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Pets given as gifts often end up back at animal shelters in January

A kitten at an animal shelter in Tallinn (photo is illustrative).
A kitten at an animal shelter in Tallinn (photo is illustrative). Source: Hanna Samoson /ERR

Staff at the Tartu Shelter for Homeless Animals say that people often like to give pets as gifts at Christmas time, without putting much thought into how they will look after them in the future. Recent years have shown that animals given as Christmas presents often up back at the shelter in January.

Giving pets as Christmas gifts is frequently a bad idea, as it is difficult to determine whether the recipient will take responsibility for the animal. That is why it is common for pets that have been given with great pleasure in December to be returned with regret to homeless animal shelters early in the New Year.

Mia Melanie Saar, an animal lover from Tartu, as already rescued one abandoned pet from a shelter.

"Our dog is exactly one of these ones from January. He was taken in for Christmas and given back to the shelter because he wasn't a good match, as he's a bit shy. People aren't ready for the challenge of dealing with a dog who might be a bit scared at first. People give up very easily," Saar said.

Carina Pashkovich, education director of the Veterinary Medicine Students' Society, also highlighted the problem. Pashkovich pointed to an initiative whereby pictures of animals looking for their forever homes are displayed on decorations hung on special Christmas trees at the Tallinn and Tartu Christmas villages. The images also contain clear and accurate details about adoption practices.

"The system is such that there are cards of the animals on the tree. On one side there is a picture of [the animal] and on the other a description, and we have it written there that they are not suitable as a surprise gift. We always try to emphasize that an animal is not a surprise gift. I think what will happen in January is that some of the animals will either go back to the shelter or be brought back to the shelter because they have been surprise gifts," Pashkovich said.

"It still has to be a considered decision. We expect people not to take [an animal] immediately at Christmas, but to talk about it first and then take one later," he added.

Kirke Roosaar, project manager of the Tartu Shelter for Homeless Animals, does not approve of this type of surprise gift and stresses that adopting an animal is not just a case of taking a trip to the store.

"Straight away, we link the animal to the person who takes it from us. The responsibility for the animal's future life rests with the person who comes here and signs for it and who is therefore also entered into the register," Roosaar said.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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