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Holiday season not so great for unwanted pets

Plumas County Animal Control officer Alex Saez cuddles a pair of tiny puppies found in a diaper box in front of Papa Murphy’s Pizza in Quincy on Nov. 29. Fortunately the puppies were found right away and didn’t have to contend with the cold night temperatures. The puppies are about 6 weeks old and are believed to be a spaniel mix. Photo by Melissa Bishop

“Christmas is one of the worst times of the year,” at the Plumas County Animal Shelter.

That’s how longtime animal control officer Melissa Bishop sees the season. “It’s the time of year for the highest turn-ins for owner-release animals,” she said.

In her years of experience, she’s seen people anxious to get that cute puppy or kitten ready for the stocking and Christmas morning. And within a few months, sometimes less, whenever the newness of the pet wears off and the reality of being a responsible pet owner sets in, the shelter staff sees the pet returned or worse yet, dumped.

In 2015 from October through December, 15 dogs and 24 cats were owner-released to the local shelter. Last year the numbers increased slightly to 16 dogs and 25 cats.

“I know that number is higher,” Bishop said. Many people bring an animal to the shelter claiming they found the pet. “And that’s okay. I’d rather they did that than dump the animal.”

Bishop said that she’s also known people to drop off an existing pet — almost like a member of the family — because they want something new as a gift at Christmas.

Bishop said that she carefully screens adoption requests especially at Christmas.

“The second highest is summer vacation,” Bishop said about animal releases. People want to go someplace and they don’t want to deal with finding a pet sitter or a place to board the animal.”

Animals as gifts

Social media plays to the heartstrings of audiences, especially with young children. Images of that adorable bow-clad puppy hanging out of a Christmas stocking, tots hugging that new kitten, the exclamations of delight and the faces of happy parents who watch as a child’s most current wishes have been fulfilled bombard the media.

But slow down and think, urge animal rights groups and animal controller officers like Bishop and Alex Saez.

Rather than giving someone an animal as a gift, “I always say get them the supplies. The bed, toys, a litter pan or wee wee pads. Everything for the pet and then let them get the animal when they’re ready,” Bishop said.

“Having a companion animal is a huge commitment and should be taken very seriously,” said columnist Jessica Pierce in “All Dogs Go to Heaven” for Psychology Today.

Pierce and others encourage parents, grandparents and others not to just give a gift of an animal. There is the commitment factor. Who will feed the pet, walk the dog, clean the litter box and other questions all must be considered.

Can the family really afford a pet? There is a lot more than feeding to be considered. There are vaccinations, licensing fees for dogs and routine veterinary care to be considered. Can the family be depended on to have the pet spayed or neutered and will they be responsible enough to do that when the time comes.

Is there room enough in the house, is the yard fenced and much more needs to be considered. Do rental regulations allow for a pet? Is there an additional fee for the pet and can the family afford it? Is the family home enough to take care of an animal’s needs?

And what about those teething months when puppies like to chew and chew and chew? They don’t understand that the sofa pillows are off limits when they’re left alone.

A pet as a gift when the parents are involved and are fully aware of the responsibilities for everyone in the household is a good idea.

Four years ago, a feature by the Associated Press reported that animal rights groups were actually split over their reasons for encouraging adoptions or discouraging them during the holidays.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals claims that nationwide fears are unfounded.

“According to the ASPCA, some shelters ramp up for the holidays as their biggest adoption times of the year,” according to the AP feature in the LA Times.

“An ASPCA telephone survey says about 96 percent of responding owners who got their pet as a gift (whether it was a surprise or not) said the way they got the animal increased or had no impact on their love or attachment. About 86 percent of those pets were still in the home or remained with the family until the animals passed away — the same rate as pets obtained in other ways. The study was conducted in July and published in the journal Animals in October 2013.”

Others supported the holidays as an excellent time for a pet adoption. Many people have time off, children are out of school and the animal can be the center of attention and become accustomed to its new surroundings and people.

However, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angels, which is not affiliated with the ASPCA, discourages pets as gifts.

The perfect pet

“The image of a puppy bounding out of a box is something people relish, but the decision to adopt should be done with purpose,” said an animal controller officer with a Los Angeles shelter. “We suggest a gift certificate. That way, the adoption is a gift, but the pet is chosen by the person or the entire family.”

Pet shoppers are also reminded that pet stores here in California, as of January 2019, must sell dogs, cats and rabbits obtained from shelters, rescue groups or animal control agencies.

“This is a big win for our four-legged friends,” said California Assembly Member Patrick O’Donnell.

Taxpayers in California spent more than $250 million a year to house and euthanize animals in shelters. Not only will the new law require pet shop owners to offer only rescued pets, it will increase the likelihood of  animals of all breeds, sizes and ages getting good homes.

For those seeking pets to adopt in Plumas County there is the Plumas County Animal Shelter in Quincy, Plumas Animal Welfare Society (PAWS for cats), High Sierra Animal Rescue in Delleker and Quincy Friends of Animals.

PAWS and High Sierra don’t accept owner releases, Bishop explained. They get their pets from the animal shelter and then hold them until they find good homes.

If a prospective pet owner doesn’t find the size or the breed or mix being considered, there are many more shelters and rescue organizations throughout the state.

A search on the Internet will reveal rescue societies that specialize in specific dog or cat breeds that often have puppies and kittens as well as a variety of rescued or owner released pets.

Another good thing about getting an animal from a shelter or rescue group is that they allow time to get acquainted with the animal. Is this animal of the right temperament and the right size for what the prospective adoptive owners are wanting? Shelter operators and rescue volunteers generally know something about the disposition of the animals released to their care.

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