A puppy under the Christmas tree. A cute little bunny at Easter. Or maybe you just want to give an animal friend to someone you think needs one. People who give animals as gifts mean well, but their good intensions often misfire. Giving a pet as a gift is usually an ill-advised decision that can end tragically for the pet.
Adding a pet to a family is a serious, long-term commitment. It's a decision that needs input from everyone who would be involved in caring for the animal.
There are many questions that need to be considered thoughtfully:
It is extremely important that the primary pet caregiver-whether it's you, a friend or loved one-is 100% involved in the adoption process. People who receive a pet as a gift don't pay, but the gift is hardly free. It means a long-term commitment of time, money and energy that may exceed their abilities.
Reality is more often heart-wrenching for most of these living, breathing "gifts", not to mention the families who end up giving up the pets once they grow and require more time, attention, training and expenses than the families can or choose to give.
Shelters too often bear the brunt of these unexpected gift decisions. When the recipient decides the pet is not that cute anymore, or too much work, or they just weren't ready for the responsibility, it is often the local shelter that takes in these animals. And because so many shelters are already filled to capacity, unless other animals are adopted out to make room for the new ones, euthanasia is a possible ending to an already sad tale.
As Nancy Peterson, a companion animal issues specialist for The HSUS, says, "It's important to remember that animal shelters, and their innocent charges, will suffer the effects of impulse purchases of pets as gifts. Deciding whether one has the time and resources to add a pet to the family needs to be made after careful thought. We need to remember that pets can't simply be returned or discarded like a broken toy."
If you're thinking about becoming a pet owner you must also consider the place from which you will obtain your pet. Many pet stores purchase their animals from "puppy mills," mass-breeding operations so bent on making a profit that they often disregard the physical, social, and emotional well-being of the animals in their facilities. Puppy mill-raised animals can suffer from severe physical and emotional ailments, and some may even die. The only way to put these facilities out of business is to hit them where it hurts: in the wallet. Don't purchase an animal from a pet store.
Instead, head to your local animal shelter and breed rescue group, which are wonderful places to find a new pet. Nationwide, one out of every four shelter dogs is a purebred, and there are millions of healthy mixed breed animals currently awaiting good homes, too. Most of these shelter animals have already been spayed or neutered, and have received all their vaccinations and up-to-date veterinary checkups. Shelters also screen animals for adoption so they can be sure of a perfect family match.
Adoption is the best way to add a new pet to any family. Just wait until after the gifts have been opened and the New Year's corks have been popped. Your decision to wait may be the best gift you give your family this holiday season.