We’ll take a deep dive into this issue so that you can decide for yourself.


To get started, we thought sharing a few facts about pet ownership was the best place to begin. Here are a few facts about pet ownership in the US as reported by the ASPCA.

“Currently, no government institution or animal organization is responsible for tabulating national statistics for the animal protection movement. These are national estimates; the figures may vary from state to state.

  • Approximately 6.5 million companion animals enter U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, approximately 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats. We estimate that the number of dogs and cats entering U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 7.2 million in 2011. The biggest decline was in dogs (from 3.9 million to 3.3 million).
  • Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). The number of dogs and cats euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 2.6 million in 2011. This decline can be partially explained by an increase in the percentage of animals adopted and an increase in the number of stray animals successfully returned to their owners.
  • Approximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year (1.6 million dogs and 1.6 million cats).
  • About 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. Of those, 620,000 are dogs and only 90,000 are cats.


The American Pet Product Association (APPA) reports that 34% of dogs are purchased from breeders, while 23% of dogs and 31% of cats are obtained from an animal shelter or humane society.

  • Around 27% of cats are acquired as strays, down from 35% in 2012. (Source: APPA)
  • According to the ASPCA’s National Rehoming Survey, pet problems are the most common reason that owners rehome their pets, accounting for 47% of rehomed dogs and 42% of rehomed cats. Pet problems were defined as problematic behaviors, aggressive behaviors, grew larger than expected, or health problems owner couldn’t handle.


Reasons why giving a pet as a surprise may not be such a good idea.

  1. No one wants to give an unwanted gift — especially a vulnerable one that lives and breathes. If you’re thinking about giving a pet as a gift, the experts offer these tips to help you make sure that that gift is actually a good idea. i
  2. Make sure the gift of a pet is wanted and planned by asking the following questions:ii
  • Can the recipient commit to 10-15 years of care?
  • Is the recipient allergic to pet dander?
  • Will the recipient have the financial resources to provide the animal with proper care, including veterinary visits?
  • Does the recipient live in a rental, and are pets allowed?
  1. Various studies estimate that somewhere between 6-13 percent of pets eventually end up leaving their homes.

Christmas pets should be planned gifts

The ASPCA‘s official position is that pets should be given as gifts “only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one, and the ability to care for it responsibly.” In other words, pets are great gifts for people who won’t be surprised!

The best way to give the gift of a dog is to make it a planned gift. If your family has been talking about getting a dog for a long time, and the grown-ups are prepared to take on the responsibility, then by all means, bring your new dog home for the holidays. Just make sure you have all the supplies and resources in place in advance.

Most rescue groups and shelters don’t seem to be fans of giving pets as surprise gifts unless it’s parents who want to surprise their kids. In that case, the parents typically understand the family commitment that will be necessary.

“Many people have a somewhat romantic view of what dog ownership is like. This romanticism can become exaggerated by the warmth and loving-kindness associated with the Christmas season,” writes Ruth Ginzberg at PetRescue.com. “People who have not had dogs before, or who have not had dogs since they were themselves, children, or who have recently had a dog but one who was a canine senior citizen trained and socialized to the family’s ways long ago, often are completely unaware of how much work it is to raise a puppy from infancy into a good adult canine companion.”

At Austin Pets Alive, a large no-kill shelter with many rescue programs in Texas, people aren’t allowed to adopt if the pet will be given as a gift outside their immediate family, says spokesperson Lisa Maxwell.

However, at FurKids, an Atlanta-based rescue group, the holidays have been a successful time for long-lasted pet adoptions, says founder and CEO Samantha Shelton. “For our organization, we have seen great success for families adopting at the holidays,” Shelton said. “Our adoption process helps ensure they are prepared and have thought through the decision and that it’s not an impulse decision. We also remain a resource to help them with training and any issues they may have. “However, the group also follows the family-only rule for surprise adoptions.


Assuming you taken into account the advice on making a “planned gift” consider this information from a 2016 ASPCA study.

  • A 2013 study by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) found no connection between getting a dog or cat as a gift and an owner’s relationship to the animal. The ASPCA found that 96 percent of people who received pets as gifts — whether it was a surprise or not — thought it either increased or had no impact on their love or attachment to that pet.
  • Dr. Emily Weiss, ASPCA vice president of research and development, was the lead author on the ASPCA study. She tells MNN that researchers tackled the post-Christmas pet return myth in part because of personal experiences. “We were certainly looking at our own lives that this didn’t make much sense. We weren’t very sure there was much fact-based in that myth,” she says.

They knew there was already some research available about why people give up their pets, but they wanted to collect more data in hopes that it would help shelters place more animals into permanent homes, Weiss says.

  • Earlier studies looked at why pets were relinquished to shelters and found that the majority of pets that were returned had come from shelters, breeders or friends. The odds of the pet being returned were much lower when it was a gift.

Giving a pet as a gift may not be such a terrible idea after all, but for any animal adoption, there are still plenty of things to consider before you go find the perfect bow for this gift.

  • The ASPCA recommends giving pets as gifts only to people who have shown long-term interest in having one and who you believe have the ability to responsibly care for one.
  • Even better, give the recipients a collar and pet supplies and let them pick out the pet with you.

While some groups have embraced holiday pets, the animal welfare community is still divided, Weiss says. “Sheltering organization and rescue groups work independently and all have their own opinions, so it takes a long time to change their behavior,” she says. “Sometimes, no matter where a pet is obtained, it doesn’t work out. It could be mismatched expectations or something happens in a person’s life,” Weiss says. “That’s the reality.”


In next week’s BLOG, we’ll share with you an excellent article, “It’s OK to Get a Puppy for Christmas If You Agree to Do These 30 Things.”

i Wendy Fries – Pets MD

ii Rover.com