As an animal lover, it's easy to imagine that an animal would make a delightful gift. Just picture unwrapping a box on Christmas morning, and as the bows and paper fall away, an adorable puppy, kitten, or hamster noses its way out to greet you. Awww. Who wouldn't love that, right?
The truth is, giving an animal as a surprise gift isn't very fair to the animal or to the recipient. No, I'm not talking about parents getting a new puppy for their children. In that instance, the parent is the one who will be caring for the puppy: paying the vet bills, making sure it's fed and walked, and getting up at 6 am to let the dog out. I'm talking about giving an animal to a friend or family member in a separate household who will have to take on all of the responsibilities of pet ownership - or give the pet up. Here are some points to consider if you're planning to gift a pet to someone this holiday season:
1. Pets are expensive.
Even if you're planning to pay for all of the initial costs of purchasing the animal and necessary supplies like toys and a bed, animals are a huge long term financial commitment that should never be forced on anybody. There are vet bills to consider as well as ongoing costs like food and cat litter. Depending on the type of animal, properly caring for a pet can easily add up to thousands of dollars per year. Consider whether or not your recipient is ready, willing, and able to make that financial commitment.
2. The pet might not suit their lifestyle.
In addition to being a financial commitment, pets are a big time commitment. Does your recipient have the extra time in their daily schedule to walk a dog or clean a guinea pig cage? If so, is that what they would prefer to be doing with their time? Even if they have plenty of room in their schedule, the recipient may simply not want a pet.
3. Do they know how to care for the pet?
Your recipient might not have the knowledge necessary to care for the animal properly. Sure, most people know the basics of dog or cat care, but they may not know about the specific needs and challenges of the breed you choose or possess the skill to train the animal. Things get especially tricky with small or exotic pets, which often have unique dietary requirements and/or require a specialized habitat. Pets should never be an impulse purchase; research should always be performed beforehand to determine the pet's needs and if that animal is a good fit for you.
But wait, it's not all bad! While common sense tells us that surprising someone with a new pet isn't the best idea, some recent studies show that this scenario doesn't always end poorly for pet and owner. A study published in the journal Animals reported that 75% of people who received an animal as a surprise gift were okay with it. Some participants in the study even stated that they felt more attached to the animal because it was a gift from a loved one. Just remember that for the 75% who were fine with the surprise, there were another 25% who were not. So, when is it appropriate to gift a pet, and how can you ensure that yours is one of the happy endings? Here are a few guidelines to follow:
1. Make sure that the recipient is genuinely interested in getting a pet. They should also be financially able to care for the animal and ready to make the time commitment.
2. Obtain the pet from a responsible source. Consider adopting the pet from a shelter. Avoid operations like puppy mills. Not only do these organizations cause harm to animals, pets from puppy mill type operations are more likely to have health issues that will cause financial and emotional strain down the road.
3. Don't gift small or exotic pets. The study referenced above only looked at situations where cats and dogs were gifted, not small animals. The outcome of gifting a small animal may be much bleaker. Small and exotic pets, as discussed above, have unique needs and unless your recipient has kept such an animal before, they're unlikely to have the knowledge to care for the animal properly.
4. Consider letting the recipient pick out the pet themselves. Gift the recipient supplies like a collar or a pet cage now and promise to take them to pick out the animal later. This way, you will know for certain that your recipient not only wants a pet but wants the specific animal chosen. This will also allow them to avoid having to adjust to having a new pet during the already busy holiday season.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to whether or not it's appropriate to give a pet as a gift. The guidelines above might help you to make a decision, but it's still up to you to really think about whether it's a good idea to gift an animal to your recipient. Please think carefully before acquiring an animal whether the pet is for yourself or for a loved one.
What do you think of giving animals as gifts? Have you ever gifted or received a pet? How did it turn out for you? Let us know in the comments, and, no matter what you celebrate, have a happy holiday season!