The Truth About Adopted Pets as Gifts: Myths vs. Reality

The idea of gifting a pet during the holiday season often sparks debates and concerns. Some believe that pets adopted as gifts are more likely to be returned or end up in shelters. Let’s look at the data and debunk the myths surrounding pets given as presents.

Myth vs. Reality: Examining Return Rates

The myth that gifted pets are frequently returned lacks substantial evidence. Studies and shelter data from across the country show similar or lower return rates for pets adopted as gifts than those acquired by personal choice. 

Understanding the Gifted Pet Adoption Process

Contrary to common assumptions, shelters, and rescue organizations have structured adoption processes for pets given as gifts. These procedures often involve thorough conversation to prepare pets and people for success. These organizations work hard to ensure the recipient is ready for the commitment.

The Importance of Preparation and Education

Successful pet adoptions, whether gifts or personal choices, hinge on education. Preparing the recipient for the responsibilities and long-term commitments of pet ownership is vital.

Responsible Gifting: Encouraging Thoughtful Choices

The focus should be on responsible gifting. Encourage recipients to visit the shelter or participate in the selection process, ensuring the pet’s compatibility with their lifestyle and preferences. Like HSU, many shelters offer post-adoption support and resources, including behavioral training, pet care tips, and counseling. This helps pets and their people stay together.

Despite the prevailing myths, evidence suggests that pets adopted as gifts do not inherently face higher return rates. The key to a successful adoption, whether a gift or a personal choice, lies in the recipient’s careful preparation, education, and involvement in the adoption process. When done thoughtfully and responsibly, gifting a pet during the holiday season can create enduring bonds and bring immeasurable joy to both the recipient and the pet.

Gray of Face, Full of Heart: Adopt a Senior Pet

Granny paws, old-timers, sugar snoots… whatever you call them, we at the Humane Society of Utah know that senior pets make some of the best fur-iends! Here are just a few of the many reasons why you should welcome a senior dog or cat into your family:

Adoptable senior pet Dolly the gray and white cat sits in Kitty City awaiting adoption.
  • Aging Like Fine Wine: Potty training, learning leash manners, and scratched up furniture are just a few of the less cute and cuddly endeavors that you have a good chance of skipping when you adopt a senior pet! Many of these pepper-muzzled pals come with a set of built in house manners, ready to go! However, it’s important to be mindful that there may be an adjustment period while your pet learns the ropes of their new home.
  • “Senior” is a Relative Term: While both cats and dogs are often considered to have reached senior status by about seven years of age, that doesn’t mean they don’t have oodles of golden years ahead of them! Cats, in particular, routinely live into their late teens and early 20’s, meaning there’s a good chance you have a decade or more left with your new senior friend.
  • Senior Pets are Surprising! Dispel your expectations, because not all senior pets are ready to slow down just yet! While many senior pets may enjoy a good snooze on the sofa, it’s just as common that they’re still very in tune with their inner kitten or puppy. Don’t pass on a perfect pet just because you think they may not want to chase that ball or catnip mouse— they just might surprise you!
  • Annnnd Unsurprising In the Best Way: Oftentimes with senior pets, what you see is what you get! That snuggly couch potato you meet in the kennels will most likely be a snuggly couch potato when you get home to your actual couch, too. Unlike puppies and kittens, senior pets have had time to develop their personalities, making it less likely that you’ll be caught off guard by who you’re bringing home. However, don’t forget about that adjustment period pets may go through as they get used to their new digs!
  • A New Best Friend Without Breaking the Bank: Many animal welfare organizations offer discounted rates and adoption fees for senior pets to help incentivize adopters. Sometimes, they’re even completely free! Here at the Humane Society of Utah, our senior pets are “Name Your Own Price,” meaning you get to choose what you’d like to contribute to their adoption fee. Sweetening the deal, our seniors still come spayed/neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, and with a certificate for a free check-up with a participating veterinary office! 
Adoptable senior pet Koa the black and white dogs poses in a studio with a happy open mouth smile.

Haven’t you heard? Eight years is the new eight months! Adopt a senior pet today from utahhumane.org/adopt and find out firsthand why they say “old friends are the best friends.”

Halloween Safety Tips for Pets: Tricks and Treats to Keep Them Safe

A red dog with a large head wears devil horns and a black cape, standing against fall-colored trees.

Halloween is a time of spooky fun, costumes, and delicious treats for humans, but it can be a downright nightmare for our furry friends. Many hidden dangers, from candy hazards to frightening decorations, can threaten our pets. This year, let’s ensure a safe and happy Halloween with these safety tips for pets.

