Pets as gifts – good intentions, bad idea

By Dr. Amy Plankenhorn

We’ve all seen the pictures – it’s Christmas morning, and Mom or Dad brings an adorable puppy wearing a red bow into the room. The kids are delighted! The puppy is delighted! Mom and Dad high-five because this was the Best Christmas Ever!

Well, maybe it was, but maybe not. Giving a pet as a surprise gift can work out fine, but there are some important factors to take into consideration:

1)    Does the recipient have the time, energy and finances to be able to care for the pet appropriately? Kids may pledge to care for a new dog, but who will train that puppy when they go back to school? Your elderly mother may not be able to deal with an energetic kitten who could live 15-20 years. The recipient must be able to afford veterinary care, food, training, grooming, and all of the other expenses involved throughout a pet’s life.

2)    Is the new pet a good fit for the recipient and the family? There are a lot of factors that go into choosing a pet. Size, energy level, exercise needs, grooming, and owner allergies are all important. Behavioral factors such as the ability to get along with other dogs or cats, play styles, and social interactions with people are harder to judge. And let’s face it – while arranged marriages work for some people, most of us would rather choose who we are going to spend every day with for the next 1-2 decades.

3)    Some people don’t want a pet, or aren’t ready for one right away. I’ve seen this happen on more than one occasion. Well-meaning family members surprise someone with a pet that they really didn’t want. Now this person has the dilemma of keeping the pet they weren’t ready for, trying to find him another home, or taking him to the shelter.

Pets can still be great gifts if you eliminate the element of surprise. Give a “gift card” good for a shelter adoption fee, or a gift card to a pet supply retailer. Arrange a family outing for everyone to choose and meet the new addition, whether from a shelter or a breeder. Ideally, plan to bring the new pet into your home at a calmer time, especially if your home is chaotic and full of people during the holiday season. Not only does this reduce your stress and distraction level, but more importantly, it reduces fear and stress to the new pet. Stressed pets exhibit more unwanted behaviors, which reduces the chance of a successful introduction into the family. 

Let’s take another look at the picture – it’s Christmas morning, and the kids find a mysterious package with a big red bow. They open it, and find a leash, food and water bowls, and a note promising a visit to the Asheville Humane Society or Brother Wolf to pick out a new puppy. The kids are delighted! Mom and Dad high-five, because it’s the Best Christmas Ever!​