Given all the benefits that companion animals bestow upon us, it’s no wonder that puppies, kittens, and other pets make such popular holiday gifts. But before you bless one of the loved ones in your life with a furry friend, keep in mind that what you’re actually giving is a major commitment that will stretch far into the future. If you give a companion animal to someone who is unprepared for this high level of commitment or if the animal proves to be a poor match for the recipient’s lifestyle, energy level, or financial resources, the outcome could be disastrous. And when the reality of pet ownership collides with preconceived, unrealistic expectations, it’s almost always the pet that gets the short end of the stick.
The holidays are chaotic
One of the first things to consider if you’re contemplating giving someone a pet for a present is the fact that the holiday season is actually a very bad time to introduce a pet to a new home. If you get stressed by the hectic pace of the holidays, just imagine how overwhelming the different sights, sounds, and smells of the season can be to a pet just entering the scene. Besides, most of us are too busy cleaning, cooking, decorating, entertaining, and attending to other holiday obligations to find adequate time to begin training a pet and helping it get adjusted to a new environment.
What’s worse, the holidays present a lot of dangerous temptations to a curious pet, including “people food” that is potentially harmful to animals, bite-size ornaments, flickering candle flames, and electrical cords to name but a few. Plus, with our attention diverted by all the holiday hoopla and with various visitors coming and going throughout the season, it’s all too easy for a dog or cat to slip out the door unnoticed and wander off.
Rather than subject a pet to all this chaos, it’s best to wait until things settle down and return to normal in the home. As a fun alternative, you can give a “teaser gift,” such as a leash, collar, squeaky toy, pet bed, or kennel—anything short of the animal itself that announces the fact that a much more significant gift will be coming later on.
No surprises, please!
Unless you’re giving a pet to your own children and you’ve already made the personal commitment to provide all necessary care and accommodations for the animal, it’s best to discuss any such purchase with the intended recipient well ahead of time to make sure he or she is willing and able to take on the long-term responsibility of pet ownership—and to ensure that the animal and/or breed you have in mind is a good match for the recipient from the standpoint of its temperament and energy level. You might think that a frisky, adolescent black lab would make an ideal companion for your 75-year-old, widowed mother-in-law, but she might find this dog’s limitless energy overwhelming. On the other hand, a calm older dog that has already been housebroken and trained to respond to certain basic commands might be the perfect choice.
Consider the cost
Remember that no animal is free—even if there is little to no up-front purchase cost. When giving a dog or cat for a present, what you’re essentially doing is handing the recipient many years’ worth of ongoing expenses. Veterinary care, both routine and emergency, can literally add up to thousands of dollars over the lifespan of a pet. No one likes to put a price tag on a beloved, devoted companion animal, but it’s a tough pill to swallow when the estimate for your pet’s emergency surgery exceeds your bank balance. Even the ongoing cost of feeding can be burdensome for some people, especially if the animal requires a specialized diet.
Then there are the incidental costs of pet ownership to consider. For example, if your cat stops using its litter box and begins wetting or spraying on carpets, drapery, and furnishings, the cost of replacing these items can really add up. Dogs that take a shine to chewing up possessions or have frequent accidents around the house can take a major bite out of your budget, as well.
Take your time in choosing
A pet should never be purchased on impulse. Ideally, the prospective pet owner should be afforded the opportunity to meet and interact with various animals (e.g., at your local Humane Society or animal shelter) in order to connect with the one whose temperament, energy level, and care requirements are the most compatible. Remember, the more thought that is invested in matching a companion animal to the right family or individual, the better the outcome is likely to be—for both the animal and the recipient.