Everything you need to know about selecting the perfect pet and giving it to someone as a gift for the holidays, a birthday or other special occasion, can be summed up in a word. Don't.
Choosing a pet -- a living, breathing animal -- involves a personal decision. It's not something that we can do for someone else. Think about it for a minute. How many times have you been given a present that you really didn't want? If you're like most of us, the answer is plenty of times. The shirt or sweater that didn't fit or just isn't something you would ever wear. The very practical gadget that you would never have bought for yourself and have no intention of using. A Chia Pet that grows in the shape of a small green camel. These and other gifts like them are the force behind the popularity of the practice known as re-gifting. And they're fairly easy examples of why it's hard to pick the right gift for someone.
Okay, picking a pet for your children is an exception, assuming they want a pet in the first place. And further assuming that you are going to be willing to take care of it, because that's what's going to happen as soon as the novelty of having a new puppy or kitten wears off with them. You need to be involved in this decision because you're going to be involved in caring for your new furry friend for what could be the next dozen years, or more.
But choosing a pet for an adult is just something that probably won't turn out well. Dr. Karen Becker, voted one of Chicago's top ten veterinarians, gives five reasons why you should not give a pet as a gift, especially for the holidays.
Reason #1. The holidays are crazy enough.
This is a busy, sometimes almost frantic, time of the year. The hustle and bustle of shopping, cooking, decorating, visiting, etc., mean that everyone has plenty of things going on. You don't need the extra responsibility of acclimating a new pet into the family and household. Nor, in all fairness to the pet, do you have the time you really should devote to it. Birthdays and special occasions that call for a family celebration aren't nearly as hectic, of course, but they still do require some time and attention. Many animal shelters won't even release a pet for adoption during the holiday season, preferring instead that prospective owners wait until afterward to pick up the animal.
Reason #2. The weather outside can be frightful.
In many parts of the country, snow and ice or cold rain can make it a real chore to housebreak a puppy or even to run back and forth to a pet store, the vet, and elsewhere. In late spring or early summer, once the weather clears. school is out, and vacations from work are scheduled, there is simply more time to devote to a pet, on the part of everyone in the family.
Reason #3. Pets should not be surprises.
Pets are great. Almost 73 million households in the U.S. have a least one pet, according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA). There are no stats on how many of those pets came as a surprise gift to the owner. But what is known is that gift pets, in far too many cases, don't fair too well in their new surroundings. Sometimes the person giving the gift misunderstands the desires of the person receiving the pet. More often, the person receiving the pet simply may have chosen a different one, even of the same breed and even from the same litter. No one can make that choice for you, nor would you want them to make it..
Reason #4. A pet is not a toy.
Your kids have ripped open the presents they got for a holiday or a birthday and are playing wildly with them. They need to understand that the new pet is not one of them. That's hard to do with all the excitement going on. Bringing a dog or cat into the house, even an older animal gotten from a shelter, is a big responsibility. For everyone. Wait until after the birthday has passed or the holidays are over to bring in a new pet.
Reason #5. Pet stores, backyard breeders & puppy mills.
Unscrupulous people wanting to make a quick dollar know that some families are going to be looking for a pet just before the holidays. Puppy mills advertise them or ship them to pet stores, breeders advertise them in the local newspapers. Many of these pets are born in filthy conditions, are not properly cared for and, in some cases, have an illness which often doesn't show up until after you get them into your home. With some shelters and rescue organizations stopping adoptions until after the holidays, people who want to give a pet as a gift might purchase one from a disreputable individual. Giving such a pet as a gift to someone may be setting up that special person for a big letdown whenever the pet has to be taken to the vet for treatment ... or worse.
So, knowing that your children, friend or relative really wants to get a pet, what can you do in lieu of making one of the above mistakes for a birthday or the holidays? Be creative. Give a picture of the kind of pet you would like to give, with an i.o.u. attached and date the i.o.u. for when it may be redeemed -- a long three-day week-end, for example, or whenever the recipient of your gift has a vacation from work or school. Or make a donation in the name of your friend to a local animal shelter. Or give a book or training video featuring the kind of animal being considered as a pet.
But, don't give a pet as a gift, especially during the holidays, or for a birthday or other special occasion. To paraphrase the slogan of one of the world's largest greeting card companies "When you care enough to give the very best..." give the best gift you can give -- give that special someone the opportunity to choose a pet for him or herself.