Americans are inundated each year by classic images of bow-bedecked puppies or kitten-stuffed stockings, so it’s not surprising that many families bring pets home for the holidays. 

And in a year like no other, with the end of 2020 finally in sight, more people than ever are looking to welcome the calming companionship of an animal into their homes. 

Not everyone considers this, but where those pets come from can either help or hurt efforts to end the killing of pets in America’s shelters. 

Best Friends Animal Society encourages families and individuals who are thinking of getting a new furry friend this holiday season to choose the adoption option by taking in a homeless pet from an animal shelter or rescue group, rather than buying from a breeder, pet store or online retailer. 

Opening your home to a shelter pet in need means that money is diverted away from backyard breeders and the inhumane puppy mill industry that churns out millions of puppies annually to supply pet stores and online retailers. 

“Adoption literally saves lives and fits perfectly with the growing trend toward making socially responsible holiday choices.” said Julie Castle, CEO, Best Friends Animal Society. “And this year, it’s more important than ever to consider and appreciate what pets give back to us in return.” 

A remarkable number of COVID cats and pandemic pups have been adopted from shelters and rescue groups since the virus altered our world nine months ago. According to shelter pet data sources Shelter Animals Count, and PetPoint, which receive shelter intake and outcome data from thousands of shelters across the country, close to a million pets have been adopted over the last eight months, and around 50,000 more are currently in foster homes. 

“This is an ideal opportunity to adopt because pets are just good for us,” Castle said. “Numerous studies have revealed that the presence of pets is beneficial for our physical and mental health. The companionship of animals has been shown to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and lessen anxiety, helping people to feel calmer and more secure during difficult times.” 

Adopting is a good investment too. Adoption fees generally cover the pet’s spay/neuter surgery, health exam, vaccinations, microchip ID, and often other free starter goodies that vary from group to group. 

“One thing people often don’t realize is the quality and variety of animals available through shelters and rescue groups,” Castle said. “Across the country there are always amazing purebreds, mixed-breed dogs, cats, puppies and kittens of all ages, types and sizes looking for homes. Even trendy designer dogs find themselves in need of rehoming when their owners face situations like job loss, divorce or housing issues.” 

Potential adopters also can check to see the adorable adoptable animals waiting for homes locally, regionally and even nationally. While adoptable pets may seem scarce in some areas, there are currently nearly 62,000 dogs and puppies, and 94,000 cats and kittens looking for homes on Potential adopters can also check our website to find links to adopt from Best Friends, or from one of our more than 3,100 Network Partners across the country. 

What about pets as gifts? 

Although research has shown that pets received as gifts are not necessarily loved less than those adopted by more traditional means, there are better alternatives to choosing a pet for another adult or family as a surprise. 

Selecting a pet is a very personal decision, as pets’ personalities vary even when you know what breed someone is looking for. There’s also age, gender, activity level, hair length, and other considerations, so it’s best for the adopter to choose what pet will be ideal for their own family and lifestyle. 

For this reason, Best Friends suggests purchasing an adoption gift certificate from a shelter or rescue group, rather than an actual pet, to allow the recipient to make the choice themselves. To make the gift cuter and more substantial, you can assemble a basket of pet supplies, toys and treats to go along with the adoption certificate. 

And now that nearly all adoptions are occurring virtually, potential adopters can meet pets online and do meet-and-greet video chats with the dog or cat and their foster family to learn even more about how the pet behaves in a home. Learning all about the animals they’d like to adopt and seeing them lounging on a couch rather than in a cage or kennel gives adopters a new way to experience that moment of connection when they know that specific animal is the right new member of their family. 

When it comes time to bring home a new pet, few people will argue that adopted animals reward their people with a depth of unconditional love that pets from other sources don’t seem to rival. They seem to know they were given a second chance, and they spend their lives repaying their people. 

Each year, millions of people add new pets to their families, so this season, help bring some holiday cheer to a homeless pet by adopting your newest companion. In return, they promise to bring much-needed joy to your 2021. 

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