Beware of Giving Pets as Holiday Gifts

Holiday gifts are supposed to be surprises. Pets can make good gifts, but not surprise gifts – only give a pet to a person who asks for a gift pet. Otherwise, you are treading on thin ice.

Case History: Audrey M.

Pet Cat Gift
A Pet As A Gift Should Not Come As A Surprise

Audrey M., a recently widowed grandmother, looked forward to spending Christmas with her daughter and grandchildren, ages 12 and 9. Imagine her surprise when the grandkids presented her with a puppy on Christmas morning, especially since she never expressed any desire for a dog. Apparently, the kids felt that Grandma needed a dog to keep her company and took it upon themselves to adopt an orphan puppy, which turned out to be a Newfoundland. Audrey, of course, expressed delight, but had many unspoken misgivings. Within a year, the little puppy weighed 120 lbs., had made a mess of Audrey’s carpeting, ate about $100/month of dog chow, barked at night and had pulled so violently on the leash during his walks that Audrey needed to see the doctor about her injured arm. In short, this gift was a disaster, and Audrey felt terrible when she eventually gave up the dog. If anyone had asked her about getting her a pet, she might have asked for a kitten. But no one asked.

The Four Rules of Pet-Giving

  1. No Surprises: We’ve already alluded to this, but let’s make it explicit. The person you have to ask is the recipient, not friends or relatives of the recipient. Most adults understand this without explanation, but kids, not so much. In Audrey’s case, one wonders how the children were able to adopt a puppy without the knowledge and consent of their mother. Or was their mother, Audrey’s daughter, in on the deal? Either way, the desire for a festive surprise rendered common sense inoperative. Had the kids asked for a dog of their own, only to have their mother refuse? In other words, was this a backdoor way of having a pet whenever they visited grandma? We don’t have the answers, but clearly the mother should have immediately intervened by taking Audrey aside and finding out exactly what Audrey wanted to do.
  2. Include Money: If you give a pet as a holiday gift after first checking with the recipient, make sure you pay for the adoption fees, the initial medical bills and perhaps the cost for six months of food. Obviously, if the recipient had asked you to give her a gift pet, she would be paying the costs herself. But if the gift is your idea, you should make these other payments even if the recipient agrees to the gift. You see, the recipient may be too polite to point out the unexpected costs associated with a gift pet. The initial checkup and vaccinations are critical and mandatory – it’s only right that you, the giver, pick up this tab, because eventually the recipient will be responsible for veterinary costs. Food, flea medicine, leashes etc. should be part of the gift package so that the recipient has six months to bond with the pet before having to pay for upkeep.
  3. Surprise Holiday Dog
    Careful What Somebody Else Wishes For. A Pet Should Never Be Given As A Gift Without The Future Owner’s Permission

    Keep It in the Family: If you are really keen to gift a pet, limit recipients to immediate family members. If you gift a pet to an unsuspecting friend, he or she may feel to awkward to say no. Hopefully, family members can have honest and open communication so that they can work out the problems of an unwanted gift pet. It’s not fair to saddle an unsuspecting friend with daily walks, monthly flea medicines, constant cleanup and vet bills. You might even jeopardize the friendship.

  4. Control Your Impulses: Most adults learn impulse control (oftentimes the hard way), but some adults and most children have not fully mastered this skill. If you see an adorable puppy in the pet shop window and impulsively decide to make it into a holiday gift, you’ve messed up in a cluster of way. First, you haven’t asked the recipient if a pet is desired. Second, you haven’t given any thought as to the whether the pet is the right species, breed, size and temperament for the recipient. Adopting a shelter pet should be considered. Some may face euthanasia if not adopted within a given period. Furthermore, it reduces the demand for puppy- and kitty-mill pets.

What to Do

If you are given a surprise pet this holiday season, you have three alternatives:

  1. Accept the pet if you really want it. If you’ve had pets in the past so that you thoroughly understand the ramifications and still want the pet, then by all means accept it graciously.
  2. Decline the pet, once again graciously. Stopping the problem immediately is much cleaner than keeping a pet that you don’t really want.
  3. Accept the pet and then find it a good home. If the pet can’t be returned, put it up for adoption. Your veterinarian probably has a picture wall of pets looking for a home. If that doesn’t work, leave the pet at a no-kill shelter, accompanied by a nice monetary donation to defray the shelter’s costs.