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Mena Arkansas News covering Polk County and the surrounding area

Gifts under the Christmas tree

Gifting a pet for the holidays

By Ethan Nahté

During the holiday seasons, it’s not uncommon to give a pet as a gift. The concept of giving a furry friend can result into something great, but there are a few things to take into consideration.

Humane Society of the Ouachitas (HSO) volunteer Tina Ball is also the HSO director. She said HSO adoption numbers, “…pick up in November and tend to slow down in December because it’s a busy time of year. Adoptions pick up again in January and February.”

When going to HSO, or almost any shelter, there is generally a screening process to help determine if the person or family are a good match for a pet. There is a responsibility for the health and well-being of an animal. This screening process is a year-round process and not just for the holidays. 

Pets for the home

If a pet is to be a gift for either children or adults, Ball explained, “For years it was very frowned upon to give a pet as a gift. Maybe the person receiving the pet isn’t ready. It’s perfectly appropriate to give a pet as a gift to someone in your own household if you’re prepared to take responsibility to take care of the pet yourself.”

Some occasions, such as when a child is either too young to properly care for a pet or, after a few weeks, the newness wears off. School and other activities might take over their time or interests, and they neglect their responsibilities.

“They just need to make sure the animal is cared for properly. I think a parent getting a pet as a gift for their own children is fine because they can determine how much time and care their family can dedicate to a pet. It all comes down to the parent.”

Pets for someone outside the home

There may be times when someone wants to get a pet for someone not in their household, as a companion for an elderly person or a boyfriend/girlfriend for example. Someone wanting to gift an adopted pet needs to ask if a pet will fit within the receiver’s budget.

“We’re happy to see a pet placed in a loving home any time of year but getting a gift for other people can’t be a surprise,” Ball said. “The person receiving the pet has to sign our paperwork, be willing and responsible. It’s a commitment caring for another living creature in your home. Normally, it’s a decade-long responsibility.”

Pets of all ages

Year-round, it’s typical that people want to choose the cute puppies and kittens, but the older animals need loving homes, as well.

Ball said, “In general, younger pets are more sought after. I noticed that is kind of changing. The younger pets are cuter, hands down, but they are more work. Adopting a pet that is a little bit older, you can meet them and have a much better idea of how they are going to fit in with you and your household. We are seeing more pets being adopted that aren’t puppies and kittens.”

Returning pets

Something else to consider is having patience, taking the time to get to know or train a pet, or understanding their personality. Pets tend to be returned because they are untrained or destructive. It might be something as simple as the pet grew larger than expected, or an owner has health problems or moved to a location that doesn’t allow pets.

Ball said there are national studies that reflect pet returns are no higher during the holidays than any other time of year. “Our annual adoption return rate is twelve percent. I think that’s keeping within the national average.

“What happens a lot of times, with puppies, especially, is we have an image of what it’s going to be like; focusing on the good, but maybe don’t put as much weight on the work that will be involved. That’s when the reality sets in.”

The ASPCA states in their statistics for 2019 there are approximately 6.3 million companion animals that enter U.S. Shelters annually. Approximately 4.1 million are adopted or an animal may be one of the 810,000 strays that get returned to their owners.

Ball said, “There’s always a transition period, or things you want to do better or differently. Those are questions we talk about at the shelter with potential adopters: What are the limits on their patience? Time to train? A pet that fits their lifestyle. The right pet that fits them. Do they want a five-year-old dog that’s friendly and housetrained, or a puppy they want to train from scratch, but it’s a lot of work? Or a cat, which is very independent?”

“If their lifestyle is such and things are hectic, that can be more challenging to a pet because the family’s routine isn’t very normal during the holidays.”

Ball believes animals can feel an energetic difference in a person wanting to adopt. If a pet is returned, she believes the animal can adapt.

“If they are well-adjusted, especially dogs, they have resilience. They know how to move on, be happy and make a new friend if it’s been a good, caring home, even if it’s not been a good fit or with people who aren’t ready. It’s not much different than an animal going to a foster home.”

HSO, like any shelter, does have limited space and resources. They have a relationship with a shelter up north, which they transport animals to when needed. Transports and adoptions combined for 765 animals through HSO’s doors in 2020. From Jan.-Oct. in 2021, 622 animals have either been adopted or transported. They are currently averaging 71 animals at the HSO facility located at 366 Polk Rd. 50.

Referring to animals being returned, Ball said, “It’s a part of our planning shelter-wise and space-wise. We do have emergency housing situations. We’re a no-kill shelter. The adopter knows the animal can be brought back for any reason and we will accommodate them.”

The average time in shelter for dogs is three weeks. There’ s always some that are special. One of those special animals is Wiley, a five-year old yellow lab/hound mix. He’s unsocial and the shelter has had him a year and a half. He’s never shown aggressive, but he’s very fearful and avoids people. He does get along with other dogs.

“This is what happens when you don’t socialize your pets.”

There are plenty of positive reasons to adopt an animal. “The opportunity for that human-animal bond that is so enriching,” Ball said. “If it’s a gift, it’s a gift that keeps on giving. It’s a companion—a furry friend. The memories the gift giver can share with a person receiving the pet as a gift is a positive gift for someone who wants it.”

A few more positive things with adopting a pet at HSO include the animals are already spayed/neutered, updated with their flea and tick medications, and they’re wormed. Adoption fees are $60 for cats, $60-$80 for dogs six months and older, and puppies younger than six months are $100. The shelter is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Call 479-394-5682. The Meet Your Match form, as well as available pets, or to make a donation can be found at

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