Two dogs go on a spooky walk to prep for Halloween safety tips for pets.

Take a Spooky Walk: If your dog enjoys walks, take them for a Halloween-themed stroll in your neighborhood. It’s an excellent opportunity for them to experience the sights and sounds of the holiday in a controlled environment. ​Ple​ase bring lots of treats to help them form a positive association with ​the various ​sights and sounds from Halloween decorations. 

Choose Pet-Friendly Decorations: Decorations like fake cobwebs, glow sticks, and lit pumpkins may seem harmless, but they can pique your pet’s curiosity. Cats might see stringy decorations as toys and dogs may chew on them. Ensure all decorations are pet-safe. Some decorations, like glow sticks, can be toxic if ingested by pets. ​Please keep them out of reach, and be careful ​​where you place them.

A black cat sits with orange and black Halloween decor.

Safe Candy Storage: If swallowed, candy wrappers, chocolate, and lollipop sticks can be hazardous. Make sure to dispose of these items safely and securely. And remember to keep that bowl of candy out of your pet’s reach!

Pet-Safe Treats: ​Consider making or buying pet-safe treats. Many recipes available online cater to your pet’s dietary needs.
Soundproofing: The constant doorbell ringing and noisy trick-or-treaters can stress your pet out. Create a safe and quiet space for them with soothing music or a white noise machine to drown out the commotion.

Unveiling Unforgettable Moments: HSU’s Exclusive Members-Only Reception

HSU Members

The Humane Society Of Utah hosted our first-ever Members-only reception, welcoming an inaugural group of members to this new annual event. Our members gathered in the auditorium to meet with HSU Directors, enjoy a spread of donated local hors d’oeuvres and drinks, and learn more about the programs supported by their generous donations. Our staff saw instantly that we were surrounded by passionate supporters with various backgrounds and experiences but a shared love for animals. 

The evening included a clinic tour hosted by our Medical Director, Dr. Timna Fischbein. Members looked inside the clinic, where over 140,000 vaccines and over 10,500 spay/neuter surgeries are administered annually, providing a low-cost option for pet guardians in the community. HSU Member Riley Alexander expressed the importance of these services, saying, “Animals are a vital part of many families, some with means and some without. But those without means do not love their animals any less. Having an organization that helps those with fewer means keep their beloved animals is a wonderful pursuit.”

HSU Members were also treated to a tour of the Education Department and even interacted with some of our favorite coworkers: the education animals! Attendees met Snoop Hoggy Hog the hedgehog, Sasha the rabbit, Milton and Nellie the Ferrets, and Matilda and Carolina the rats, to name a few. Our education program offers a look at some of the more unique animals that we see come through HSU. When asked what he learned during the reception, Member David Swift responded: “I learned that chinchillas bathe in volcanic dust. It was the cutest thing to see one roll and flip around in the dust.” Haley Kroepfl, the HSU Education Manager, shared her expertise about our education program and the importance of teaching our animal welfare values to the next generation. HSU Member David Swift puts it perfectly: “Education is the key to getting animals treated better.”

The member reception was an excellent opportunity to make in-person connections with the donors who do so much to support our programs and operations. Donors like you are vital to HSU; our funding comes almost exclusively from community grants, sponsorships, and individual donors. The excellent care and resources we can provide for animals in need would not be possible without the caring individuals who choose to support us.

You found stray kittens? Now what?

Small white and brown stray kitten sits in grassy field meowing.

Ahhh, kitten season. It’s that magical time of year when the weather gets warmer, and suddenly, an influx of kittens are born into the world. As kitten season picks up speed, so do phone calls to local animal shelters from concerned citizens wondering what they should do with stray kittens they have found. 

What to do if you find warm, clean, stray kittens:

Our answer may surprise you, but most of the time, the answer is to leave stray kittens where you find them. We know this advice can be difficult to heed after so many years of hearing that you should bring stray kittens to the shelter. Still, data from organizations such as Ally Cat Allies  and the ASPCA shows that kittens have a much better chance of survival if left where their mother cat can care for them. Even kittens that appear to be unattended likely have a mother cat looking out for them who will be distressed should they go missing.

Tiny gray and white kitten is held in a human hand.

Here’s a trick to make sure that mom is coming back to look after her litter: take some flour and spread a circle around the kittens, then leave. If a few hours later, there are paw prints in the flour. You can rest assured that a mother cat is keeping an eye on her kittens.

