Puppies are not presents, and neither are kittens, chicks, bunnies, piglets or ducklings. Although owning a pet is both a privilege and a gift, those benefits should not translate into unwrapping them as a holiday present (or tucked into an Easter basket). The idea of giving a puppy or kitten as a holiday gift may be innocently based on an idea that this is a Hallmark Moment where a precious puppy wearing a giant red bow is poking his nose out of a wrapped box (which you should NEVER do). But such an intended heartwarming vision has the potential to lead to a tragic end, and it is the animal that suffers.

Impulsive Purchases Neglect Consideration of Ownership Responsibility

Animal shelters and rescue organizations say that the months following the holiday season are always the busiest, with an estimated 50% of the gifted animals ending up at a shelter or rescue home. The problem is that a high proportion of the gifted animals are purchased impulsively, particularly during the commercially oriented winter holidays where finding the perfect gift becomes a quest for originality. Or perhaps there’s only the immediate vision of the recipient opening the pet package and reacting with glee and enthusiasm, with no forethought whatsoever as to the responsibility that accompanies a pet’s entire lifetime. Although the purchase is probably made with good intentions, many people have no concept as to the responsibility and attention associated with caring for a pet, especially a puppy or kitten. The cute baby may be enjoyed at the outset, but once the puppy or kitten begins to transform into an adult – often much larger than envisioned – the novelty of the pet starts to wear off. With house training, walks, feeding, policing the shoes and other valuable objects from being chewed, the kids return to school or the recipient returns to a regular work schedule after the holidays, and animals given to children almost always end up becoming a parent’s responsibility, many of the gift givers and/or recipients realize they don’t have the time, attention and resources to care for the animal or it’s just more work than they care to undertake. In either circumstance, it’s highly probable the beribboned gift is now residing in an animal shelter or rescue home waiting for adoption. Of course, there are many happy ending circumstances where buying an animal as a gift has been well thought out and the responsibilities willingly undertaken, but statistics still reflect that about 3 pets an hour are abandoned at a shelter or foster organization by March or April when the adult animal is starting to emerge.

Shelters, Animal Welfare Groups and Responsible Breeders Discourage Pet Gifting

puppies that are gifts often wind up at the shelterFor shelters and foster home organizations, the holidays are doubly stressful. Not only do they have to deal with the added burden of trying to find room in the shelters or enough foster home volunteers for the discarded animals, but they actually have to discourage all but the most truly well thought out and considered pet adoption offers. Many shelters, animal welfare groups and breeders won’t place an animal in a new home during the holidays because of the return rate. In addition, they know the holidays are a busy time for many families with holiday preparations, dinners and celebrations, not to mention traveling. So they contend that bringing a new pet, especially a puppy or kitten, into the holiday chaos isn’t a good idea. First, it’s difficult for the pet to adjust to its new home, schedules get blown to the wind, it may get stepped on, doors to the outside are left open, holiday decorations look fun to chew, poisonous plants are set on fireplace ledges, and sweet foods and alcohol may be left carelessly within reach. In sum – there are significant hazards for a new pet during the holidays that rescue organizations usually just don’t want to subject an already confused animal to. Of course, there are always exceptions to the holiday adoption discouragement attitude, but by and large those exhibiting the spontaneous pet present aura are discouraged or denied.

However, some people still seem able to find sources through which to acquire an animal for gifting. Boutique pet shops, illegal puppy or kitten mills, and unscrupulous breeders and traders looking for the financial gain only, not the welfare of their animals, are often the resources providing the animals. The Humane Society urges people to help stop this trafficking and breeding for holiday greed. The fact that shelters are already mostly at capacity, added to a reticence to adopt out existing residents, leads to the problem of overcrowding in the existing facilities when returned “gifts” require shelter for existence.

What is the Right Way to “Present” a Pet

If you do decide to give a puppy or kitten as a gift, the responsibilities, resources and financial obligations that go along with pet ownership need to be well thought out and the entire family unit ready to accept their assignments. Some breeds of dogs and cats may live almost 20 years so it is crucial that thought be given to the fact that little ball of fluff could very well turn into a huge, slobbery snoring, adorable heap of canine. Here are some tips to make the gift of an animal a life-long bond:

  • Never place a live animal in a box with a lid. Instead, give a card showing a puppy or kitten on the front, or even a fluffy toy that looks like the animal, and add that after the holiday season is over the family will choose their pet together.
  • This will give you and your family enough time to come to terms with the imminent arrival, as well as testing the waters as to how the idea of a puppy will be received.
  • Never buy ANY animal online from an unregistered breeder and encourage all your friends and family to do the same.
  • If you decide to buy a purebred, please make sure the breeder is established and registered with the appropriate agency. (i.e. AKC or ) Always insist on seeing the puppy or kitten’s mother and ensure a valid certificate of registered pedigree accompanies any purebreds you get.

What Can I Do To Help?

There are ways you can help abandoned animals during the holidays, by volunteering time or donating materials and money to local humane societies or non-profit organizations. At Whitworth Animal Clinic we work with Peace, Love and Animals – a local shelter and have an Angel Tree in our lobby. The organization has a wish list of things needed to care for abandoned and rescued animals, including gift cards to local grocery stores and pet stores. Add your Angel to the tree please.

There are so many lovable animals pining away for security in animal shelters. Why don’t we give one of them the gift of a lifelong, loving home? Rather than supporting the unscrupulous reproduction mill traders which cater to commercial retail trade, let’s try to eliminate this market altogether by placing the precious resources we have right in front of us.

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