The National Retail Federation has reported that holiday-period spending will increase this year compared to last. While the average consumer will increase spending on gifts for his or her family by 6.5 percent, they’ll increase spending on gifts for their pets by 14.18 percent.
Though pets might not be fully aware of their ever-growing favored place in modern life, the old joke of the alien visitor to earth asking a dog how his species managed to enslave humans, is becoming funnier by the day.
It’s not just current pets who are benefiting from the recent rise in disposable income; adoptable pets are also snapped up in greater numbers during the holiday period.
‘Mancattan,’ the Island of Whiskers and Purrs
Gail Buckwald, senior vice-president of the ASPCA adoption center in New York, sees this as being quite logical, since the holidays are often an ideal time to acclimatize a newly adopted pet. “Kids are off from school and, for some, it’s a perfect opportunity to transition a pet into the home. However, I would advise waiting until the new year when festivities have died down, for prospective adopters who’ll be traveling or entertaining lots of guests during the seasonal period.”
Though same-day adoptions are a frequent occurrence at the center, Buckwald advises potential adopters that bringing home a pet can take, on average, one to two visits, and potentially more, in order to find the best match for both human and animal. She likens it to the real estate or automobile market, and said “People in the market for a car won’t drive the first car they see off the lot, therefore adopters shouldn’t expect to take home the first pet they meet.”
The ASPCA adoption center is a hive of human and animal activity, where prospective pet adopters can be seen progressing through the various stages of the adoption process. This includes speaking with behavioral experts in order to be matched with a suitable companion, or interacting with well-socialized cats in the urban-style cat habitat the center has dubbed “Mancattan.”
The center exclusively houses cats and dogs temporarily, having a few hundred adoption candidates (“adoptables,” as the center calls them) available at any one time.
“Matching expectations is a very important part of the adoption process,” Buckwald explains.
“Applicants fill in a survey where administrators can match applicants with a suitable companion, so an avid runner doesn’t get saddled with a more couch-potato orientated dog, for example.”
Pets at the center are assessed by behavioralists to determine their personality type, which is determined by measuring such markers as their bravery and sociability. Feline personalities, for example, are described as “sidekick, executive, personal assistant, leader of the band, secret admirer, etc.” The animals are kept on display at the center in glass cases “studio apartments,” where they can while away the day listening to classical music, easy listening, and bird chirps on the PA system.
The center worked with a composer who made species-specific music that helps to enrich the experience of the animals. “Cats, in particular, are sensitive to music that’s heavy on bass, or has treble that’s too high pitched. The critical element is that it’s not played at a high volume, since cats have very acute hearing” said Alison Jimenez, director of Media and Communications at the center.
Given that it’s a city-based shelter, cats are adopted more-so than dogs during this season and year-round. They are more convenient companions for urban dwellers, and are particularly more convenient during cold weather months, when adopters may not wish to do housetraining with a dog in the freezing temperatures.
Jimenez cited that “50 percent of adopters are from Manhattan, so the majority of adoptables will be apartment cats. The center recommends that cats be kept indoors because this increases their life expectancy; they don’t have to contend with traffic, cold weather elements, disease [feline FIV], or predators such as foxes and coyotes, etc.”
Buckwald cautions. This advice doesn’t apply to indoor cats, since they won’t encounter pathogens.
For indoor cats, the greatest indoor enrichment is company, playing, mental stimulation, and playing with toys and puzzles.
Myth of Gifted Pets Ending Up in Shelters
The center hopes to discredit the myth that the majority of pets that are given as gifts end up in animal shelters. This may cause adopters to be discouraged when they’re looking to get a pet as a gift during the holiday period, particularly if shelters have strict policies limiting adoptions during the holidays, as a result of this myth.
Consumers’ frustrations with the adoption process may prompt them to look elsewhere for pets, such as more inhumane sources like pet stores, which get puppies from puppy mills or irresponsible breeders. The center is keen to stress that by adopting, people not only take home a best friend, but also save a life.
As evidence of the success of pets as gifts, Buckwald points out the findings of a scientific study done last year, where the ASPCA found that 96 percent of people who received pets as gifts reported it either increased or had no impact on their love or attachment to that pet.
Also, 86 percent of the pets in the study are still in the home, a number roughly equivalent with the percentage of pets retained following a routine adoption.
The figures from 2013 show that 80 percent of animals that arrive in municipal facilities are rehoused with new owners (known as “live-release”). Buckwald contextualizes this fact by recognizing “New York City to be the best in the USA, if you’re a homeless animal.”
New Yorkers Tina, Shawn, Nyah, and Kaylie Rodriguez visited the adoption center on the Dec. 23 to get a family pet. Tina said they were “super excited” because it was also her eldest daughter’s birthday. Tina, who herself had a cat as a child, now wants to give that experience to her daughters. “I can’t wait to see our kitty!” exclaimed 3-year-old Kaylie.
The Rodriguez family took home a 4-month-old, black and brown kitten named Lullabye, who had been part in the care of the ASPCA since birth. “We picked it because it (she) was cute,” said Tina’s eldest daughter Nyah. “It’s like Lullabye will have the same birthday as me.”
Tina had been planning to get a kitten for the family for a long time, but was waiting until the children reached a certain age. “We wanted a kitten, but it had to be at least a few months old so that it wouldn’t require bottle-feeding,” she said.