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SPCA left to deal with returned holiday pets

January 08, 1999|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Four black puppies, all rare Newfoundlands, sit inside cages on one side of the room. On the other, 8-week-old dogs of other breeds whimper in the corner.

Welcome to the puppy room at the Washington County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. All the animals here have been brought into the Maugansville shelter during the last week.

Although humane societies and SPCAs have taken steps to prevent it, organizations throughout the Tri-State area are battling an annual phenomenon: unwanted holiday pets.

"We've seen a significant number of animals come into the shelter. The Tuesday after New Year's was like dump day," said Shelly Moore, executive director of the Washington County SPCA.

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Many people receive pets from family members and friends as gifts but have to give them up for various reasons, according to animal shelter managers.

Moore said the SPCA has had at least two such cases since Christmas. In one, the gift recipient was allergic to the pet; in the other, a man bought an animal for his girlfriend whose lease prohibited her from having pets.

"They get them as Christmas presents for the little boy or little girl, and it's not what the boy or girl wants and it comes back here," said Charlotte Bennett, managing director of the Animal Welfare Society of Jefferson County.

Like many shelters, the Kearneysville, W.Va., center does not allow people to adopt pets during the week before Christmas. Instead, those who are interested can pick out a pet and then pick it up after the holidays, Bennett said.

For people searching for gifts, Bennett said the shelter offers gift certificates.

"Adopting a pet is a lifelong commitment and people really need to think about it," she said.

Moore estimated that about 20 percent of the animals that have been brought to the SPCA since Christmas have come from owners with buyer's remorse after Christmas.

It's not just after Christmas, Moore said. She said about a quarter of the animals brought to the shelter in the weeks leading up to Christmas were longtime pets that owners gave up because of holiday pressures.

"People's schedules become more hectic during the holidays and they feel they just can't handle them anymore," she said.

Many figure that the SPCA will have an easier time finding homes for their pets during the holiday season, Moore said.

But that is not necessary the case, Moore said. The last day the SPCA allows people to adopt pets is Dec. 19. The SPCA does not give away animals again until Dec. 29, she said.

The Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., started a weeklong ban on adoptions before Christmas for the first time, said shelter director Lori Davis.

Davis said it worked well.

"We probably got two or three calls a day wanting to buy animals as gifts," she said.

Some came in after the holidays, but Davis said most did not. Had they been allowed to adopt right away, some may have returned their pets in the weeks after Christmas, she said.

Even with the pre-Christmas waiting period, Davis she expects to see some unwanted pets later this month.

"If people are going to bring back Christmas pets, it might be in the following week," she said. "It's when the newness wears off."

Davis said the shelter has tried to reduce impulse buying throughout the year. Unlike past years, people now must fill out an application and then consider their decision overnight.

It is a longer process than it used to be, Davis said.

"You didn't have to interact with it. You'd go look in a cage and point," she said.

Davis said the shelter also has compiled a list of breed rescue organizations. About half of all dogs taken to the shelter are purebred, she said.

"A lot of people don't realize that," she said.

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