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December 22, 2013

Use some pet smarts: Animal groups discourage pets as holiday gifts

Fluffy kitten, adorable dog require research

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Few things are cuter than a puppy or kitten. Throw in a red and green bow, the cuteness is almost impossible to resist.

But people should resist the temptation to give a pet as a surprise gift, animal shelter experts say.

Fluffy kittens are a tempting Christmas gift but “I certainly wouldn’t make it a surprise,” said Jan Baird, a volunteer at the Animal Protection Association, a no-kill adoption shelter for cats in Jeffersonville.

While gift-givers might have good intentions, Baird emphasized many people fail to consider the lifestyle of the person receiving the pet. For example, an elderly person might fare better with an older cat because kittens tend to get under people’s feet, possibly causing them to trip. Also, an eager kitten has a tendency to scratch and claw — “they don’t know any better,” Baird said — which could cause problems with children.

David Hall, director of the New Albany-Floyd County Animal Shelter, said though people do come in with the intent to give animals as gifts, he and his employees try to steer those people in other directions.

“It’s difficult for us because we adopt to the owner, we don’t adopt to give as a gift,” Hall said. “We encourage them to either come down with that person and make that connection early or go ahead and do a gift certificate.”

Though the excitement of a new puppy or cat on Christmas might seem like a nice idea, he said the reality is that adopting a pet isn’t just a serious commitment, it’s a life-changing event that the recipient must be ready to take on.

“You’ll have to alter your lifestyle,” Hall said. “With all that in consideration, it’s not like giving somebody an Xbox and they can play it when they have an opportunity. This is something that will have your attention and need to be cared for.”

Involving the future pet owner is always a smart decision if you’re thinking about making a gift of an animal, said Charlie Heavrin, director of the J.B. Ogle Animal Shelter in Jeffersonville. If you’re thinking about adopting a pet on someone else’s behalf, bring the recipient of the gift with you to the shelter and let them make the choice on which animal to take home, he said.

Heavrin said he tries to encourage people who want to adopt pets to give as gifts to go in another direction.

“Generally, we try to get them to do another route, because what happens is people get the pet and they don’t want it,” Heavrin said, “and then it ends up back in the shelter again a few weeks later.”

But aside from the long-term aspect of pet ownership, Hall said Christmas can be a hectic time for people. Throwing a new pet into that mix can add a lot of stress to the animal. He said with family moving in and out of house, lights, toys and other stimuli, animals can get overloaded in a new place this time of year.


Hall and Baird said a good option for those wanting to give the gift of a furry friend is to purchase a gift certificate. The NA-FC shelter and APA offer them; Heavrin said the plan is for J.B. Ogle Shelter to sell them at least by the holidays in 2014.

Hall also offered another alternative —making a monetary gift to a shelter in someone’s name. He said that’s what helps fund the shelters in the long-term.

Another gift-giving idea includes donating items or money to the shelter. In APA’s case, it is in need of scoopable cat litter, laundry soap, paper towels, bleach, and for the especially generous donor, a van.

“We always welcome donations,” Baird said. “We operate solely on donations and fundraisers. Everyone here is a volunteer. That’s just the way we work.”

The shelter also operates a thrift store at 146 Spring St. in Jeffersonville, and Baird said another way to give of time and treasure would be to volunteer at the store, the proceeds of which benefit the shelter.


But if giving a pet is an absolute must, Hall said there are a few actions people can take to make the transition into a new home easier on the family and the pet.

“Whether it be a feline or a canine, crating the animal for some of that time that day is not a bad idea,” Hall said.

He said new owners don’t have to keep the pet in a carrier, they can put them in a closed room. That way, they have a chance to adjust to their new surroundings on their own without a lot of interference from several adoring family members.

“Isolating it in a separate room so it can have time-out away from you and you can have time-out away from it is not a bad idea,” Hall said. “They get tired just like we do and they need a break from everything sometimes. If people temper the fact that you are giving a living creature, then I think everybody including the animal will have a safe and happy holiday.”

— Assistant Editor Jason Thomas and staff writers Jerod Clapp and Matt Koesters contributed to this report.

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