Beanie and Holly, two wiggly siblings, are busy sniffing around the Christmas tree at their new home on a crisp snowy night. Their human counterparts, mom Susannah Watson and her two daughters, Oriana, 7-and-a half, and Julianne, 4, look on with delight as the kittens explore, occasionally pulling them away to pick them up and pet their ears.
The kittens are just two of a growing number of cats and dogs adopted during the holiday season, something that bucks conventional wisdom that animals had a tough time acclimatizing to new homes during the hectic Christmas season, and wouldn't stick around.
"This hopefully will be a gift we have for our family for a long time," Watson told CBC Hamilton.
The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to animals released statistics this year, based on a 1,000 person telephone survey, showing 74 per cent of people who received a pet as a gift still had the animal (of the remaining 25 per cent, half of respondents said the animal was only no longer in the home because it had passed away.)
This research, published in Animal Sheltering magazine, is leading local humane societies to ramp up efforts to place its animals in December. On a recent December day, the Hamilton SPCA adopted eight kittens, including Beanie and Holly.
At the nearby Brant County SPCA, they've reduced adoption rates from over $100 to just $50 per kitten and $10 for an adult cat in an effort to place as many animals in homes as possible.
Still, the organizations insist on some things: don't get an animal for someone who isn't looking for one. Make sure they're not allergic to the animal. And make sure the person is compatible with the animal they get — something key to deciding on a specific dog or cat.
The Hamilton SPCA, like many others, runs a program called “Meet Your Match,” which helps people find the right pet for their lifestyle.
Research by the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies released this month shows that while Canadians are adopting a lot of pets, there are thousands of animals without homes. More than 172,000 cats and dogs were brought into shelters in 2012, the study based on data provided by 102 shelters, found. Of that total, 48 per cent of dogs found homes while 46 per cent of cats found homes — a big increase from 2007, when only 38 per cent of cats were adopted.
Kittens settling in amid holiday buzz
At the Watson household, cats had topped the children's Christmas wish lists for several years. Watson's husband has always had cats in the house, but the couple wanted to wait until the girls were old enough to help out with some of the chores associated with having cats, like cleaning the litter box.
The family visited the SPCA several times before they found Beanie and Holly, who came recommended by a staff member.
Since bringing the cats into their Dundas home last week — the girls discovered the kittens while doing an advent calendar-based scavenger hunt — they've been doing everything they can to make the kittens feel at home.
There are toys. There’s a scratching post. And they’ve tied the Christmas tree to the wall with twine. "One of them is already a climber," Watson said with a laugh.
The girls, meanwhile, are learning about proper cat conduct.
"Cats need to be safe," said Julianne.
"Stay calm, don't run at them, don't be scared."
Watson admits the holiday season can be a bit hectic, but she says she’s happy the girls will have time to really get to know the kittens.
"It was nice, maybe, to bring them in now instead of on Christmas morning when it's really exciting around here, though" she said.
The kittens seem unfazed. For now, Beanie the Christmas tree-climber, flops onto a warm chair and falls asleep in his new holiday home.