The parking lot was packed and crowds combed the aisles at 601 The City Drive in Orange on Christmas Eve, searching for perfect presents.
The gifts they found won’t fit in neat packages. And most won’t sit still long enough to be placed under the tree.
No matter. Lisa Coil of Yorba Linda still planned to put a big bow on the dog that she and her friend, Michelle Loupe of Anaheim Hills, picked out for another friend.
Coil chose the crossbred American Staffordshire-pit bull for Russell Long of Mission Viejo because the mutt is scrawny and looked as if he needed a home.
“Russell said he wanted a dog that needs some help and some love,” she said. “This was the saddest-looking one.”
Each year around Christmas, business picks up at the county animal shelter, as people adopt pets for gifts, said Jack Edwards, director of animal control.
“It’s been especially busy today,” said Eric Stavenhagen, a kennel attendant.
Karen Velazquez looked for hours with her daughter, Ashley, 6, and a friend of the family, Renee Barker, before finding the right dog for her husband.
“He wanted a shepherd, but this is close enough to a shepherd,” she said, leaning down to pat the head of a 4-year-old female elkhound. “She’s so mellow, and I won’t have to go through potty training and everything. And besides, not too many people want older dogs, so we’re saving her life.”
People generally want to adopt puppies and kittens for presents, Edwards said. The last of those was adopted about a week ago.
The few kittens that came in early Christmas Eve were quickly snapped up, unlike in the spring and summer, when many go unadopted.
“People were fighting over them this morning,” kennel attendant Sharon Linsmeier said.
Kirsi Leedes and Bob McCarthy of Newport Beach were among those disappointed by the lack of kittens.
Leedes “really wanted a kitten for Christmas,” McCarthy said as the couple eyed a soft black kitten with a growing waiting list.
“I can’t believe I’m getting a cat. I didn’t used to like them,” Leedes said.
After moving to Newport from Finland a year ago, Leedes said she began feeding abandoned cats in the neighborhood and grew to like them. Since then, she has taken in one cat, a Himalayan, and wanted a kitten to be its companion.
The Goldmans of Anaheim were also partly successful in their search for a Christmas pet. “It just happens to be Christmas, and my husband wants a dog,” Glenda Goldman said. “He’s always had one, and we had one that died. So now he’s convinced me that I’m going to get him a dog for Christmas.”
She, her husband and their two sons, Simon, 8, and David, 6, peered into cages, tentatively petting wet noses and scratching ears as a chorus of high-pitched yaps and lower barks and growls filled the air.
The family settled on Ellen, a Norwegian elkhound mix, but she is licensed and must be held a week to see whether her owner claims her. If by Saturday the owner has not picked her up, the Goldmans are in luck. Otherwise, they’ll choose another dog.
Although many of the animals desperately need homes, animal control officials generally discourage people from adopting pets as presents.
“We’ve had some terrible experiences where a person has said they want a dog earlier in the year, and then they receive it and they don’t really want it, and they end up bringing it back to the shelter,” Edwards said.