A puppy under the tree is a cute idea, B.J. Owen says, but a happy surprise Christmas morning can sour in no time.
It's not that he's against pets as presents: Kilgore's director of special services simply asks that the giver be smart about the gift and take the recipient on a surprise trip to the animal shelter or, if necessary, to a pet store.
“If you want to make them happy, take them to the shelter and help them pick one out. Let the person pick out their own animal. That way they'll be more apt to keep it,” Owen says, simply. It's worked for him: “Every dog I've had in the last 20 years has been a rescue. They've all worked out because I spent the time to see if I would like the dog,” and vice versa:
“They might not like the way I smell, I might not like the way they smell. We'll never know until we get together.”
It's an old message for Owen – he hasn't put it on a card yet, but the longtime pet owner repeats the warning often leading up to the holidays – and it's part of a broadening animal control mission at City Hall to encourage responsible pet ownership.
For example, last month Kilgore council members approved an increase to the city's fee schedule to increase the animal surrender fee to $150, a few dollars more than the cost the city pays to drop an animal off at the shelter.
“Right now we're paying $147 per animal,” Owen said. “We want to raise the fee to $150 so it's less attractive for them to have us deliver the animal for them. With the fees we're being charged now, there's no way we can continue to take people's pets for them.
“We encourage folks to try to find another home for it because a shelter isn't the best place for animals. We don't want any animals to be not-wanted. We want people who have taken responsibility for that animal to continue responsibility for that animal instead of putting it on us.”
The public should not have to pay because a person changes their mind about owning a pet, he added. Taxpayers shouldn't bear the expenses of a pet owner who neglects to spay and neuter a pet.
“It sounds harsh, but if it weren't for irresponsible pet owners, we wouldn't have a job. You wouldn't need animal control if everybody was responsible.”
The city is enforcing responsibility more readily, too.
“We're not shy about citations,” Owen said. “If their dogs are out, we're giving citations. If you fail to vaccinate your dogs, we're going to cite you. If your dog bites, we're going to cite you.”
Abandon an animal, he added, and there will be consequences.
“That's a criminal offense. You're going to actually go to jail,” Owen said. “It's a jailable offense in the health and safety code. We'll arrest you and take you to jail if you abandon an animal. If we find out you dropped that animal off, we will prosecute you.”
At the very least, in all cases, think twice.
“There are so many considerations when you're picking a pet. Don't do it at a holiday just trying to make somebody happy. That's a life you're taking on to be responsible for.”