Jessica Townsend, the Washington Humane Society shelter's pet adoption coordinator, says potential owners should visit with possible pets. (Hamil R. Harris/the Washington Post)
Adopters get extra scrutiny when pets are a present
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 31, 2009
On Friday, a number of children might have awakened to find a long-sought-after puppy or kitten under the Christmas tree. But if any of those pets came from a local animal shelter, then their new families underwent extensive counseling before being allowed to carry them home.
Shelters throughout the Washington region say they are besieged during the holiday season by people looking to give pets as presents. Shelter officials also know that the puppy in the Santa hat or the kitten in the red bow might lose some of its charm for recipients unprepared for taking care of an animal.
"A pet is more than a gift; it is a member of the family," said Sabrina Fang, spokeswoman for the Humane Society of Washington. Although the organization welcomes people wanting to adopt pets, Fang said, prospective owners need to consider the cost of caring for an animal because "there is a lot of responsibility."
In a survey of animal shelters in 25 U.S. cities, 70 percent of operators say adoption rates exceed the norm in the holiday months.
The survey, conducted by Comcast's Pet Adoptions on Demand, also says that 60 percent of shelter officials said the number of holiday adoptions is down by 20 percent. That might be because shelter operators are using greater discretion in selecting adoptive parents, despite a 91 percent increase in November and December in the number of animals coming into shelters.
Rodney Taylor, chief of the Animal Control Division for Prince George's County, said that officials at his facility in Upper Marlboro have to work overtime during the holiday season to prepare families to adopt pets.
"It can be very difficult," he said. "We spend a lot of time counseling and talking with people to make sure that they select a pet that is a perfect fit for the family. It can be very challenging because often people come in to adopt a pet for someone else."
Jessica Townsend, pet adoption coordinator at the Washington Humane Society shelter on Georgia Avenue NW, said there is nothing wrong with adopting pets during the holidays. But potential owners need to come in and play with the prospective pets to see whether the one they want is a good match for them, she said.
Fifty percent of shelter operators said they exercise more discretion during the holidays when selecting potential owners, the survey says. And 44 percent of those surveyed said they consider the adopter's history and reliability with pets, asking, for example, whether the person or family has pets or has had pets and whether they understand what goes into caring for pets.
More than 200 animals were adopted in Fairfax County last year, and education was a big part of the process, officials with the Humane Society of Fairfax County said.
"If someone wants to give a pet as a gift, let him or her send a card with a picture of an animal and then have him or her come in and get to know the animal," said a Fairfax Humane Society coordinator, who uses only her first name, Carol.
Taylor said that although many people get excited about pet adoptions during the Christmas season, animals are in need of homes throughout the year. He said it is also important that people realize that a new pet is an addition for everyone in the house.
"That is why you want the entire family to make the decision," he said.