Holiday faux paws: Why you should think twice before giving pets as gifts

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Local veterinarian Mike Fietz warns against giving puppies and kittens as surprise gifts during the holidays. File photo Local veterinarian Mike Fietz warns against giving puppies and kittens as surprise gifts during the holidays. File photo

The holidays are coming, as evidenced by the lights, wreaths, and snowflakes that started overwhelming storefronts since about seven seconds after you removed your Halloween costume. And for veterinarians, that means it’s almost time to see dozens of new furballs. Puppies and kittens are common gifts, and ’tis the season for giving.

In most cases, that makes this a really fun few months for me. Who wouldn’t enjoy a parade of smiling families and their delightful new members? But not every gifted animal works out in the end, and there are a lot of things to consider before sticking that big red bow to a new pet’s collar.

The most obvious warning goes out to anybody planning a surprise, and can be summed up in one word: Don’t. Maybe you remember your friend’s comment about adopting a cat soon, or you were moved by the tear in your aunt’s eye when she recalled a beloved childhood dog. It’s just what they want! I know the intention is pure, but it’s simply a bad idea. It should go without saying that a pet is a major commitment that requires copious amounts of time, money, energy, and emotional investment. Nobody should ever feel obligated to accept this kind of uninvited responsibility, no matter how generous the thought may have been.

Choosing a pet is also an extremely personal process. Shouldn’t the recipient have a chance to find the perfect one rather than receive a potential mismatch? If you’re confident that someone you know would love a furry friend as a gift, consider giving an IOU rather than a living, breathing animal. You can always wrap up a food bowl or cat toy, with a note along the lines of “When and if you’re ready for this, I’d love to go to the SPCA with you and cover the adoption fee.”

Luckily, most gifted pets are given within the boundaries of an immediate family, often by parents who have had plenty of time to consider the decision after months (years?) of begging from children. This is a far safer circumstance than the one outlined above, but still comes with its pitfalls. Keep in mind that the holidays can be a chaotic blur of shopping, cooking, cleaning, entertaining, and traveling. This may not be the best time to invite another long-term responsibility into the house. I know it’s hard to resist the photo-op of your beaming child setting eyes on a little golden retriever for the first time in front of the Christmas tree, but if the poor thing is going to end up alone in a kennel for five days after that breathless moment, it just doesn’t make sense.

Consider adopting a few months before or after the holiday season, when the family can better focus its attention on all the care and training required in those early months. Not to mention it may be a bit warmer. Getting up at 2am for a puppy pee break is rough when it’s below freezing outside, and, let’s be honest, you know the kids aren’t going to do it.

Come to think of it, maybe you should get them that puppy for Flag Day instead.

  • jeff

    Thank you for this very humane reminder.

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