I find it hard to imagine, though I really do understand, that pet parenthood is not for everyone. Having pets is a lifestyle choice that is not to be taken lightly. These critters depend on us for literally everything, from the most basic necessities to the niceties of life.

Seemingly always a step ahead, the U.K. formalized the Five Freedoms in 1979. The Freedoms were initially developed in response to a government study on livestock husbandry. Since then they have become the basis of animal cruelty laws in the U.K. as they relate to all animals. The Five Freedoms eventually crossed the “pond” to become incorporated into guidelines used by all types of animal welfare groups in the U.S. At Paws Humane Society the Freedoms form the foundation for our animal care protocols.

Where the Five Freedoms get most interesting is in the statement that our pets should be free to express most normal behavior. This freedom addresses the way we contain our pets but also acknowledges the need animals have for companionship. Science is continually unraveling our old ideas about animals and it is now generally accepted that they are intelligent and social beings with rich emotional lives.

We consider the Five Freedoms as they relate to our adoption policies. At Paws, we pride ourselves on our practice of “open adoptions.” This is in stark contrast to not so long ago, when a potential adopter would be asked to complete an extensive multipage application. These days we have open-ended conversations designed to walk a prospective adopter through the responsibilities of pet parenting. We trust them to make an informed decision. We believe the best outcome for any pet at Paws is a loving home, not a longer stay in an animal shelter no matter how nice it is.

Many pets will be adopted during the month of December to be given as gifts. Research done by the ASPCA showed that pets received as a gift are cherished just as much as pets received by other means. At Paws we encourage giving pets as gifts as long as the recipient has been consulted. The giver would do well to consider the Five Freedoms in making the decision to give a pet as a gift.

Historically only 25% of all pets come from shelters. Some come from friends or relatives while most pets still come from breeders. If you decide to adopt or to give a pet as a gift, please go to your local animal shelter. Not only will you change the life of that pet, you will help the pet who takes his place at the shelter.