Americans have a long tradition of giving pets — usually puppies or kittens — as gifts for special occasions such as birthdays, holidays or graduation, but there’s debate over how this practice impacts the animal’s welfare.
A recent ASPCA survey found that 96% of the people who received pets as gifts thought it either increased or had no impact on their love or attachment to that pet. The vast majority of these pets stayed in the home (86%). The survey also revealed no difference in attachment based on the gift being a surprise or known in advance. Several studies conducted in the 1990’s and 2000 (Patronek, 1996, Scarlett, 1999 New, 1999, New 2000) found that pets acquired as gifts are less likely to be relinquished than pets acquired by the individual.
AWA recommends the giving of pets as gifts only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one, and the ability to care for it responsibly. We also recommend that pets be obtained from animal shelters, rescue organizations, friends, family or responsible breeders — not from places where the source of the animal is unknown or untrusted.
The recipient’s schedule should also be free enough to spend necessary time to help assure an easy transition into the home. This is especially important during the holidays and other busy times.
Pet training is not a regulated industry in the United States. Owners must inform themselves about the different approaches to training in order to select a trainer that is both humane and effective. Beyond certification of the professional, factors to be considered in the choice of training methodology include the pet’s age, breed and temperament; the guardian’s ability and willingness to carry out the trainer’s instructions; and the specific training objectives the owners has identified. An additional the use of training tools must be reviewed as some equipment can be harmful if used incorrectly.
AWA supports training methods that are based on an understanding of how animals learn and incorporate kindness and respect for both the pet and the owner. Humane training does not inflict unnecessary distress or discomfort on the pet. Humane training makes use of rewards such as food, praise, petting and play. In addition to rewards, there are many training tools and types of equipment designed to assist owners in managing their pets’ behavior at home and in public places.
In some areas of the US, unplanned litters of puppies have nearly been eliminated, due to successful containment laws and spay/neuter campaigns, and shelters in these areas have large populations of large breed dogs, older dogs, and some behaviorally or medically needy dogs who may require very specialized adopters and who may take longer to adopt. Shelters in other regions—most notably the South, Southwest and rural areas throughout the US—still receive more puppies and a variety of healthy and happy dogs than they can place locally. Shelters where there are now shortages of puppies and small- to medium-sized dogs are turning to animal transport to rescue healthy dogs from euthanasia and to bring diversity to their adoption kennels.
AWA supports the transporting of animals from overcrowded shelters to those with available space as long as the following conditions are met:
- Receiving shelters must have sufficient space for transported pets without displacing any healthy animals from their own communities.
- Animals must be examined by a veterinarian, must be in good health, vaccinated, dewormed and treated for external parasites.
- Animals crossing state lines must have health certificates issued within 5-7 days of transport.
- Copies of pet health records and behavior assessments must be transported with the animals.
- Animals should be behaviorally assessed. Aggressive or excessively fearful animals should only be transported if the receiving shelter has a successful rehabilitation program.
- Puppies must be at least eight weeks of age or part of a litter with their mother. Mothers with pups less than eight weeks should only be transferred if the receiving shelter has available foster care until the pups are fully weaned at eight weeks of age.
- Sending shelters (where the dogs and puppies are coming from) should be looking for ways to implement spay/neuter programs, increase adoptions and offer education programs in the community that will eventually lead to the end of transport and euthanasia for lack of space.
- Stray puppies from rabies endemic areas whose vaccination history is unknown should be at least 12 weeks of age in order to receive a rabies vaccination prior to shipping.
- Vehicle Transport Logistics: transporters and both agencies should prescribe and following the national transport guidelines and standards of care that include the below information and more:
- Animals should be caged separately unless part of a litter or a bonded pair relinquished from the same household.
- Animals should travel in stationary cages, or the crates/cages must be affixed to a stationary object.
- Transport vehicles must be cleaned and disinfected between shipments and whenever occupants change cages.
- Transport vehicles must have proper ventilation and climate control.
There is inevitably tension between the need to safeguard the public from dangerous dogs and the rights of dog guardians to have dogs of their choosing as long as they properly supervise and control their pets. The laws that hold dog guardians responsible for unjustified harm or damage inflicted by their pets should be rational and should not impose bans or authorize discrimination against specific dog breeds without regard to the temperament and behavior of individual dogs.
AWA does not support breed-specific bans. Such laws infringe on the rights of responsible dog guardians and do grave damage to the efforts of shelters and humane societies to place adoptable dogs of prohibited breeds.