What to do if you find cold, malnourished, or sickly stray kittens:

There are a few cases in which leaving stray kittens where they are may not be the best course of action. If the kittens appear malnourished, sickly, and/or overly dirty, and you have not seen a mother cat return within a few hours of finding the kittens, there are a couple of things you can do.

Tiny white and tabby stray kitten gets bottle fed milk by shelter staff.
  • Foster: If you feel equipped to care for and bottle-feed the kittens until they are old enough to be spayed or neutered, fostering the kittens may be a good option. Contact our Foster Department for information and resources.
  • Contact Your Local Animal Services: Your local animal services will be able to help you determine the next best steps for the kittens. They may have you bring them to their shelter, or they may come and pick them up.

What about Trap Neuter Return?

Another way you can help your local community cats and reduce the number of homeless cats in your area is to see if your local shelter or rescue has a TNR (trap-neuter-return) program. These programs involve humanely trapping stray cats, bringing them into a shelter to be spayed or neutered, and returning them to the area in which they were found. Kittens can participate in TNR programs as young as 8 weeks of age so long as they weigh at least 2 lbs.

Outdoor mom cat sits on rock surrounded by her litter of kittens.


Our TNR program is called CATNIP. For more information on CATNIP, humane trap rental, and more, visit the TNR Page on our website.

An Injured Cat Steals Our Veterinarian’s Heart

An injured cat, Mango, arrived at the Humane Society of Utah’s St. George Clinic with a gaping and infected face wound. A local rescue, One More Chance, had brought him to our clinic through our Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) program. TNR involves fixing, vaccinating, and ear-tipping feral and stray cats, then returning them to their territory. TNR is a humane way to control the community cat population and stop the spread of fatal viruses, such as rabies and distemper.

An injured cat gets the help he needs

After assessing his injury, our veterinarian, Dr. Gray, realized the wound could not be sutured- it was too infected. So, she cleaned and debrided the injury in hopes of helping it contract down and heal together naturally. During Mango’s examination, Dr. Gray also noticed he had necrotic, or dead tissue, surrounding an old wound on his right front paw. The most likely cause was that Mango previously had something wrapped around his paw that restricted his blood flow for a considerable time.

As Dr. Gray carefully removed the dead tissue, she realized three of the toes were completely dead, and she’d only be able to save two of Mango’s five toes. Dr. Gray cleaned and debrided the injury, leaving only fresh, healthy tissue so the rest of his paw could heal. Dr. Gray shared, “As soon as we became aware of Mango’s disability, we knew he couldn’t be released to live as a feral cat. It wouldn’t be safe for him. So, we called Kris Neil, owner of One More Chance, to ensure Mango would have a safe place to live after his surgery. Kris said that Mango could live with her until she could find a good home for him, which relieved me greatly.”

Because Mango’s right front paw was now permanently in the unmistakable “hang loose” sign, the ultimate symbol of Aloha in Hawaii serving as a reminder not to worry or rush, HSU’s St. George staff lovingly nicknamed him “Shaka.”  Since Mango proved unusually chill for a feral cat, even coming off as sweet and friendly, his new nickname suited him perfectly.

Mango was so friendly that our St. George team found it hard to believe that he grew up as a feral cat. Upon further research, our team discovered that Mango most likely lived in a home with two other cats until his owner died a year ago. The other two cats were caught and rehomed, but the third cat remained missing ever since.

After Dr. Gray cared for Mango’s wounds and completed his neuter, vaccinations, ear tipping, and an umbilical hernia repair, she sent Mango home to recover with Kris. But as the weeks passed, Dr. Gray realized that she missed him. She felt a special bond with Mango and found herself considering adopting him. Dr. Gray explained, “The issue was I’d just had a baby and didn’t think it was an ideal time for me to bring home a new cat.”

Still, she worried about Mango and occasionally reached out to Kris to ensure he was happy and healthy. “Kris shared with me that Mango had taken on the role of “cat nanny” at her rescue as he was cuddling and caring for the other cats, especially the kittens. Mango is so sweet; it sounded exactly like something he’d do.”

A few weeks later, Mango visited Dr. Gray for a check-up to ensure his paw and face were healing nicely. Dr. Gray was excited to see her darling Shaka. She’d missed him fiercely. During their reunion, Dr. Gray realized she was madly in love with this hang loose disabled cat with the scarred-up face. He’d stolen her heart, and after learning that he still hadn’t found a permanent home, Dr. Gray decided to adopt him. She knew Mango would happily take on the role of ‘cat nanny’ to her newborn baby.

