Imagine the surprise and delight on your child's face as he races to see what Santa's left him, only to find – joy of joys – a little puppy or kitten waiting under the tree. It's a scenario many parents play out in their minds as they plan what they think will be the ultimate Christmas gift: a pet.
The True Story of Gift Pets
However, the reality is that children quickly lose interest in their gifts, and while they will probably always love their pet, they may have little patience or interest in caring for him. And depending on their age, they may be too young to assume the responsibility of taking care of a pet. So the full burden of caring for the pet will fall to the parents.
Depending on the type of pet, this can mean expensive veterinary care, food costs, house training, cleaning up after accidents, obedience training, litter box cleaning or daily walks, expenses for toys and bedding, even boarding or pet sitting costs. These are all things that must be taken into consideration before a pet is given as a gift, because pets are simply not returnable – not without major, potentially life-threatening consequences.
Every year many dogs and cats are purchased or otherwise acquired to be given as gifts, and tragically, many are relinquished to pounds or shelters where their quality of life is diminished and they may even be put to death, just because parents underestimate the long-term impact a gift pet will have on their family's life.
The ASPCA's Statement on Pet Gifting
The ASPCA has a wonderful statement on pet gifting on their web site, which is as follows:
The ASPCA does not recommend giving a pet as a gift to a person who has not exhibited a sustained interest in an animal or is not fully capable of meeting all of the needs of the animal. If the recipient of the pet is a child under 12, the child’s parents must be ready and eager to assume care for the animal. In all cases, the ASPCA recommends consulting with the intended recipient of the pet and engaging him in the process of pet selection and timing. As appealing as it may be to surprise a child or other loved one with an unexpected pet, the ASPCA does not believe that it is in the animal’s best interests.
However, the ASPCA does not say “nobody should ever give pets as gifts”. They stress that the decision to give a pet as a gift should involve the recipient and a great deal of research and discussion. The decision to give a pet should only ever be an open, honest and informed choice. If you are willing to do the work necessary to determine if a pet is right for you, then you may find giving a pet can be very rewarding.
Guidelines for Giving Pets as Gifts
Here are some dos and don'ts for giving pets as gifts:
...do talk to the recipient before you purchase or adopt a pet. Find out if he really wants a pet, and would be willing to shoulder some of the responsibility of caring for it long-term.
...do consider adopting rather than buying. There are many cats and dogs (as well as birds and other exotics) of all ages in shelters all over the area that are in desperate need of loving homes. Rescues make amazing pets. If you decide to buy, buy from a reputable breeder and do research about the breeder before you commit. Never buy from stores that patron puppy or kitten “mills”!
...do wait until the hectic holiday schedule has calmed down and life has returned to normal to bring the pet into your home. You need to make sure you can give your new pet plenty of attention to make the transition to his new life as smooth as possible.
...do let the recipient take part in selecting the pet, if he is going to be doing the bulk of caring for the pet. Admittedly this ruins the element of surprise, but surprise doesn't belong in the equation when you're talking about a long-term commitment to an animal.
...do consider fostering a dog or cat if you are unsure that the pet will fit into your lifestyle long-term. Temporary fosters allow you to care for an animal who needs a home long enough to determine whether the situation works. Foster-to-adopt programs give you the option of adopting, so if you fall in love with your foster pet, you can make him part of your life permanently. If it doesn't work out, you will have provided an animal a much-needed place to live while a shelter or rescue organization works out more permanent arrangements for him.
...don't buy a pet as an impulse decision. Pets aren't something to be brought home on a whim. You need to be sure that the arrangement will work. Pets need “forever homes”.
...don't give pets to friends or family members who are outside your immediate family. If you aren't 100% sure that the person would want a pet, or be able to care for the pet long-term, you should not buy that person a pet. Even if you're buying a pet for someone in your household, discuss it with them first.
...don't give a pet as a gift to a child without asking yourself if you are prepared to be the primary caregiver for the pet. Ultimately the responsibility falls to the adults in the household.
…don't try to squeeze a pet into your life if your family's lifestyle is very busy. If you travel frequently or are rarely ever home because of work, school and recreational schedules, a pet will probably not fit into your life. A neglected pet will be an unhappy and troublesome pet. Certain kinds of pets can actually die from neglect, too.
About.com Animal Rights has an excellent page of tips for giving pets as gifts. I highly recommend you read it if you are considering giving a pet this holiday season.
If you take the time to discuss and research the decision to give a pet as a gift, I hope that everything works out beautifully for you and your new pet. Happy holidays to you and yours!