DAERA and USPCA urge the public to think carefully before buying a pet this Christmas

Date published: 06 November 2023


Hundreds of animals are abandoned every year in Northern Ireland following the festive season as the novelty of receiving a pet as a Christmas present has worn off.

Pictured (l-r) are Gemma Daly, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, DAERA with Fergus the dog and Nora Smith, CEO of the USPCA with Charlie the cat. Both pets have been recently rehomed by the USPCA.

With Christmas approaching, the Department for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (DAERA) has teamed up with the well-known Northern Ireland animal welfare charity, the Ulster Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) to appeal to the public to think very carefully before choosing a pet as a present for a loved one.

The USPCA, like every other animal welfare charity, is inundated with animals which have been bought as Christmas presents, but which people then find they don’t have enough time, space or money to look after. In January of this year, the charity had over 50 animals at their centre who needed a new home.

Gemma Daly, Deputy Chief Veterinary Officer, DAERA said: “Pets are often bought at Christmas as presents for loved ones and whilst there is no doubt potential owners are not seeking to do any harm, unfortunately, if careful consideration has not been given to the implications of bringing a new pet into a household, they can end up having to surrender them. 

“Different pets have a range of important and diverse needs and it is critical that prospective owners ensure they can provide for an animal’s care and veterinary needs throughout their entire lifetime. Advice on how to care for a range of pets is available on NI Direct and prospective owners should first familiarise themselves with the responsibilities that come with being the owner of an animal before making any decisions on how to proceed."

Gemma added: “I would also remind people of the fantastic work that animal welfare establishments such as the USPCA undertake and urge people to rehome an animal from these shelters rather than going out to buy a pet.  Animal welfare establishments have identified that they are struggling with the huge number of pets being abandoned and rehoming means you can play your part in giving a pet its forever home.”

Nora Smith, CEO of the USPCA, stated: “It may seem counter-intuitive that we do not encourage anyone to buy or adopt a new pet at Christmas given our Centre is full of animals in need of a new home.  However it’s an upsetting reality that in the weeks and months after Christmas we are often asked to take in puppies, kittens and other pets given as presents once the novelty has worn off.

“It’s not just young animals that come to us, older animals can be discarded to make way for new ones.  Bringing a new pet into your family is one of the most rewarding experiences.  However, it is a life-long commitment.  It’s so important you are fully informed and aware of the responsibility that is involved.

“Therefore, our advice is wait until after the Christmas holidays have passed in order to provide the time and space required to welcome a new pet into your home. If prospective pet parents would like to reserve an animal before Christmas, our Animal Welfare team can match them with the most suitable pet for their home to be collected once all the festivities are over."

The USPCA and DAERA are encouraging prospective pet owners to adopt rather than buy.  There are thousands of animals in Animal Welfare charities in desperate need of a second chance.   Adoption also helps prevent animals from being purchased from unscrupulous breeders and gives a lovely companion animal a chance of a happy new life.

Notes to editors: 

1. It is a criminal offence to leave an animal unattended and to fail to care for it properly. Owners could face prosecution for abandonment and imprisonment for up to six months, and/or a fine of up to £5,000.  If a pet animal suffers because of abandonment, then owners could be prosecuted for animal welfare offences and face even tougher penalties of up to 5 years in prison.

2. Under the Paws for Thought campaign, DAERA, councils and PSNI work together to detect, investigate, and prosecute criminals involved in the illegal breeding and trafficking of low welfare pups.  Prospective owners should ensure they do not inadvertently support this cruel trade as these illegally bred pups are kept in abhorrent conditions and suffer terribly with a range of health conditions.  The criminals involved in breeding these pups in such conditions are only interested in the profit they can achieve and many of the pups suffer serious medical complications or even die shortly after people take ownership of them.

3. Anyone who has information on illegal breeding, abandonment of pets or suffering being caused to pets should contact their local council animal welfare officer. Contact details on NI Direct.  Animal welfare - local councils | nidirect

4. The USPCA is the second oldest animal welfare charity in the world. Formed in 1836, its aims are the prevention of cruelty to animals, the relief of suffering in animals and the advancement of animal welfare.

5. Follow DAERA on Twitter and Facebook.

6. All media queries should be directed to the DAERA Press Office at: pressoffice.group@daera-ni.gov.uk

7. The Executive Information Service operates an out of hours service for media enquiries only between 1800hrs and 0800hrs Monday to Friday and at weekends and public holidays. The duty press officer can be contacted on 028 9037 8110.

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