,” said Laska.
That isn’t to say Heritage never has post-holiday returns.
According to Laska, animals are returned for a variety of reasons, most of which are uncontrollable.
But the idea that more pets are returned after the holidays is a myth, according to VanderSlik.
Research lends some support to the observation.
A study published by the academic journal, Animals, found those who physically picked out their pets — as opposed to those who received them as a gift — didn’t care any more or less for the animal.
In addition, many families plan for adoption all year and bring a pet home during the holidays because that’s when they’ll have free time, according to VanderSlik.
“So it isn’t something that’s all of the sudden ‘Let’s go get a puppy,’” VanderSlik said.
More information about pet adoption and donating to the Heritage Humane Society can be found online.