Is Giving the Gift of a Pet for the Holidays a Wise Surprise?

pets as gifts, holidays

When I was a little girl I was allergic to anything with fur. That meant no pets for me or my sister, aside from a few hamsters, which I found to be less than exciting pets in terms of their companionship capabilities. And despite endless trips to the doctor and countless allergy shots, I remained without a companion pet for my entire childhood. It always left me feeling like I was missing a little something special.

Every year when I would make my Christmas list, the first thing I wanted to scribble down was puppy or kitten — it was an involuntary reflex. I would have given anything to have my very own little furball, especially as a surprise holiday gift. But now that I’m older, and my allergies are much more manageable, I think “surprise” pets are a terrible idea at any time of year. Here’s why.

Common Sense isn’t Always Common

I recently came across this story from last year about a bunch of folks buying pet owls for their kids because of the Harry Potter movies. Once the series was done, people unloaded their captive-bred pet owls at a local sanctuary in North Wales. In most cases the owners didn’t realize that “owls smell and don’t make good pets”.

Umm…sure. Apparently none of these parents have access to the internet to do research or have the ability to apply reasonable common sense. I also came across various stories where people felt they were doing elderly family members a “favor” by giving them a pet as a companion. In reality, the animal turned into a burden to care for and it became difficult for a strong bond to form between the elderly person and the pet.

It’s situations like these that land some pets in shelters to begin with, all because no one was thinking of the long-term impact a growing pet has on a family and their lifestyle. That is THE MOST important part of adopting a pet, always, at any time of year.

Of course there are unique circumstances and happy ending stories, especially for folks who’ve helped an abandoned animal that ended up becoming a very special part of the family. I love to hear those stories too!

However, the best approach to adopting a pet during the holidays is get smart about pet “shopping”.

Time to Get Smart About Pet “Shopping”

If you are very serious about adopting a new pet for your family as a holiday gift, here are some simple ways to test the waters and see if a pet is a good fit right now. I’ve also thrown in a few alternative gift ideas to help prepare someone for pet ownership.

  • Start taking trips to the shelter with the whole family to determine a pet everyone can agree on. The shelter will also be able to educate you on diet and care needs BEFORE adopting a specific pet and bringing it home with you. Animals are as unique as people, and different breeds need different levels of attention and care. The pet may not end up being a surprise, but you will find a pet that everyone loves.
  • Visit a variety of holiday adoption events to get a sense of the types of animals available before settling on a certain type. Animal shelters in Northern Colorado have frequent adoption event opportunities throughout the year, especially during the holidays.
  • If you really want to purchase a pet as a gift, give the gift of paying for future adoption fees on a pet of that person’s choice. This way the giftee still gets to choose the animal and you still are giving the gift of a companion.
  • Give the gift of a book about a specific pet allowing someone to read up on the breed and the level of care associated with the animal. 
  • Donate to a shelter or animal-focused organization on behalf of a friend or family member or buy some toys to donate in that person’s name. Animals in shelters always need toys and food donations, so its a great holiday gift with so many benefits.
  • Research the food requirements and costs of caring for a pet before considering it as a gift for someone else. My ex-boyfriend wanted to give me a pair of tree frogs. He knew I loved frogs and someone in his office was giving them up, so his heart was in the right place. However, I was not in the position to take the frogs and properly care for them, so my ex-boyfriend kept them. The frogs didn’t live very long after we broke up.
  • Don’t Rush. There are always plenty of animals available for adoption, so don’t rush and pick one just to meet the holiday time frame. Even if the “deal” on the pet is time sensitive, it’s best to wait until you are sure the animal is a great fit for your family.


Rely on Local Animal Organizations for Education and Assistance

Fort Collins is a very animal-aware city, and our local non-profit animal organizations are great about doing background checks on potential adopters. Shelters also have very helpful, well-educated volunteers that can answer questions about a specific pet you have in mind because they are actively spending time with that animal in the shelter on a regular basis.

During my volunteer time at the Fort Collins Cat Rescue Spay and Neuter Clinic, I sat in on adoption counselor training. Anyone coming in to adopt a cat has to provide extensive details about their home environment and other animals in the home, to help create a smooth-as-possible transition into a new family. As a no-kill shelter, they also always leave open the option to return any animal, even years later, so that the cat rescue can find them another home. Every shelter has a different policy, so be sure to take that into consideration before selecting a pet and a shelter for adoption.

So…what do you think about pets as gifts? Has it worked for you? Or do you have some pet gift horror stories?

Photo credit: genesee_metcalfs and petsadvisor


Facebook Twitter Email

Tags: , ,