Policies that dogs and cats should not be given as gifts are extremely common in the field of animal welfare. Reasons for this come from a wide variety of sources ranging from veterinary organizations like the Oregon Veterinary Medical Association [1
] to animal shelters like the Santa Barbara Humane Society [2
] to human health resources like WebMDSM
]. The reasoning behind this policy may, at first glance, seem like common sense. Common arguments include statements such as: pet ownership shouldn’t be an impulse decision; the recipient should consent to pet ownership and be involved in the selection of a pet that fits his or her lifestyle; it’s a long-term commitment; pet ownership is costly; the holidays are a bad time to bring home a new animal. This message may be driven by concerns of inappropriate homing and return to the shelter. Often, organizations that support these arguments cite anecdotal evidence that returns of pets from unhappy gift receivers occurs frequently. However, the available data do not support these concerns.
Of primary concern is that dogs and cats received as gifts will be relinquished to shelters at a high rate. In fact, the American Humane Association (AHA) estimates that half of all dogs and cats no longer in the home are relinquished to shelters [4
]. Studies of dog and cat relinquishment to shelters, however, show that the relinquishment of dogs and cats received as gifts is lower than from other sources.
In one specific study, New et al.
] identified the source of approximately 2,600 dogs and 2,300 cats relinquished to 12 shelters in four regions of the US. They found 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. That study found that the odds of dog relinquishment were higher when acquiring an animal from a shelter, friend, as a stray, and from a pet shop (ORs range from 2.1 to 3.1) compared to receiving an animal as a gift (and controlling for other factors such as gender, neuter status, length of ownership and purchase cost), Similarly, cats that were relinquished to shelters had originally come from friends, as strays, and shelters most frequently. Relinquished cats infrequently came from breeders, gifts and veterinarians. The odds of cat relinquishment were higher when acquiring an animal from a shelter, a friend, as a stray, and from a pet shop (ORs range from 1.5 to 3.1) compared to receiving an animal as a gift. These patterns of risk are consistent with previous findings that just looked at source of dogs and cats abandoned because the owner was moving [6
]. In addition, Scarlett et al.
identified 71 reasons given for pet relinquishment [7
]. “Unwanted gift” was listed as a reason for only 0.3% of dogs and 0.4% of cats entering the shelters surveyed, compared with “No time for pet” as a reason 10% of dogs were relinquished and “allergies in family” as a reason 18% of cats were relinquished. Finally, Patronek et al.
] examined risk factors for dog relinquishment at one shelter and concluded that dogs that were received as a gift were at significantly decreased risk of being relinquished, compared to dogs who were purchased or adopted. Similarly, cats that were received as a gift were at decreased risk of being relinquished, though this result was not significant [9
While there is strong existing evidence to show that dogs and cats obtained as gifts are not at a higher risk of relinquishment than dogs and cats obtained in other ways, the myth that dogs and cats should not be given as gifts still persists. The following study was conducted to add to the research about dogs and cats obtained as gifts and aims 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.