Months after adopting him, Dr. Gray shared, “Mango is such a sweet addition to our family. He’s healed, living a cozy life of luxury, and surrounded by so much love. Our dogs adore him, too, and they happily make room for Mango on their bed. I’m so happy he came to our clinic that day. I love knowing he’s safe now at home with us.”

Leash reactivity- where do I start?

Tan and white leash reactive dog pulls on leash while barking on a tree lined walkway.

Leash Reactivity is a term that many humans who own dogs are unaware of, and when they hear it, they don’t know what it means or looks like. Leash reactivity is an on-leash dog barking, growling, lunging, etc., at a trigger. The “trigger” is something or someone that causes this fear response to engage at a certain distance, specific to each dog with reactivity. 

Leash reactivity does not necessarily mean aggression. Dogs can be leash reactive out of frustration or fear, which does not always mean they intend to harm the other dog or trigger. For example, a dog’s leash reactivity may be based on the frustration of being unable to greet another dog. As a result, he barks and pulls on his leash when he sees the other dogs in an attempt to get to them. However, once given a proper introduction, he can play successfully or never shows this type of behavior when off-leash at the dog park. And remember, some fearful dogs may be asking for space from other dogs and do not want to be social with other dogs, and that’s okay too.

Training tips to start with leash reactivity

Tip #1: Bring the treats! Everyone likes a payday, winning the jackpot, or a tasty morsel after dinner. And dogs are no different. So not only will it be easier to work with your dog, but this method will help your dog form a positive association with their triggers.

Tan and white dog takes a treat from a lady's hand while sitting outdoors in a green field.

Tip #2: Give yourself space. Which will likely mean more space than you think. If your dog is leash reactive walking down the street, try crossing the street. If they are walking down the same street, stop behind a parked car that acts as a visual barrier, allowing them to gain distance between you and your dog. 

A tan barrier reactive dogs barks behind a black iron gate.

Tip #3: One training exercise we like to use here at HSU is Look At That (LAT.) This exercise changes the dog’s emotional response when they see their trigger. To practice LAT, start far from the trigger so the dog can remain calm. The moment the dog looks at the trigger, mark by saying “Yes!” or clicking with a clicker and immediately follow up with a reward (treat.) Continue to practice this exercise throughout the walk; over time, you can decrease the distance between the dog and their trigger. This reinforces the behavior of staying calm around the trigger and teaches them an alternate behavior to reacting. 

If you are struggling with your leash reactive dog and looking for advice, please visit our website or contact [email protected]

Young Students Want to Work for an Animal Shelter When They Grow Up

Olivia, a seventh-grade student from Lake View Academy in Saratoga Springs, has always loved animals. This is why she chose to come to the Humane Society of Utah’s Pet Resource Center in Murray to complete her job shadow assignment for her Career Technical Education class. The project required students to shadow a professional working in a field they are interested in learning more about. With her, Olivia brought two other students from her CTE class, Nixon and Lizzy, and her niece, Zoey, because, like Olivia, they all love animals, too. Lizzy said she chose to come to an animal shelter because she “really wants to be a veterinarian when I grow up.”  

The assignment

For the assignment, the students were given a tour of the facility and educated on the types of medical procedures we provide for animals in need and how we save lives by transferring in pets from overcrowded shelters in Utah and other states. The students also learned how to read animal stress signals and why it’s essential to go slow with pets when meeting them for the first time. They also interacted with our Humane Education animals, including our two curious bunnies, Otis and Murray, and our fun-loving ferrets, Milton and Nellie. As the kids filled out a questionnaire for their teacher on their experience and what they learned from it, Otis and Murray came to investigate as Milton and Nellie played enthusiastically nearby. 

“The ferrets are my favorite. They’re so friendly and cute!” Olivia shared, and the others nodded in agreement. Olivia added that coming to HSU helped her to better understand bunnies and “why it’s important to be careful when handling them because they’re so sensitive and fragile.” Nixon said the thing he learned most is that “ferrets are very stinky.” As for Zoey, she enjoyed cuddling with and reading to the cats in Kitty City. Looking hopeful, Lizzy shared, “Now that I’ve spent some time here, I really do think I want to work with animals in the future. They are all so special. I want to help the Humane Society take care of them one day.”

What’s in a Name? Pet Resource Center: Part 2

In our last blog post entitled ‘What’s in a Name? Pet Resource Center’, we explained why we’re no longer referring to ourselves as an “animal shelter” and are now calling ourselves a “Pet Resource Center.” This follow-up post will expand on why the Humane Society of Utah has adopted this new model by showcasing the educational services we provide through behavior and humane education.

