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Local pet owners surrender thousands of animals a year, crowding shelters

Even with full shelters, animal rescues caution giving pets as presents

Its Christmas time and the animal rescues in El Paso are full of pets looking for a home for the holidays. Even so, rescue groups and humane societies are asking people to check their list twice before giving a pet as a gift this season.

"It's not like a clothing item that you can return and get in your size, so you want to give that person the opportunity to come and  pick ... their own," said Kandolite Flores, program coordinator with the Humane Society of El Paso.

Surprising someone with a fluffy pet might seem like a grand gift. But more often than not, rescue groups say it doesn't end well.

Either the new pet owner can't afford to care for the animal or wasn't really ready to be an owner to begin with.

Even if a person puts a pet on their wish list, the animal a gift-giver picks out for them might not be what they wanted.

Flores said making a pet a present is signing a new parent up for a commitment that goes beyond the present -- its long term. "That is a 15 to 25 year present that they are going to have to invest in. They are going to have to have the time to care for it, the money to provide the food, care, the grooming, so it's really important that unless you know that person really wants it, that you hold off on that present," said Flores.

Rescue groups and humane societies said that come late January or February, people pour in wanting to return their present.

But it doesn't work that way.

Currently the Humane Society has a waitlist of more than 300 owners who want to surrender their pets. Christmas pet returns get in line behind that, which means it could take up to two months before the shelter has room for the returned pet.

Owners wanting to give their pet back is an epidemic rescue groups and shelters deal with all year.

"For us it makes it very difficult because while we are accepting these owners surrenders that were in homes, we are trying to rescue the ones that are already homeless," said Flores.

Owners who don't want to wait dump the pet off at the City of El Paso's Animal Services Shelter, where they are obligated to take them in.

A spokesperson for the shelter said in just a little more than two months, they've taken in more than 500 surrendered pets.

"When you directly surrender next door, you are basically  saying (they) have the right to euthanize this pet because I didn't want it anymore," said Flores.

According to its statistics, on average Animal Services euthanizes around 2,000 animals a month compared to the 200 that get adopted each month.

As an alternative to giving a pet as a present, the Humane Society says it has plenty of gift certificates available. That allows the potential owner the time to find a pet they connect with and want to have.

"It's really important when you are getting a pet that you have that connection that gives you the emotional investment. That gives you what you need to not give that pet up, to be able to deal with potty  training, with the crying all night -- you have to really want that animal," said Flores.

As cute as they may be, Humane Society representatives want perspective owners to take pause before they make a purchase, not just during the holidays but all year long.

"It's really hard because for the holiday  season we want to get them adopted but we want to make sure that they go to their forever homes," said Flores.



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