double tap picture to expand gallery
When Albert wanted to adopt Twinkle, a young, energetic pit-bull-type, as a gift for his adult son last year, it wasn’t a problem for the Santa Fe Animal Shelter & Humane Society (SFASHS) in New Mexico. In fact, “Santa” was ready to bring the dog to the 20-something on Christmas Eve.
When Dec. 24 rolled around, the delivery was a success. The son, laughing and completely surprised, immediately started rolling around on the ground, playing with his new friend.
“It was probably the most fun delivery we’ve had,” says Dylan Moore, the shelter’s director of adoptions, who moonlights as Saint Nick for its holiday delivery program. “I wish I had a video camera.”
The Santa Paws deliveries started in 2012, when the shelter had its usual winter adoption slowdown. Moore and a co-worker joked he should dress up like Santa and hand out dogs from the back of his red pickup truck. Coincidentally, the shelter’s executive director already had a similar idea that wasn’t just in jest.
Since then, Santa Paws has delivered eight dogs and four cats. While the numbers aren’t huge, Moore says the goodwill and free publicity the program generates are invaluable.
Starting around Thanksgiving, if someone is adopting a pet as a gift, they have the option to have her delivered by Santa. Instead of his truck, Moore uses the shelter’s Dodge van, but he does dress up like Santa, and even has a volunteer elf helper.
The deliveries are “a blast,” Moore says. “You get kids that couldn’t care less about Santa Claus; all they want to do is play with the animal.”
Last year Moore did six deliveries. Even after carefully planning the routes, it took a full eight-hour day.
While many shelters used to frown on giving pets as gifts, research shows such pets aren’t any more likely to be surrendered than others.
At SFASHS, there hasn’t been a return on a Santa gift yet. Adoption counselors speak with the gift givers about their expectations and the recipient’s experience with animals. Typically, spouses surprise each other, or parents surprise their children.
The shelter puts up fliers and promotes the program on social media. “The first two years we did it, we had front-page, above-the-fold newspaper coverage,” Moore says. “You can’t buy front-page coverage, yet there it is.” And the grateful gift recipients sometimes give Moore money, food and supplies as a donation to the shelter.
This year, Moore will don the red suit again. It’s a hit with the public, the press and the gift recipients, and most importantly, it’s been beneficial for the animals, he says.
“I plan on doing this every year as long as I work here,” Moore says. “I love the effect it has on everybody involved.”
Learn more about the research behind adopting pets as gifts.