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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


For better or for worse, the holidays often bring new pets into our households. Your addition may have been well-planned and thoughtfully implemented, which is always the recommended course. However, many of these new pets end up in our homes either as gifts or as our own impulsive purchases or adoptions.

While I never recommend giving a pet as an unexpected gift, it happens. And when it does, it often places a pet into a household where it may not be all that welcome. As a result, that pet often ends up surrendered to a shelter or rescue shortly after the holidays conclude.

Impulsive purchases are a bit different but the result is often the same. When the addition of a pet is unplanned, new pet owners may find themselves in a position where they are financially or physically unable to care for the new pet. Or they may simply have second thoughts about having the pet in the household.

Whatever the reason, the period immediately following the holidays unfortunately finds a lot of puppies, kittens, dogs, cats and other pets being surrendered to shelters and rescues. For some shelters and rescues, this happens less frequently than for others. Shelters and rescues that screen adopters carefully and prohibit the adoption of a pet as a gift for someone else are probably less likely to see as many returns, I should think (though I admit I have no statistics or studies to back up this thought). However, not all shelters have the luxury of being so discerning.

What happens when a pet is returned to a shelter or surrendered to a rescue after the holidays? That animal, which may have already had time to begin to bond with its new family, is now placed back into a cage. He certainly does not understand what he did to deserve to be abandoned again. He does not understand that his "new people" did not plan adequately for him or never wanted him to begin with. For that animal, the situation becomes stressful, depressing, and frightening.

Can these animals be re-homed a second time? Yes, many of them will adjust to another home, which hopefully will be better prepared for the arrival of the new pet. Some of these animals may still need training, especially in the case of young or adolescent puppies, which may not have received adequate house training guidance and/or socialization in their previous, short-lived home. But they can still make good pets for someone willing to take the time.

Many of these pets will become loving and loyal companions. That is assuming, though, that a new home can be located. Unfortunately, that is often easier said than done, and too many pets end up meeting an unpleasant end when there are no new homes for them.

What is the moral of the story? If you did not adopt a pet this holiday season, hopefully you already know that the holidays are perhaps not the best time of year to adopt a new pet and, likewise, hopefully you will never make the mistake of adopting a pet you are not prepared to care for.

If you did adopt a pet, for yourself or for someone else, and now find yourself in a position where surrendering that pet is inevitable, accept that you made a serious mistake in judgment. Learn from that mistake and vow never to repeat it. After all, it is not really you that suffers for this transgression. It is the pet that pays the ultimate price!

Dr. Lorie Huston

Image: Mat Hayward / via Shutterstock

Comments  5

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  • Always the Critter
    01/09/2012 07:27am

    It's always the critter that pays for poor decisions regarding its welfare.

    If a pet must be rehomed, hopefully the owners will take the time to find it a good home as opposed to simply dumping it at an already overcrowded shelter.

  • So sad
    01/09/2012 08:46am

    However..most people who subscribe to your blog probably don't need this great advice.

  • 01/09/2012 11:35am

    Yes this is true, however, that's where we readers come in to help make a difference! By forwarding this to my Personal facebook, my nonprofit/awareness Facebook page, Twitter, helps educate the masses.

  • It happens too Often
    01/09/2012 11:47am

    Thank you doctor for writing about this very important issue.

    Just last week, a visitor stumbled upon my website about cats, and asked if I would be willing to take her cat. She's a nursing student and adopted a kitten from the shelter. However she says she does not have time to give it attention and her roommate has large dog and she's afraid the cat may get hurt. I explained that our little group can not take more fosters, given I just rescued a sick kitty off the street of South Beach and vet bill keeps rising.

    I encouraged her to first reflect on why she decided to get the cat, perhaps companionship. Cats do not need as much attention as a human partner. So I encouraged her to play with the cat 10 minutes a day perhaps in morning or evening, plan on studying at home. any time with cats or dogs is quality time even if it's not direct play.

    Then even consider a second cat as a playmate for the first cat. It would be wise to keep them in her room if she feels the dog may hurt them. Another important consideration is exercise. Cats need horizontal and vertical exercise. A cat tower is great exercise. Yes it may crowd a bedroom but that is being a good pet owner. Of course I explained the number of unwanted cats and how difficult it is to find homes for them. Her best avenue if she feels she can not give proper care, is to ask RESPONSIBLE friends and family. In other words, tapping her contacts may have better results.

  • Good Perspective
    01/09/2012 03:57pm

    Good perspective Dr Lorie. I, too, feel as though pets should never be acquired on impulse. The big post-holiday "return" trend exemplifies this.
    Dr Patrick Mahaney
    Twitter @PatrickMahaney

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