Pets as Presents 2022

Pets as Presents 2022

As the holiday season is fast approaching, it is time to once again begin the discussion and debate about giving pets as gifts. No matter how much information is out there about the pitfalls of giving pets, there will still be numerous individuals contacting shelters, rescues, and breeders across the country wanting to surprise a friend or relative with the gift of a pet.  


It’s true that pets can enrich a person’s life. They provide great companionship for the lonely and can help those who have suffered a recent loss. Pets can help teach kids about responsibility and empathy. And who doesn’t swoon at the sight of a cute puppies and kittens? But pets don’t just sit on the shelf and look cute (including fish, mice, and hamsters).  


It may be easier to think about that puppy as an obligation, rather than a gift. The giver is requiring the receiver to raise and care for a living creature. Pets aren’t just licks, purrs, and snuggles. They also require regular grooming and feeding. Dogs require regular walks and training. Cats require play time. All pets require species appropriate enrichment. For pet owners these activities are part of the fun of pet ownership (or should be). But not everyone enjoys the responsibility that comes with being a caretaker.  


A pet is also a chore list. The recipient now has a very extensive time commitment. Pets provide people with a lot, but they also demand a lot. All pets, regardless of species, increase the amount of time a person will spend cleaning their home. Pet hair accumulates on carpets and furniture fast. Hamster cages don’t take long before they start to smell. Neither does a litter box. Someone who has just bought their first home, or just finished a large remodel, may not be prepared for the messes and destruction pets can cause in this fresh space.  


That pet is the equivalent of giving a bill for Christmas. In the US a routine vet office visit typically costs around $45-55 just to walk in the door and does not include additional costs such as routine vaccinations, dewormer, flea and tick treatment, or any diagnostics.  A new puppy typically needs about 2-3 vet visits by the age of 4 months for a full series of vaccinations. So even a healthy puppy could cost a few hundred dollars in the first few months of ownership just for vet care. Then there are still the costs of food, toys, a crate, collars, leashes, brushes, bowls, and other pet care paraphernalia. If a new puppy owner decides to attend puppy or training classes (highly recommended), these can cost an additional few hundred dollars.  

Think also of how many potential events you may complicate by surprising a family with a pet at Christmas time, as many grandparents often do. Because most children have a long break from school during the holidays, it’s common for families to take a trip around this time of year. Well-meaning grandparents trying to score a few points with the grandkids may throw a monkey wrench into vacation plans. Trying to find a last minute pet sitter or boarding kennel over the holidays can add a lot of time, stress, and expense to a family’s budget. Remember also, that pet may be for the children, but they are not the ones who will be caring for it (children should never be responsible for pet care regardless of their age), the parents will. The grandparents may have scored big points with their grandchildren, but be in the dog house with the parents.  


A similar thing can happen when adult children surprise a parent or grandparent with a pet. It’s common for family to want a pet for a recent empty nester or retiree. The idea being that the pet will ‘keep them young’ or ‘keep them from getting lonely’. But these individuals may already have great plans for this new chapter in their life! And these plans don’t always include scoping litter boxes or letting the dog out early in the morning.  


It’s also important to consider the appropriateness of a particular pet for an individual. Grandma with a walker who lives alone may love labs and have owned labs most of her life. Gifting her with a new 2-month lab puppy may seem like a great idea. But in a few months that 2-month old lab will become a -9-month old lab. Anyone who has ever had a large breed puppy will immediately understand the problem with this situation. That sweet, easy to handle puppy is now a large, powerful, and rambunctious ball of energy who is severely under-exercised because grandma doesn’t have the physical ability to control or walk it.  That puppy is now a danger to grandma and could knock her to the ground and break a hip at any moment. Getting a small breed dog or a cat may not solve this problem either. A cat may not knock grandma over by jumping on her, but could still easily trip her while begging for that can of tuna. 


To reiterate, pets make terrible gifts. If you still haven’t been convinced not to give that pet as a gift, then at least don’t make it a surprise. Before you start shopping, sit down with the potential recipients and discuss your idea with them. If you are considering the pet for a child, discuss this with the parents without the child present. If the recipient says they don’t want a pet right now, accept that answer! The recipient will not view that pet as a treasured companion, but rather as a terrible burden. If the recipient says they would love a pet, be sure they are fully involved in choosing that pet. Let them decide what species, age, and breed. Also, let them decide when to get this pet. For Christmas day, give a ‘pet certificate’ in an envelope for them open. Once the holiday season has passed and routines have returned to normal, then start looking for this new pet. Too many people have lots of trips and visitors over the holiday season.


This Christmas gift can wait till later.