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Pets as Presents: Wise or Risky?

9356With less than two weeks until Christmas, many are scrambling to find that perfect holiday gift. Certainly, puppies and kittens have much to offer: loyalty, companionship, unconditional love. But should pets really be on holiday gift lists?

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) thinks so. According to the non-profit, the holidays are an ideal time to adopt a pet as “many of us have time off, and we are around and focused on home and family”. Furthermore, studies indicate that 86% of gifted pets remain with the family until their passing – the same rate as for other pets. Finally, as the ASPCA learned in previous years, prohibiting pet adoptions during the Christmas season leads to overcrowding and sickness at shelters.

But not all humane societies agree. In fact, many strongly discourage the practice of giving pets as gifts. A veterinary surgeon at the PDSA explains, “The recipient may not be prepared for how much time, money or responsibility being a pet owner involves”. Research reveals that 92% of owners “drastically underestimate the lifetime cost of owning a dog”. The British Columbia SPCA adds that the pet may not match the owners’ lifestyle and personality, leaving it vulnerable to abandonment.

Gifting pets at Christmas time is even more problematic. All the noise and excitement of the holiday can distress new pets, who require at least 48 hours of “peace and quiet to settle in”. Owners may be too distracted to properly bond with their animal. The “abundance of holiday food” and candy can pose a dietary or choking hazard. And the arrival and departure of guests creates opportunities for escape.

Moreover, gifting pets to children sends the message that animals are “playthings”. Yet, “Unlike with other holiday presents, owners cannot just pop in a fresh battery or put the pet in the closet after the novelty wears off”.Lastly, but importantly, buying pets at Christmas time can give rise to puppy mills. In the words of the Dalmatian Club of America, “You need only look in the classified ads to see the flood of people trying to turn the family pet into the Christmas Money Maker”.

So what can you give the animal lover on your list? The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Los Angeles suggests a gift certificate to a shelter, so the person or family can select their pet when the timing is right. Givers could also pair the certificate with a basket of pet supplies, such as toys, collars, leashes, treats, bedding etc. But perhaps the best gift for animal lovers is educational material (e.g. books, videos, animal magazines) to help inform their decision.

To learn more, please contact one of our non-profit partners: Animal House Shelter, the Austin Humane Society, City Dog Rescue, the Harmony House for Cats, Lucky Dog Animal Rescue, or PAWS Humane Society.

Flickr photo credit: Don Graham