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Think Twice Before Gifting a Pet for The Holidays

Think Twice Before Gifting a PetSusan Brown Health and Wellness Editor

What could be more fun than waking up to find a new furry family member waiting to be discovered? There are many reasons why people like the idea of gifting a pet — a youngster may be begging for a puppy or a kitten, you may think your aging relative or neighbor could use some companionship or you just can’t resist the tug on the heartstrings when there are so many shelter animals in need of a loving, forever home. One can surely imagine the sweetness of the moment upon discovery of a baby animal wrapped up in a bow. While adopting a pet is in itself a wonderful idea, there’s much to consider before bringing what should become a lifelong family member into your own household much less someone else’s.

Animal welfare organizational policies state that surprising someone with an animal at any time, especially during the holidays, may simply be an emotional decision rather than a rational choice. Adding an animal companion to the family is a decision that requires sincere heartfelt and financial commitment for the life of the pet. Even though the adorable photo opportunity may be delightful, that happiness may be fleeting as the reality of pet ownership sets in. Experts disagree on the pros and cons of surprise pet gifting, as it does have the potential to backfire when not done with care, preparation and consideration.

When considering surprising your family with a pet, be prepared to be the pet’s primary caregiver. It would appear that the only time pet gifting is actually appropriate is when you are the person taking responsibility for the pet. With the exception of young children, those receiving the pet should be physically willing and able to meet the demands of pet ownership. As well, one must be prepared for the additional costs of adopting a pet, as the animal’s welfare, comfort and security must be the top priority. Chosen pets should be healthy, socialized, have the right temperament and be the appropriate size and breed for the receivers’ lifestyle.

Before you make a pet a part of the family, be sure that everyone truly desires to share their home, time and life with a pet. With the exception of immediate family, always ask the gift recipient directly to be sure your gift is actually a good idea. While a surprise may feel more festive, you’ll want to be sure your gift has a happy ending for all. Once a decision is made to provide a pet with a forever home, and you’ve decided on the type and breed of pet, and you’ve determined that a pet is wanted and warranted:

  • With the exception of parents who have decided to surprise their child or children with a pet, no pet should come as a complete surprise to the recipient. Gifting a pet to someone within your own household must be done thoughtfully and responsibly.
  • Avoid impulsive decisions when it comes to pet gifting. As the holidays are an unusually hectic time, consider waiting until after the holidays to adopt so you have time to devote to helping the pet adjust to the new environment. If the family is really ready to commit to a pet, wrap a leash and collar and perhaps a book on dog or cat breeds and give that as your present. Then, do your research, get all the supplies you need and head down to the local shelter with the family to choose and welcome the right pet for you or your loved ones. Choosing a pet that fits your lifestyle is a personal decision, as the bond between owner and pet can develop very quickly.
  • If you are determined to gift a pet, consider giving a shelter gift certificate that covers adoption fees. This will allow the new owners time to adequately prepare for a new arrival, as well as determine when they can accompany you to the shelter and allows the recipient to choose the proper pet companion themselves.
  • When purchasing a pet for your own household, avoid online sellers, classified ads and pet shops. These often very expensive pets are generally sourced from commercial breeding mills with unethical or questionable practices that put profit over animal welfare. Puppy and kitten mills are simply breeding grounds with animals housed in cramped, shockingly poor conditions, without medical care or any hope of love or freedom.
  • Those seeking a purebred pet should research reputable breeders who care enough about their dogs to vet buyers and sell directly to owners, not pet shops. Be sure to thoroughly research the breed before purchasing to ensure compatibility with the family, the size of your home and your ability to meet the needs of the breed.
  • Adopt from the local animal shelter or a rescue organization. Shelters and rescue groups are regularly overflowing with happy, healthy, often housebroken and crate trained pets that have been abandoned or surrendered through no fault of their own. Shelter animals are vetted for health and behavioral issues, are typically spayed or neutered and are given required vaccinations.
  • When you adopt a pet from a local shelter, you not only save a life but are also helping to put unscrupulous puppy mills out of business. Adopting a shelter pet not only rescues your pet but makes room for another to have a second chance. Plus adoption fees go directly to the shelter to help care for the animals taken in.
  • Non-profit animal rescue organizations specialize in matching adoptable animals with owners. These animals are often rescued from high-kill shelters and are placed with foster families until ready for adoption. Expect to be thoroughly vetted by these high standard groups and consider fostering the pet before adopting to ensure it’s the right pet for you or your family.
  • Consider adopting an older or mature pet with an established temperament. Senior pets make excellent companions for the young and elderly alike. Many adopters of mature pets claim that the pets know they have been saved and, as such, are deeply grateful to their rescuers and reward them with their faithfulness, comfort and emotional support.

There’s good reason why dogs are deemed “man’s best friend,” as humans are naturally drawn to their companionship. In addition to unconditional love, pets have been shown to be emotionally, physically and psychologically beneficial to their owners. While some believe that dogs are more affectionate, studies show that cats remember kindness and often return the favor. Cats have a reputation for being aloof, but actually make quite good, easy care companions. Petting a cat has a positive calming effect that helps to lower their humans’ stress and anxiety levels. Whether one decides to make a permanent commitment to provide a home to a dog, a cat or both, the mutually beneficial health benefits positively affect one’s overall mental and physical wellbeing.

References:
Holiday pet adoptions present challenges for shelters, families. https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/post-tribune/ct-ptb-pets-in-shelters-st-1212-20161212-story.html
The Holidays Are a Good Time to Adopt Pets-and a Lousy Time to Give Them. https://www.washingtonian.com/2016/12/22/you-shouldnt-give-a-pet-for-christmas-but-adoption-is-great/
Top reasons to adopt a pet. https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/top-reasons-adopt-pet