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Pets as Presents

To be blunt, pets make the WORST presents.  Pets should never be given as gifts – not to family members – not even to your children.  Pets are not toys.  Now, I could stop writing here but I want to build upon this.  I want to explain just why pets make bad gifts and give other options for you as the gift-giver to consider.

The choice of a pet is personal.  What I like in a pet the person who I would give a gift to may not.  For example, in dogs I like hairy, active and often big.  I like a dog that would think nothing of an all day hike; higher energy dogs are my thing.  I do not mind brushing and live in harmony with dust bunnies (and frequent vacuuming of most rooms in the house).  How many people would put up with that?  What I like in a dog makes a tough pet for the average person.  No matter what we say, our personal likes and dislikes come into play.   I would be miserable if someone gave me a Bulldog (English type).  I think they are funny and adorable as pups; however, not my preference.  A Bulldog would not fit in my home at all. 

The timing of adding a pet is personal.  Your sister and her husband may have talked about getting a puppy.  So you decide to get them one for their anniversary.  However, you did not realize they were having marital issues and are now talking divorce.  A few months later, pup is embroiled in a custody battle or dumped at a shelter because neither side can take the puppy with them.  Your cousin and his wife wants a Persian cat SOMEDAY.  You get them one for Christmas.  However, they are trying to have a child and cannot devote the time to Kitty and baby.  One has to go.  Your Great grandma loves Poodles so you give her one for her birthday.  However, Great grandma is not able to care for the dog due to her age.  The dog ends up neglected and both are miserable.  Your gift of a living, thinking creature was not a good one.  There are far more factors than just “Gee, we would like someday…” and your own selfish needs to give the "perfect" gift that will need more care than a blender!

You must consider human medical issues.  Are there allergies to animals in the house?  Can the person physically care for the animal you wish to give?  Can the person care for an animal that may develop medical issues?

OK, personal choice, timing and health have not swayed you, maybe this will.  There is the time factor of a pet.  For example, a puppy requires almost as much time and effort as a child in regards to properly training and socializing.  If the recipient works all day, this is not the best environment for a pup.  Larger parrots have been likened to manic toddlers.  Would you give someone a human tot as a gift?  Even “lower” maintenance critters like cats and rabbits are not really low maintenance.  They require daily care and work to make them happy as well.  And what about long term time factors?  Some pets can live up to 75 years or more!  Larger parrots and some reptiles can out-live the owners.  Even dogs and cats can be a 10 - 20 year commitment.  What if the child goes to college?  What if the recipient gets married or a job transfer?  Well, maybe a smaller pet that does not live as long...  Do not even go there.  Rabbits can live up to ten years.  Even smaller rodents can live three to five years.   Our lives can change drastically in even a few weeks.  Pets are more of a commitment than just the holidays. Unlike toys, pets cannot be shoved in a closet when the novelty wears off.

What about cost?  The purchase of a pet is the cheap part.  It is the following expenses that add up.  For example you can get a rabbit from a good breeder or rescue for under $50.00.  However, a quality cage can run $50.00 or more depending on the size of the cage. 

Now add on: $12.00 for a bag of food, $6.00 for a water bottle, $2.00 for a bowl, plus other miscellaneous expenses.  So you get the bunny, can they afford the rest?  What if a medical emergency happens?  Can they afford hundreds of dollars or more in bills?  With dogs it is not uncommon to spend $600.00 - $1,000 each year in care and food alone!   A large parrot cage can run easily over $1,000.  Pets are not just scarves you grab off a rack, stuff in a box and hand out.  Oddly, I have heard women in stores not buy a gift for someone that requires "expensive" dry cleaning.  However, the next breath talk about the puppies/kittens/snakes/etc. they are getting for their boyfriends.  Compared to the expense of a pet, cry cleaning bills are NOTHING. 

If the kids beg for one, is the family ready to devote to the critter?  Mom and Dad will be the primary caregiver no matter what the kids say!  Kids are kids and very few are able to be solely responsible for a pet. Kids will try to manipulate others into getting them a pet if Mom or Dad says “no.” If the parents are not ready, both in agreement or willing for the responsibility of a pet: say “no.”  And what if you are the parent?  You are your kids mentor and guide. Sometimes doing what is right means saying “No!”  Instead, take them to the zoo or have them organize a supply drive to give to a local rescue group.  Or get a virtual pet.

There are other options to giving a pet.  If you know the family is actively looking for a pet, make a gift certificate stating you will pay for the cost of an animal from a rescue or up to a specific amount if they go to a breeder.  Or, wait until after they get the pet and give a gift certificate to a veterinarian, supply store or to a good dog trainer (if they got a dog).  If they love animals but do not want one just now, give a donation in their names to a shelter.  Some shelters and other animal related groups allow you to sponsor an animal to help defray the costs of housing the animal until a home is found.  There are many things you can do for the animal lover that do not involve the gift of a live animal.

And if this does not convince you, visit a shelter four or five months after any big “critter giving” holiday like Christmas, Easter or Valentine’s Day.  Ask the staff how many animals were former gifts that were no longer wanted.  You may be amazed at how many former gifts find themselves unwanted within the weeks or months after they were so “lovingly” given.   Visit a shelter at any point in time. Look at how many pets were the victims of life changes: lost job, move, new child, divorce.  Maybe this will convince you if nothing else will.

Article by Karen Peak of Safe Kids Safe Dogs