Why are people being pushed into the arms of the Christmas puppy peddlers?
Christmas present shopping for many people will include buying a new pet. Some will be bought as surprise gifts, others will be planned purchases involving the whole family. Like it or not, when it comes to the dogs, a lot of these will be puppies who have started life in puppy factories; they’ll have left their suffering parents behind in the dark sheds and clutches of the puppy farmers who look forward every year to this seasonal boost in sales. A cash bump made easier by the rehoming policies of some within the rescue community, which sees a closing down of rehoming until after the holidays.
It’s an approach to seasonal rehoming that’s long standing, outdated and not in line with reassuring research, that shows that by allowing people to rehome pets as gifts, even at Christmas, this doesn’t result in higher rates of giving up those pets later. It really does not. There’s no evidence for it, but lots to show the opposite: that there’s no correlation between pets being given as presents, even as surprises, and rates of relinquishment.
The myth is a hard one to dispel and I used to go along with it, following blindly the traditional view, as many do. But throughout the year, I’ve been digging about and trying to understand this better, and have come across enough information to convince me to speak up for rehoming at this of year, just as I do all the rest of the year.
If an organisation’s normal rehoming policies work, why should they fail at Christmas? We’re not talking impulse buying, we’re talking rehoming, adoption with all the right checks in place. Good rehoming policies minimise relinquishment at any time; they do their best to match the right animals with the right people. Why should rehoming in the holiday season mean these suddenly become more risky? Ok, I’ll agree that the surprise gift is a struggle to bend the mind around, but, I’m assuming that mostly adoptions done this way would be into homes where the receiver has expressed a commitment, and desire for a pet. I hope so. But, look at the evidence and decide.
Pets are relinquished, puppies are dumped, dogs are discarded – all year round. So, when we see reports of this after Christmas, the media, and us, might be tempted to jump to the conclusion that the Christmas gift is unwanted – and there may well be some of this going on. But, how many that get reported have been adopted as a present? That detail is not reported. Because it’s likely not the case. Post-Christmas pet dumping, if it is indeed a fact which some question is much more likely to originate in the impulse-buy pet sector as no checks are done there, as it’s all about the sales. But, even here, I’ve not seen any figures that show there’s a seasonal spike in pet dumping after Christmas. If anyone can provide evidence of it, I’d love to see it.
I have a lot of time for the work done by the Dog’s Trust. They’ve done some excellent work exposing the vast awfulness of the illegal puppy smuggling trade that the UK is now afflicted by. Their “A dog is for life not just for Christmas” slogan is over thirty years old now. So, I asked them what their policy is for Christmas rehoming. They told me:
To help prevent people thoughtlessly buying or giving a dog(s) as Christmas presents, Dogs Trust centres will not rehome dogs from 22nd December to 1st January. People can visit and reserve a dog, but will not be able to take them home until the New Year.
This is disappointing and the logic of it escapes me. By closing their doors on rehoming, it pushes those who wish to bring a dog into their family at Christmas into the hands of the puppy peddlers that their otherwise good work seeks to expose. Plus, it means that families who could spend a couple of weeks helping their new friend to settle into the home, at a time that is not always hectic for people, many have quiet Christmases, are denied this. And the dogs spend more time in the shelters. It’s also not in line with the evidence.
Some organisations do take a more positive approach, and see this as an ideal time to boost their rehoming rates, to really push for as many adoptions to be made; with the right matchmaking procedures that they always use, firmly in place. They’re doing what they can to take the market away from the puppy (and kitten) sellers by embracing the reality that people wish to bring into their homes a new pet during the festive break.
The Blue Cross believes the best place for a pet to spend Christmas (and every other day) is in a home, and they seek to achieve that for as many of their pets as possible. They told me:
Our rehoming teams are skilled at what they do, and take great care in matching, and in determining the best time for a pet to go to its new home, this is based on a case by case individual assessment of the pet, the home, the family and the arrangements they have over the holiday period.
Pets as surprise gifts are generally a bad idea – however, we do allow pets to be given as presents, as long as the recipient is fully committed and involved in the matching process – a pet can be a wonderful gift as long as the recipient has been fully involved throughout!
Allowing pets to go home up to and throughout the holiday period, frees up urgent space for pets that are abandoned or given up over the holidays. So yes, ideally a pet should be for life – but it can be for Christmas too.
This is the policy of an enlightened organisation, it’s in line with the evidence, and is what many small independent rescues do.
It would be great if we could ditch the old ideas, the ones that force people to buy pets from those who don’t care about anything other than the sale. It makes no sense to advocate adoption for eleven and a half months of the year and yet, at the exact time when puppy dealers are cashing in, to shut that source off.