It is a scene that has played out in living rooms across America and many other places on Earth for years. Children rush in to see what was left for them under the Christmas tree, and to their surprise, waiting for them is a fluffy little kitten or puppy with an oversized bow on its head. The children embrace their new gift with love and joy, profusely thanking their parents for such a wonderful present.

In many places when the New Year comes, those pets turn out to be not a good fit in the family and they wind up in animal shelters in January and February. Local animal control officials say that thankfully, that phenomenon is rarely seen here.

Cherokee County Animal Shelter Manager Lori Kekel said there are a handful of ways the shelter works to ensure that its lineup of adoptable cats and dogs go to the most loving and caring homes, becoming part of a family where the pet’s personality meshes perfectly with the personality of its humans.

Interestingly, although a number of shelters report an increase in the number of intakes and owner surrendered animals after Christmas, Kekel said January and February are two relatively slow months at Cherokee County’s shelter. Looking at the facility’s 2019 numbers, Kekel said that, between Jan. 1 and Feb. 28, 2019, the Cherokee County Animal Shelter saw approximately 150 pets surrendered. Instead, she explained that the time frame with some of the highest total number of pets being surrendered to the shelter by their owners was the weeks leading up to Christmas. Another busy time for intakes at the shelter is between the months of April and August, as this is when litters of kittens and puppies are more likely to be born, according to Kekel.

When looking at the information provided by owners surrendering their pets, Kekel said the shelter does not list “pet given as a gift but is no longer wanted” (or anything similar) as a reason an animal was turned over to the shelter, and therefore, it is virtually impossible to tell how many of the pets surrendered following the holidays may have been a gift that is no longer wanted. According to the shelter’s statistics, among the more common reasons for a pet to be surrendered include owners moving and being unable to take their furry friend with them, family members being allergic to the pet or owners no longer being able to take care of their pets.

During the holiday season, many shelters and animal rescue organizations spread the word to members of the public, encouraging them to not engage in the cycle of adopting a pet to be given as a present that may end up being taken to a shelter once the holidays are over. Kekel said the Cherokee County Animal Shelter does not lean one way or the other in this regard. However, the shelter does have practices in place that works to keep this cycle from happening and growing in Cherokee County.

One key way the shelter helps in keeping the number of gift pets being surrendered lower is part of the facility’s normal operating procedure when animals are being adopted. Included in the shelter’s standard adoption fee of $100 is having the animal being adopted microchipped, in order to help locate the pet in case it gets lost. During the microchipping process, the owner’s information is programmed into the microchip, including place of residence and other data that can reunite a lost pet and owner. Not only does this microchip help out in finding missing pets, but Kekel said the process the shelter follows for this has actually helped somewhat discourage the spontaneous gifting of pets from the shelter at any time of the year. More specifically, this means that, if someone is getting a new pet for a friend, the shelter prefers to have the friend receiving the adopted pet come along so that the shelter can get all of the new owner’s information correct and properly programmed into the microchip. This is less of an issue when a parent or grandparent might be picking out an adoptable pet to give to their children or grandchildren, but no matter the situation, trying to make sure the pet being adopted is not a spur of the moment gift, but instead has had a lot of thought and consideration put into its adoption.

Similarly, the shelter staff works hard to match up pets with their perfect new owners when someone looking to adopt visits the facility. For example, a dog that loves to get outdoors, play fetch and take long walks would match up perfectly with someone who has a more active lifestyle, but for people who are not as active, the shelter staff may direct them toward a different pet that may enjoy lounging around and calmer activities. By effectively matching up the personalities of the shelter’s animals and the humans interested in adopting them, the shelter is able to further reduce the possibility of having adopted pets be returned.

With the weeks leading up to Christmas and the new year being relatively busier times for the shelter when it comes to the intake of animals, Kekel said the shelter holds a number of events around this time of year designed to help the animals residing there find a new and loving home, just in time for the holidays. Some of the events the shelter has held in the past include offering reduced adoption fees for all of the pets residing at the shelter, as well as times when the shelter waives all adoption fees for people picking out a new four-legged friend. Not only does this make it easier for people to be able to find their newest furry addition to the family, but it also means there are fewer animals having to spend the so-called “most wonderful time of the year” sitting in an animal shelter without someone to love on them.

Although Kekel said the Cherokee County Animal Shelter may not take the same kind of stance other shelters and animal rescue organizations take during the holiday season, the standard operating procedure the shelter has helps keep the issue of pets given as gifts during the holiday season from being a serious concern in the county. It may be virtually impossible to end the heartbreaking cycle of pets being surrendered at the start of the new year, but through the measures the Cherokee County Animal Shelter has in place, this number of animals who endure this situation is much less than it could be.

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