The Animal Welfare Association does not support the commercial breeding or selling of companion pets.
When acquiring a pet, it is important to research the source of the animals’ history. We encourage people to try to ascertain the well-being of the pets being offered for sale. We recommend that if people desire a specific breed they check several shelters or specific types of rescue groups; you never know what you might find! They could also work with a reputable local breeder. Here are some suggested things to look for when visiting local breeders:
- Confirm that the pet parents are a part of the family and not isolated in a breeding cage or relegated to a separate building/garage/basement. Check all the living conditions for all the animals on the property.
- Ask how many litters the mother has had during her life. It should be limited to a handful.
- Look for only a few dogs living among the family. If there are multiple breeds available or many puppies listed for sale at one breeder, these are red flags.
It may take more time to find your next pet through an animal shelter or from a reputable local breeder, however, saving a life and supporting compassion matters. At AWA, it is our mission to provide good companion animals for people and save homeless pets.
Responsible breeders are people who focus their efforts on one or a select few breeds and through breeding, historical research and ongoing study, mentoring relationships, club memberships, showing, raising and training of these breeds have become experts in their health, heritable defects, temperament and behavior. Responsible breeders are well suited to educate and screen potential buyers/adopters and provide follow-up support after purchase or adoption. Responsible breeders take lifetime responsibility for the animals they have bred.
AWA advocates the following best practices for the responsible breeder:
- Screens breeding stock for heritable diseases; removes affected animals from breeding program. Affected animals are altered; may be placed as pets as long as health issues are disclosed to buyers/adopters.
- Has working knowledge of genetics and generally avoids inbreeding.
- Removes aggressive animals from breeding program.
- Keeps breeding stock healthy and well socialized.
- Never keeps more dogs or cats than they can provide with the highest level of care, including quality food, clean water, proper shelter from heat or cold, exercise and socialization and professional veterinary care.
- Manages the breeding frequency on mother’s health, age, condition and recuperative abilities.
- Includes the breeding dogs and cats in their homes and considers these dogs and cats their companions and part of their family.
- Ensures neonates are kept clean, warm, fed, vetted and with the mother until weaned; begins socialization of neonates at three weeks of age.
- Screens and counsels potential guardians; discusses positive and negative aspects of animal/breed.
- Ensures animals are weaned before placement (eight to ten weeks of age for dogs and cats).
- Complies with all applicable laws regulating breeders in their jurisdiction.
- Never sells puppies to a dealer or pet shop.
- Provides an adoption/purchase contract in plain English that spells out breeder’s responsibilities, adopter’s responsibilities, health guarantees and return policy.
- Provides accurate and reliable health, vaccination and pedigree information.
- Makes sure pet quality animals are sold on a limited registration (dogs only), spay/neuter contract or are altered before placement.
- Will take back any animal of their breeding, at any time and for any reason.
Cats’ claws are a vital part of their bodies. They use them to capture prey and to settle disputes among themselves as well as with other animals and people who are hurting, threatening or annoying them. In addition, a cat who is attempting to climb to safety uses her claws to grip a surface and hold on.
A variety of humane methods exist to manage the problem of destructive clawing and to prevent injury from cat scratches. These include having your cats nails trimmed or filed down regularly in order to blunt the tips and providing scratching pads, posts and other appealing structures for the cat to use—and employing behavior modification techniques to induce the cat to use them. Cat guardians should also be familiar with cat behavior and handling techniques to avoid being scratched.
Unfortunately, many cat guardians opt instead to have their cat surgically declawed; perhaps not appreciating the fact that removing a cat’s claws would be comparable to removing their own fingernails, along with the bones to which they are attached. If the surgery is performed correctly and the entire nail bed is removed, the claw cannot regrow.
AWA opposes declawing cats for the convenience of their guardians. AWA believes in alternative methods to manage nuisance behaviors. The reasonable circumstance in which the procedure could be condoned would be if the health and safety of the guardian would be put at risk, as in the case of individuals with compromised immune systems or illnesses that cause them to be unusually susceptible to serious infections.
