Think twice before giving pets as gifts

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    Everyone wants to give a special, meaningful present during the holidays, and animals can be a gift that keeps on giving. Unfortunately, many animals end up in shelters because the owners weren’t ready for the gift or find the commitment too much to handle.

    “Animals are like children, you have to plan for them,” said veterinarian Nicole Schiff. “If it’s a surprise, there’s no time to prepare.”

    Well-meaning gift-givers must look beyond the initial enjoyment a live gift can bring and consider the years of commitment it takes to give an animal a good home. Puppies and kittens are cute and cuddly for the first few months but they grow up quickly and often become much bigger and costlier than expected.

    “We get all kinds of animals after the holidays but most of them are dogs,” said Los Angeles County Animal Control Sgt. Denise Rosen who works with the Agoura Animal Shelter that services Malibu. “Puppies can be a lot of work because they chew and have to be housebroken. Giving animals as a gift without checking with the new owner first is not a good idea.”

    Rosen suggests discussing the gift with the person you want to give it to and letting him or her pick out the animal. That way, the person can choose a specific breed as well. Of course, getting a pet from the shelter or a rescue group can save an animal’s life and help with pet overpopulation. It can be cheaper too-animals in shelters are usually already fixed and vaccinated.

    Often times, Rosen said, someone who unexpectedly receives an animal as a gift may not take the time to train the animal properly. Usually the animal is left outside and has little contact with its owner. In that case, if a concerned neighbor calls animal control, the pet owner may be cited for neglect.

    Responsible pet ownership requires proper shelter, food, water, licensing, vaccinations and other medical attention. The financial commitment can equal hundreds of dollars each year without any major health issues.

    “It really bothers me when we go into the field to see injured or sick animals and the owners say they can’t afford to take the animal to a vet,” Rosen said. “If you can’t afford to keep the animal healthy, don’t have it.”

    Another aspect of responsible pet ownership is to have the animal spayed or neutered. Shelters offer the procedures at a low cost ($20 to $100 depending on the size of the animal) to all pet owners, not just those who got their animals at the shelter.

    Should you receive a pet you aren’t prepared to keep this holiday season, there is no charge to take the animal to the shelter. The Agoura Shelter is located at 29525 Agoura Rd. (818.991.0071).

    Unfortunately, the shelters are often crowded; therefore, if you can find a home for the animal yourself it might be better off. The Agoura Animal Shelter has a policy of not euthanizing adoptable animals and volunteers work to match animals with the right owners. The trauma of being placed into a shelter, however, can alter an animal’s personality making it impossible to find it a new home.

    “It definitely affects them emotionally,” Schiff said. “Similar to abused or neglected children, animals who are abandoned can become aggressive or withdrawn. If they can go from one home to another it’s better.”

    Mignonne Alman is the president of Malibu Pet Companions, a nonprofit organization that helps heal sick or injured homeless animals and find them permanent homes. They also find homes for abandoned pets without health problems.

    “People too often treat animals as disposable items,” Alman said. “Pets have feelings and they love their owners. We had six cats die this year because they wouldn’t eat. I believe they died from depression after being abandoned when their owners moved.”

    Currently, the Agoura Animal Shelter is the only facility that serves Malibu but Alman’s organization is raising money to build another shelter in the Malibu area with an onsite veterinary hospital. To learn more about Malibu Pet Companions, visit their Web site at ww.malibupetcompanions.org or call 310.457.7222.