You love your pets, and it stands to reason that anyone would be thrilled to receive a pet as a gift. But is it appropriate to give pets as gifts?
As much as you might long to see the way your child's face lights up when she finds a puppy or kitten under the tree on Christmas morning, giving a pet is more than a priceless photo op. It's a years-long commitment to a new family member. Before dreaming up ways to surprise someone with a pet, consider whether they're ready to take on that kind of responsibility.
Is Giving Pets as a Gift a Good Idea?
You can find a lot of articles online warning against giving pets as gifts. However, studies conducted in recent years have shown that, contrary to what warnings suggest, pets received as gifts are actually less likely to end up back in shelters than pets either adopted or bought from other sources, including friends, pet shops, and shelters, says the ASPCA.
In fact, the ASPCA conducted its own study and published it in the journal Animals. The study concludes that of the majority of those who were given pets as gifts, their attachment to their pet was not negatively impacted. Often, people reported feeling more attachment to pets received as gifts, particularly when receiving the pet from a loved one as a surprise. These findings, along with the concern that shelter animals are in need of good homes, have led the ASPCA to change their official stance to be more favorable toward giving pets as gifts.
Factors to Consider
Giving pets as gifts does have the potential to backfire if it's not done with a lot of consideration, preparation, and care. Here are some guidelines to help you determine whether a pet would be an appropriate gift for someone:
- Has the person ever expressed a desire for a pet? Keep in mind that simply liking animals isn't quite the same thing as actually wanting a pet. It's best to confirm that the recipient actually desires the responsibility of pet ownership.
- Is the person capable of caring for a pet? The recipient should not only physically be able to keep up with the demands of caring for a pet, but they should also be able to afford to take care of one. The cost of pet food, leashes, litter, toys, and routine veterinary care adds up quickly. If a pet becomes injured or ill, this free gift of a pet can become quite expensive.
- Is the person ready for the responsibility of caring for a pet? Obviously, young children aren't yet able to handle the responsibility of caring for a dog or cat. Older children are certainly able to pitch in and help, but they shouldn't be put solely in charge. If you're considering getting a dog or cat for your kids, no matter what their age, you should be prepared to take on the responsibility of being the pet's primary caregiver. Bear in mind that the pet may remain with you in his senior years once your kids leave the nest.
- Does the person's lifestyle leave any room for a pet? Whether a teenager with a hectic school schedule and active social life, or an adult with a demanding job that keeps them traveling or working long hours at the office, it wouldn't be fair or healthy for a dog or cat to be given to someone who never has time for her. It's also a good idea to make sure ahead of time that the recipient doesn't have any pet allergies.
- What type of pet would be the best fit? If considering a pet for your small children, a toy dog breed, such as a Chihuahua or toy poodle, might not be the best match, but could be a great choice for an elderly parent living in a small space. Larger breeds are a better fit for households where there is someone who is both willing and able to take them on walks, or where there is a large, fenced-in yard where they can get plenty of exercise. For the mobility-impaired or people who are at work or school all day, a cat may be a better fit.
Ways to Surprise Someone with a Pet
While it can be a good idea to give a pet as a gift, what is generally not a good idea is to actually wrap the pet up as a gift. Here are some creative ways you can surprise someone with a new pet.
- Tie a bow around the neck of a stuffed toy version of the type of pet you plan to give. Attach a card containing a gift certificate to a local pet supply store where the proud new pet parent can stock up on supplies.
- Prepare a pet care package that includes a bed, a collar and leash, a bag of pet food, food and water dishes, toys and other items. For a cat, include a litter box, kitty litter and a litter scoop. You can wrap these items separately or together.
- Print a "pet catalog" and present it in a gift bag. After researching which dog or cat breeds would be a good fit for your family, as well as which ones are likely to be available at local shelters, compile a list, complete with pictures and breed information, that will help your family decide together which type of pet to get. Keep in mind that mixed breeds make wonderful pets, and include them as an option.
- If you have decided to surprise your kids with a live pet on Christmas morning, don't coop him up in a box. Instead, place the pet out of sight in a pet crate or a quiet room, like a guest bedroom or bathroom. Set a bag of dry food under the tree with a bow, and leave a trail of kibble leading to the pet's location.
- Place a leash and collar in a stocking or gift bag. When the recipient finds it, let them know that they can use it when you go to the shelter to pick out their new furry friend.
Where to Find a Pet to Give
The gift of a pet will likely be much more appreciated if the pet is healthy, socialized, and well-behaved. It's best to avoid purchasing a pet from a pet shop, which often gets dogs and cats from breeding mills with questionable or unethical practices. If you're determined to give a purebred pet with a solid pedigree, do your research to find a reputable breeder who sells directly to pet owners and not to pet shops.
The best place to get a gift pet from is an animal shelter. Animals in shelters are thoroughly vetted for health and behavioral issues and typically have already been spayed (or neutered) and received all of their vaccinations, which will remove the burden of those responsibilities from your intended recipient. Best yet, your loved one will not only receive the gift of a new companion — but they'll also know they've helped find a pet a forever home.
Giving pets as gifts can be a rewarding experience for the giver and the receiver. As long as you do your research and make the pet's welfare top priority, the gift of a pet could be the most cherished gift your loved one will ever receive.
Jean Marie Bauhaus
Jean Marie Bauhaus is a pet parent, pet blogger and novelist from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she usually writes under the supervision of a lapful of furbabies.