Animal shelters, organizations urge people not to give pets as surprise holiday gifts

Animal shelters and organizations stand firm that pets should not be surprise gifts for the holidays — or anytime.

While some may think getting a puppy or kitten wrapped in a bow is the perfect present, animal welfare officials urge gift givers to find another offering.

Some shelters, such as the Regional Animal Shelter that serves King William and King and Queen counties have a firm policy against shelter animals as surprise gifts.

The Animal Welfare League of the Northern Neck, as well as the Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society, agree that pets are not appropriate as surprise gifts for the holidays or in general.

Regional Animal Shelter manager Lauri Betts said that the person receiving the gift needs to choose the right animal.

“The thinking behind giving an animal as a gift is nice,” Betts said. “But the gift receiver may have a certain color, sex, age or personality of an animal in mind. They are going to be the ones committed to the pet and need to develop a bond.”

When people come to the shelter to adopt an animal as a surprise gift, Betts said they are encouraged to get a gift certificate or animal supplies instead.

“Make out a gift certificate, get pet toys and accessories and give that as the gift,” Betts said. “They can say we’d like to take you to choose a pet and we will pay for the adoption fees when the time comes; you want to primary owner to be involved.”

The Animal Welfare League of the Northern Neck has the same policy and wants the new owner to be involved.

“We also do not adopt out cats or dogs as gifts unless the recipient or person caring for the pet is involved in the decision making and selection,” Suzanne Mattingly, cat team leader for the Animal Welfare of the Northern Neck said. “You want to make sure their new owner is actually committed to them.”

Betts said Virginia has a legal requirement with shelters that prevents surprise gift-giving and transferring of animals.

“Shelters give legal custody of the animal to the new owner in a contract that they sign,” Betts said. “The new owners are then legally responsible by contract for that animal and one of the rules in that contract and is that you can’t adopt and give that animal away.”

The shelter does get animals surrendered to them that were given as gifts during the holidays and year round, according to Betts.

“People find pets on the internet on Craigslist, go to pet stores, go to a non-reputable — or reputable — breeder,” Betts said. “We get animals that were gifts from all of those situations. Maybe it wasn’t the right fit for the owner who got the animal as a gift or maybe they just didn’t want to put in the work or commitment.”

In 2017, 332 animals were surrendered to the shelter — 131 dogs and 201 cats — compared to 438 stray animals. Surrendered animals are pets whose owners willingly give them up to the shelter.

The chaos of the holidays is not the best time to introduce a pet into a new environment, according to Betts.

“It really depends on what is going on with the family,” Betts said. “If you are traveling or have a lot of guests or decorations, that can be challenging for new owners and dangerous for pets.”

Mattingly agreed and said that bringing a new animal home for the holidays, whether it be from a shelter, rescue or breeder, is not fair to the animal.

“They need a nice smooth transition,” Mattingly said. “The chaos of the holidays is too much for a dog or cat getting used to a new home and family.”

If the family or owner knows they are off for an extended period of time for winter break and aren’t doing too much, then that would be an acceptable time for a new pet, according to Betts.

Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society, like the Regional Animal Shelter, suggests gift-givers sponsoring or paying for the adoption when the time comes, or gifting a pet supply kit.

“We want these animals to find their forever homes and work hard to match them with the right families,” April Martinez, communications manager of Gloucester-Mathews Humane Society said.

The Regional Animal Shelter wants to remind people to check local shelters first and for all members of the family, including family pets, to be involved in the adoption process.

“There are plenty of healthy animals in all age ranges waiting to find their homes,” Betts said.

Want to know more?

The Regional Animal Shelter is running a holiday adoption special called “Bring them Home for the Holidays” — it applies to all adoptable animals, cats and dogs. The shelter will waive the $20 adoption fee and the Indian Rivers Humane Society will pay for half of the neuter/spay fee, which is $50 for dogs and $35 for cats.

To find out more information about adoptable animals and how to help the shelter, visit or, call 804-769-4983 or visit the shelter at 20201 King William Road.

Luck can be reached at 757-291-2038, or @ashleyrluck on Twitter

Copyright © 2019, The Virginia Gazette