Feral cats are free-roaming domestic cats that were never socialized by humans or have lived outdoors for so long that they have reverted to a wild state. Adult feral cats typically cannot be handled and are not suitable for placement into homes as companion animals. As a result, cats deemed “feral” are often euthanized once admitted to animal shelters. Free-roaming cat populations generally consist of a mixture of truly feral cats, semi-socialized cats and lost and abandoned pets. Most attempts to eradicate free-roaming cat colonies have failed; cats who are removed are replaced through reproduction, movement of the remaining cats and the addition of lost and abandoned animals, who repopulate the vacated space. At this time the most humane, effective and financially sustainable strategy for controlling free-roaming cat populations is trap-neuter-return (TNR), whereby free-roaming cats are trapped, sterilized, vaccinated, and returned to their colony of origin.
In order to stabilize and eventually reduce the free-roaming cat population through attrition, AWA supports the management of free-roaming cat colonies through TNR and, when the resources of animal welfare agencies allow, through “Feral Fix” programs. It is the AWA’s position that truly unsocialized, free-roaming cats are best served by focusing resources on TNR and public education. The management of free-roaming cat colonies should include trapping, Rabies vaccination, vaccination, sterilization, ear “tipping” (surgical removal of the tip of one ear as a visible sign that the cat has been sterilized). Recognition by animal control officers and shelter staff that an ear-tipped cat has already been spayed or neutered allows for healthy, unsocialized cats to remain at or to be returned to their origin, rather than be admitted to an animal shelter.
The myth that a free or fee waived adoption will mean that the adopter may not provide a qualified home or love their pet. In 2006, an ASPCA research study looking at the impact of fee based adoptions verses free adoptions on “the attachment levels of adopters” indicated that:
- Attachment to was not decreased when adoption fees were eliminated,
- Eliminating adoption fees does not devalue the animals in the eyes of the adopters.
We are committed to finding great homes for dogs and cats. All free or fee waived adoptions at AWA undergo the same adoption process. The researchers concluded that successful adoptions do not require payment of a fee, and free adoption promotions may increase adoptions without compromising the quality of the animal’s life.
AWA does not prevent the adoption of black cats around Halloween. In some areas, the misconception remains that adopting black cats around Halloween is dangerous because devil worshippers or animal abusers want black cats to sacrifice or torture. There is no proof that adopting black cats around Halloween poses any greater risk than adopting them at any other time of the year. In a 2007 National Geographic article titled “Ritual Cat Sacrifices a Halloween Myth.” Experts on Halloween and cults have found “no confirmed statistics, court cases, or studies to support the idea that serious satanic cult crime even exists.”
There is, however, plenty of risk to black cats when a shelter decides stop black cat adoptions during Halloween. It can cost them their lives. In many shelters, there are more cats than adopters and often black cats are the last to be adopted, so taking them off the adoption floor might mean that the shelter must euthanize them or other cats due to space. At AWA we continue to base our adoption policies and processes on fact, not fiction. We remain committed to adoption counseling and focusing on making a lifelong matches.
In some areas, the misconception remains that puppies or dogs adopted as Christmas gifts will be surrendered to shelters at a higher rate because they were spur of the moment decisions. There is no evidence that this is true. Shelters do see more puppies surrendered after Christmas, but that is because there are more puppies available at that time of the year. Dogs usually mate in the late summer and the puppies are born in the fall. These puppies are weaned and ready to go to their new homes around December. Just as with an adoption at any other time of year, sometimes the fit isn’t right and the family surrenders them to a shelter. We can only reduce the number of puppies surrendered after Christmas if we stop them from breeding in the summer, birthing in the fall and weaning around Christmas. Pets adopted around Christmas (or for family members during other celebratory times) actually remain in the home longer than adoptions at other times of the year. See “Pets as Gifts” to learn why.
What is “cat testing”? The goal of a “cat test” is to see if a dog is reactive to a cat by (1) bringing a dog up to a live caged cat or (2) seeing a dog interact with a stuffed cat toy. AWA does not “cat test” dogs to see if they are interested, reactive or aggressive toward cats. Cats can find dogs threatening. To bring a dog up to a cat confined in a cage is not humane, as it can create fear and stress for the cat. This interaction can harm that cat more than help the dog. Regarding using a stuffed toy in the shape of a cat, this version of “cat testing” is faulty as it doesn’t smell, move or react like a live cat.
While we want pets going into homes to get along with other pets, dog-to-dog, cat-to-cat, and other species-to-species “tests” are flawed and have been proven to be inaccurate. AWA talks with adopters about their current pets’ behavior, shares information about the potential new pet and his or her needs, and provides extensive pet-to-pet introduction tips to ease the transition of the new pet into the home. Still, the behaviors of new or current pets cannot be accurately predicted post-adoption.