2013-12-25 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

“Home 4 the Holidays,” now in its 15th year, is the biggest pet adoption drive in the world. This three-month adoption promotion saves the lives of shelter pets and raises awareness about the importance of pet adoption during the holiday season. Seasonal success has grown exponentially. “Home 4 the Holidays” began in 1999 when the Helen Woodward Animal Center organized 14 San Diego area shelters, finding homes for 2,563 orphaned pets. Each pet “went home” with a holiday meal of pet food. Then the media got behind the event. In 2000, “Home 4 the Holidays” grew to include 130 groups in five states. That holiday season 19,998 homeless pets were matched with their new families. Last year nearly 1.3 million orphan pets were placed in forever homes between Oct. 1, 2012 and Jan. 2, 2013 as a result of this expanding program.

Creators of “Home 4 the Holidays” at the Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe, CA strive to educate the public about the importance of choosing pet adoption, as opposed to supporting puppy mills. Through a collaboration of over 3,500 pet adoption agencies, facilities and rescue-groups, this has become the largest pet adoption campaign on record, saving over 8 million pets since its inception in 1999.

“Home 4 the Holidays” is the brainchild of Mike Arms, the president and CEO of the Helen Woodward Animal Center. Previously Arms worked at the ASPCA in Manhattan and North Shore Animal League. An expert in finance, marketing and animal shelter innovations, Arms became an incredible agent for change in the animal welfare world shortly after being beaten by thugs with baseball bats while rescuing a hit-by-car puppy from a NYC street. He made a vow that day to do all in his power to protect homeless animals if he were to survive such a brutal attack.

More families bring pets into their homes during the holidays than at any other time of year. What better gift can any of us give during the holiday season than to save the life of an orphan? In the past, some shelters and rescue organizations have actually gone so far as to discourage families from adopting pets during the holidays – uncomfortable with the idea of a pet as a “gift.”

This did not stop families from getting new pets. It just took away the adoption option and forced them to support the pet store and puppy mill industry. Participating “Home 4 the Holidays” rescue workers know that educating families about the value of orphan pets, and working with these families to match the perfect family with the ideal pet, means a better success for everyone involved. Everyone wins.

At the onset Mike Arms noticed that a majority of rescue facilities were closing their doors during the holiday season – a primary time of year for family pet additions. With shelter doors closed, prospective adopters were resorting to shopping pet stores or puppy mills for holiday pet purchases. Not only did this increase the business of non-reputable stores and breeders, but Arms was aware that the workers at these businesses were rarely trained to scrutinize the likelihood of a successful animal/family match, thus increasing the number of pets sent to shelters once the season was over.

Many individuals are unaware that in many parts of the country (not LI) once the shelters close for the holidays, the animals that are left over are euthanized so that the agencies do not have to pay anyone to come in to feed and clean up after the animals once the organization is shut down. Many wonderful animals do not live to find their forever, loving homes because of this.

The “Home 4 the Holidays” campaign with its current sponsor, Blue Buffalo, request that shelters keep their doors open throughout the holiday months. They provide participating partners with the marketing tools to spread the word. A counter on the “Home 4 the Holidays” website registers over 790,000 adoptions so far during this campaign.

There is a huge difference between people who want a dog or cat as an unsolicited present under the tree for someone on their gift list, and people committed to bringing a new furry companion into the family fold for keeps. Saturday we had a woman come to a rescue facility who insisted on a small white dog. Why white? She said that was what she wanted, and then argued that rescues were denying her what she wanted and forcing her to go to a pet store. She was ready to settle for our brown one after looking at him a minute (over my dead body) as long as she and her unruly sons could have the dog right away before Christmas. She didn’t want to be disappointed or her friends bothered with reference checking unless she was assured she was getting the dog. Won’t be happening with brown, white or any other color scheme. Unfortunately a pet store will sell her a dog no questions asked, but there is a good chance that this poor pup will be surrendered for not being picture perfect.

Some shelters like Hempstead Town Shelter are registered participants in “Home 4 the Holidays” while most are promoting the concept. Babylon Town Shelter worked hard to find homes for long timers and special needs cases. “Nakita,” the mature Akita that had a malignant mass removed, went to a breed-savvy lady who plans to cherish her the rest of her days. “Winnie,” the calico with the facial deformity, has been adopted. We will be driving the Mama Devon Rex cat to NJ to meet up with my Afghan rescue friend from Philadelphia who adopted her son months ago. She couldn’t stand the thought of her kitten’s mother remaining in the shelter over six months.

Two special cases at Last Hope, 3300 Beltagh Ave., Wantagh (info@lasthopeanimalrescue.org) still resonate a need for “Home 4 the Holidays.” Three sweet cats -“Joplynn, Potter and Dobby”- had a loving home and a devoted owner who was tragically killed in a car accident. We would love to place them together, but they can be adopted separately. “Drake,” a patient and bubbly brindle Pit, spent over three years at Babylon Shelter before coming to Last Hope. It’s time that “Drake” found his special somebody. Drake has earned his home for the holidays.

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