Pets can make a wonderful addition to a home but living, breathing animals are more than just a gift idea for Christmas, Hanukkah, birthdays, Easter, or other special occasions. Owning an animal comes with a commitment, often for 15 years or more and each animal deserves their forever home and a pet parent who has the time, the energy, the money and the interest to welcome them into their life for the long-term. Still many people get puppies and kittens as gifts without much thought.
It’s a tempting idea to surprise someone, especially a child, with a fluffy puppy or an adorable bunny, hamster, or kitty complete with a bow around its neck. While you’re imagining the squeals of delight, consider how tragic the situation could become if the time, money and energy you’ve just committed the family to is more than they can manage. A poor match could mean the animal is eventually sent to a shelter or could suffer loneliness, or even abuse or neglect.
Certainly as a gift, a pet is “free” but there will be ongoing costs throughout the animal’s life including food, bedding and toys, veterinary care, grooming expenses, and a big investment of time to exercise, play with, and train the animal. Anything less than a lifetime commitment is a betrayal of the trust that an animal deserves when we bring them into our homes. This is not a commitment that you should make for someone else, no matter how good your intentions are.
Every pet needs – and deserves – plenty of time and attention as they adjust to their new FOREVER home. Most of us are especially busy during the holiday season with shopping and family meals, decorating the house and trimming the tree, hosting parties and overnight guests and we’re on the move more, visiting family and friends or attending seasonal festivities. It’s a busy and sometimes stressful season, and likely not the best time to adjust to and care for a new animal. Consider the holiday environment and how difficult it could be for a new puppy to adjust to the frantic activity and the additional hazards – lights, plants, and decorations – in the home. In most areas of the country, winter days are short and cold but a puppy that requires house training will need to be taken outside often, even in the middle of the night, even when it’s cold or raining or snowing. This can be uncomfortable for both the dog and the caretaker.
As surprises go, choosing a pet for someone is generally a bad idea. The person who will be responsible for the animal must be the one who makes the decision to bring a new furry family member into their home. There may be concerns about allergies, lifestyle, life span, energy levels and special needs to consider. Some people will cope better with a puppy while others may prefer an older dog. People should select a pet only after considering important factors like size, activity level, and temperament. The right match between humans and their animal companion is very personal, and because of the commitment involved an important part of the process is for the owner to fully understand and be prepared for the responsibility.
It’s a sad reality that at holiday times like Christmas and Easter puppy mills and backyard breeders make a profit from selling pets that are often unhealthy or have been neglected since they were likely born and bred in inhumane environments. The ASPCA urges shoppers to fight this cruelty by refusing to shop for animals from these types of businesses.
Shelter animals are a better choice, so don’t shop – adopt! If you are still determined that a pet is the perfect gift, pay the shelter adoption fee in advance for the gift recipient.
This allows the person or family to choose their own pet on their own timeline. They will be able to weigh the financial, emotional and time concerns of pet ownership and make a decision. If they ultimately decide against adopting an animal, you will have made a much-needed donation to the shelter in their name.
The unconditional love we get from our pets is unequaled, but animals come with work, a time commitment, vet bills, and unintended messes, so pet ownership should never be an impulsive gift. Animals are vulnerable, living and breathing creatures deserving of more than fleeting attention as a gift-wrapped surprise. Anything less than a lifetime of love in a secure home is ultimately unfair to everyone.