The image of a puppy with a bow on it under the tree is a popular Christmas cliché, but how many people really follow through on giving animals for the holidays?
"I think it's fair to say it's a popular gift option," said Dori Villalon, spokeswoman for the American Humane Association. "Everyone can envision the surprise of a Christmas puppy."
However, the Wood River Animal Shelter said it generally doesn't see an increase in adoption rates as the holidays approach. Four out of seven members of a litter of puppies, possible husky-lab mixes, are still awaiting adoption at the shelter, along with many other family-friendly dogs.
"We notice an increase [in interest], but we still have difficulty adopting our puppies out," said Nadia Novick, the shelter's director of operations and veterinary technician.
The shelter does not avoid adoptions during the holidays, and Villalon said the association does not discourage pet adoptions during the season, either.
"Actually, the holidays might be a perfect time to adopt," she said, as many times people have vacation time that they can use to make sure the animal adjusts smoothly to its new home.
Beware of the surprise pet, though, Villalon warned. Though parents who have planned to get a pet may successfully surprise their children with a new furry friend, Villalon said it's best not to surprise a roommate, friend or other family member with a new, wiggly responsibility.
"Animals as a surprise gift can be kind of tricky," she said.
The association recommends instead surprising the potential pet owner with a gift basket of pet supplies and the promise of a pet that the recipient can pick out from the shelter independently.
However, Villalon said that in the correct circumstances, pets given as gifts are not an entirely bad idea.
"Studies have shown that animals given as gifts have a higher retention rate," she said.
The theory, she said, is that the animal takes on a special significance because of the connection between the giver and receiver.
Neither Villalon nor Novick said they see increases in animal surrenders after the presents are unwrapped and decorations packed away.
"It's not like a Macy's return desk," Villalon said.
Novick attributes the shelter's high retention rate to the application process adopters must go through before taking home a new puppy or kitten.
"We do some really great adoption counseling here," she said. "We try and help people find the right animal for their life."
She said it's a matter of matching personalities rather than just having an adopter pick out an animal that looks cute. The dogs on the adoption board at the shelter are all described with characteristics denoting them as highly energetic, a little shy or in need of special care.
In addition to considering pet personalities, Novick said, families thinking of adopting a Christmas puppy or kitten need to be aware of the long-term responsibilities.
"They need to realize that it's a pet for life," she said, "and that their carpet is not the most important thing in the world."
Katherine Wutz: firstname.lastname@example.org