ANIMAL rescuers say they will not allow any pets to be rehomed over Christmas because of fears they will be abandoned again.
The Scottish SPCA is already struggling to cope with the number of unwanted and neglected animals of all shapes and sizes that have come through its doors in recent months, and has imposed a two-week moratorium on rehoming.
With kennel and cage space limited, the charity is warning those who do buy pets for Christmas gifts to be aware that looking after an animal is a long-term commitment.
The SSPCA runs 10 pet shelters across Scotland and is currently looking after a diverse range of cats, dogs, birds and even exotic creatures such as snakes and lizards that have been abandoned by their owners.
SSPCA Chief Superintendent Mike Flynn said the ban on rehoming animals, which started last Thursday, will last until January 3.
The festive period is the SSPCA's busiest of the year, as it is asked to take in animals once the novelty has worn off or, in the worst cases, pets are abandoned and left to fend for themselves.
Mr Flynn said: "Christmas and the months that follow are one of our busiest times of year and this puts a huge strain on our resources.
"Unfortunately, many people continue to buy pets at Christmas time despite us and other charities warning against this every year.
"We would advise anyone to think very carefully before taking on a pet and to ensure that they have the time, commitment and resources to be able to look after the animal for life."
Among the animals currently being cared for that the charity's Edinburgh and Lothians Animal Rescue and Rehoming Centre in Balerno are a love bird, a Muscovy duck, a bearded lizard and an albino ferret the staff have christened Alban.
While the charity is not rehoming pets over Christmas and the New year, people can reserve animals and pick them up in January.
This is to ensure the animal is going to a home that is prepared for it and not being given as a present.
Mr Flynn added: "Although we aren't rehoming young animals between December 19 and January 3, to prevent them being taken on by someone who wants a new pet for Christmas and hasn't fully thought through their decision, they can be reserved and there are lots of other pets in our care ready to find their 'forever' homes right now.
"It's very important for us to find loving owners for these pets so we can take in even more animals in need of our help. It's such a shame to see so many pets living in our rescue centres, as all animals deserve to be part of a caring family."
Scottish SPCA inspectors and animal rescue officers save thousands of domestic, farm and wild animals from harm and danger every year. The organisation was named charity of the year by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisation (SCVO) this year and also won the People's Choice Award. In 2012 it rehomed more than 6000 pets with new owners and cared for about 13,000.
Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant is backing the charity's call for new pet owners to understand all the implications of looking after an animal.
She said: "As a pet owner myself, I plead with people to think through the decision of taking on a pet or giving a pet as a Christmas gift, as such a decision can have a big impact on families and individuals.
"That said, if you have thought through the decision and can satisfy yourselves that you can afford pets a good home, then there is nothing more rewarding than coming home to your pet and spending time with it."