Animals as Gifts
"Brand new talking doll, real moving arms, mouth. Available at toy stores. Unlike pet, can be turned off when novelty wears off. SPCA opposes animals as gifts.”
"Amazing gift ideas on page 21. Gifts that, unlike pets, can be switched off, packed away and ignored when the novelty wears off.”
Let's start by stating the obvious and dispelling any possible misunderstanding. The SPCA movement in South Africa supports and endorses responsible pet adoption. What we don't support is the giving of pets as surprise presents - like the guy who gave his girlfriend a puppy on Valentine's Day or the family that surprised granny with a kitten on Mother's Day and so on. The SPCA Statement of Policy is clear – and opposes giving animals as gifts.
There is a difference - not a subtle difference but a huge one.
We'll try and demonstrate what we mean. You're probably well aware of the problems faced by SPCAs over the festive season. You've no doubt read about the influx of animals before Christmas. Have you ever thought about the number of animals brought into SPCAs after Christmas? They're the ones that have probably been "impulse buys” for the minds at Christmas and when the novelty has worn off or it's time to go back to school …
To put it another way. The children beg for a pet. The first day, the poor animal is overwhelmed with attention, the second day it's less of an attraction and by the third day, it's a case of "Who's going to clean up the mess?” with calls of "It's your dog”, and "No, it's not, it's YOUR dog” going back and forth until somebody eventually cleans up the mess. Three to four weeks down the line – you've guessed!
This is the motivation behind the new ad campaign. Not to discourage adoptions but to ensure that any adoptions are seriously considered moves and that the animal will have a home for life. Really and truly, people don't realise what an issue this is.
In the run-up to the festive season every year, the NSPCA media office receives calls enquiring about abandonment of pets and / or adoption rates at SPCAs. But one important issue highlighted by the NSPCA Press Officer but overlooked by callers was how many pets are handed in at SPCAs AFTER the festive season. That's right, when the kids go back to school or, frankly, when the novelty wears off.
The new national multi-media campaign aims to draw attention to this issue. Print ads, radio spots and a TV commercial are all part of putting the message across.
Give gifts that can be switched off, packed away or ignored when the novelty wears off. Opposing pets as gifts. SPCA.
In the UK, an ad campaign run by the RSPCA read: - "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.” That's our point. A knowing decision to adopt a pet and make a commitment to the animal for the rest of its life is applauded and is the only responsible way to go about things. This is pet adoption.
But instances abound of impulse-buy pets for gifts. The last-minute decision on what to buy for Granny – a surprise puppy. Kittens given as Valentine's Day gifts or Mother's Day presents. Is mother prepared for the work, cleaning and attention the puppy will need. Is this a working mother, for example? Does she have the time, inclination or ability to do all that is required? Is the person ready and prepared to make the commitment? This includes the expenses; - feeding, veterinary care plus add-ons such as bowls, baskets, grooming tools and care (boarding, for example) when the owner is away.
What does a person do with an "impulse” or "surprise” gift of an animal? Make the best of things even if this means the risk of compromising the animal's welfare? Pass the animal on? Hand it in at the SPCA? Where these "gifts” end up is a matter of grave concern. Ask any SPCA employee how he/she reacts to the frequently heard expression "We gave it away.”
Two genuine examples illustrate exactly what we mean. In one instance a woman openly stated that she had obtained a kitten "for the kids to play with over the weekend.” The kitten's lucky break was being taken to the SPCA and the irresponsible woman being told to go and get a toy for her kids at Pick ‘n Pay.
In another instance involving the same SPCA, a miniature dachshund was at the centre of a tug-of-war between a man and his former girlfriend. He had bought her the dog as a gift but wanted it back when they broke up. Then he gave it to her to look after whilst he was away on business, tried to reclaim the dog which she wouldn't give up but then couldn't keep and handed in to the SPCA! Not exactly fair to the dog, is it?
Pets are not toys. When the fun has gone out of non-living gifts, they can be switched off, packed away or simply ignored. The SPCA movement advises people to give gifts that can be put to one side when the novelty wears off.
The NSPCA hopes its current campaign will draw to the attention of the South African public that animals should not be impulse buys – and should certainly not be surprise presents for unsuspecting people. Let's hope that the campaign will lead to fewer animals being surrendered or passed on with pathetic excuses put forward to cover the fact that the animals were not "wanted” in the first place. The novelty simply wore off.
Updated: 6 May 2015