As Christmas cheer spreads and shoppers hit the stores for the perfect present, animal control officials in Houston are dishing out a holiday warning: pets don't make good surprise gifts. According to Harris County Public Health spokesperson Eddie Miranda, the season often sees a spike in shelter residents as animals are given as gifts without considering the commitment required. "We don't recommend gifting an animal during the holidays," Miranda stated, emphasizing the importance of making sure there's a match between the animal and its potential new owner, according to the Houston Chronicles.
Harris County Pets, under the watchful eye of Miranda's team, takes in an average of 20 to 60 animals daily, adding up to a staggering 16,000 every year, according to the Houston Chronicle. Instead of putting a bow on a furry friend this Christmas, Miranda and animal rights organization PETA both suggest a safer alternative: gift certificates to cover adoption fees, paving the way for the recipient to make the choice if and when they're ready.
Meanwhile, the Harris County Animal Shelter advises a measured approach to gifting pets. Kerry McKeel, a spokesperson for the shelter, doesn’t outright dismiss the idea but cautions: "We're not necessarily opposed to giving an animal as a gift for the holidays, but you want to make sure it's a household commitment," McKeel told KHOU. To mitigate the risk of pets being returned, McKeel advised ensuring that the recipient has the necessary time, resources, energy, and money to care for the pet long-term.
For those insistent on spreading holiday joy with a pet, a gift card or a trial fostering period makes for a responsible and flexible gift. "You could wrap it up with a stuffed animal and then that way, the gift recipient could come into the shelter and have that experience of picking out an animal with which they have a personal connection," McKeel suggested, as mentioned by KHOU. Adoption comes with a slew of benefits from the shelter, too—all animals are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and come with a one-year pet license. And for an added incentive, starting Wednesday, the shelter will be offering a $10 adoption fee for all cats and dogs over 30 pounds, with fees waived for some animals marked "Santa Favorites".