Humane Education

At HSU, we believe that educating younger generations is the key to ensuring better lives for animals in the future. We support this belief by providing education sessions for schools and community groups at no cost. Our colorful and thought-provoking presentations are for youth from preschool to senior high. We cover age-appropriate topics from basic pet care to complex ethical and moral issues. No matter the age group, participants are taught the importance of proper pet care, spaying/neutering to control the pet population, choosing adoption first, and how to appropriately interact with animals. Teachers can schedule field trips to our shelter to meet and learn about our humane education animals and tour our center. 

Young Boy in Kitty City


HSU also offers a H.E.R.O. Summer, Fall, and Spring Camp for children ages first through sixth grade at our Pet Resource Center. During a typical day at our week-long H.E.R.O. (Humane Educators Reaching Out) Camp, children participate in age-appropriate humane education workshops, presentations, games, and more. Workshops focus on different types of animals each day, many with visitors – two-legged, four-legged, finned, and feathered – from other animal welfare groups in Utah. Our education services are in constant demand throughout the Wasatch Front and beyond. In 2021, our Humane Education Program reached 10,226 children – a 37% increase from 2020.

Behavior and Training

Since many pet guardians experience behavioral issues that can create challenging problems and these frustrations can lead guardians to consider rehoming their pet, our Pet Resource Center offers adopters the opportunity to meet with our certified trainers at no cost. 

Dog training class at Humane Society of Utah

Our behavior staff are all certified trainers and regularly participate in continuing education to ensure they are familiar with the latest understanding and best practices on animal behavior. Our trainers are committed to a behavior program based on positive reinforcement and only use humane training techniques utilizing evidence-based learning theories. We know that committing to positive reinforcement helps us build trusting relationships with animals while effectively meeting our training goals. And we feel it is our responsibility to provide the most effective training options for our community.

Volunteer Spotlight: Meet Kennedy

HSU volunteer Kennedy reads a book to an adoptable cat.

Kennedy is a sweet-spirited eight-year-old who’s been volunteering for the Humane Society of Utah’s Pet Resource Center in Murray since January 2022. She comes to our center weekly to help out where she can: reading books to our homeless cats or socializing with the bunnies, ferrets, and rats in our Humane Education Program. Usually, when Kennedy arrives for her shift, she’s wearing a pair of leggings decorated with cat faces or sparkly animal ears on the top of her head, or both. This month is National Volunteer Month—a month dedicated to recognizing the importance of volunteers like Kennedy and honoring their significant contributions by generously donating their time and talents to worthy causes.

For as long as she can remember, Kennedy has had a deep love and appreciation for animals, especially cats. Reading to our cats through our kid-oriented Happy Tales Reading Program is her favorite thing to do. “I like reading the book, ‘Are You My Mother’ by Dr. Seuss the most because it’s really cute. The cats seem to like it, too. When I read to them, they’ll lay beside me and get comfortable, or sometimes they’ll fall asleep!” She explains with a laugh. 



Kennedy’s Dream

Kennedy’s dream is to learn how to care for all types of pets and support as many as she can in her lifetime. She says she’s volunteering at HSU in hopes of working for us when she’s older. Since Kennedy is only eight years old, her mom, Brittany, accompanies her during her volunteer shifts. Brittany is happy to support her daughter’s dreams and desires to give back. “Most kids her age aren’t that into volunteering. But I think it’s beneficial for them to learn the value of volunteering early on so they can see the importance of being a part of a greater good,” Brittany explains.


April is National Volunteer Month

At HSU, we depend on our volunteers for many critical tasks, such as providing direct animal and staff support, assisting in fundraising efforts and events, and so much more. Our volunteer opportunities allow individuals and families to work side-by-side with our staff as we work to save the lives of more than 7,000 homeless pets each year. In 2021, we had 496 volunteers donate a total of 11,740 hours, which saved our organization an estimated $152,620 in costs. 

HSU’s Foster and Volunteer Manager, Jolie Gordon, states, “To say we can’t do what we do without our volunteers is an understatement. We are so grateful.” Jolie adds that recruiting young volunteers helps them foster a lifelong commitment to helping their community. “As young people grow older and into more power to act on that commitment, imagine the change they’ll be able to create. Not to mention, young volunteers often bring a fresh perspective, passion, and energy to our organization. They tend to be more open to new ideas, meaning they can help drive positive change and create new opportunities for improvement.”

To learn more about HSU’s volunteer program and opportunities, click here.