Why Pets Don't Make Good Holiday Gifts

We've all seen it in movies and on TV shows - overjoyed children tearing into a perfectly wrapped present, only to discover a smiling puppy jumping out of the box. While it seems cute in theory, it can end up being a huge disaster — for the animal as well as the owner.

Whether you're considering springing a pup on your kids or giving your significant other a cute kitten, here's why you should think twice.

When you hear of people who plan to give a pet as a gift, please take the opportunity to educate them.

Animals cannot speak for themselves, but you can be their voice - and convey the message that pets aren't disposable; they need love and commitment their whole life.

Pets should never be an impulse purchase 

Individuals and families thinking of getting a pet should research, prepare and then, when the time is right, seek a pet who realistically complements their lifestyle, schedule and energy level.

Many people do not have the time, energy or money to care for a dog over the long term.

A new owner may enjoy the animal for a few weeks, but then resent the gift once the novelty wears off, and the cute puppy starts growing into an active, needy, larger dog.

Discourage parents from giving pups and kittens to their children as gifts

While children can help with some age-appropriate responsibilities, pets require adult caretakers.

Remember, even bright youngsters typically don't have the strength, attention span, self-discipline and physical strength to care for a dog...or even a cat. 

Older children typically wind up redirecting their attention to friends, school, social activities and eventually dating and planning for college. 
Unlike with other holiday presents, owners cannot just pop in a fresh battery or put the pet away in the closet after the novelty wears off.

In nearly all cases, one of the parents becomes the primary caretaker, doing the feeding, walks, litter scooping and all of the other chores the children once promised to do themselves.

Pets as "playthings" is the wrong message to send to children 

Pets are living beings who require substantial time and daily care, plus expenses for food, obedience training, vet bills and occasional petsitters or kennels.

Children get bored with gifts, and it's heartbreaking when families grow tired of the growing dog. 

Studies show that too often the gift puppy is given up within the first year, starved for training, socialization and affection.

Regardless of what parents tell children and neighbors, the reality is that too many wonderful dogs go unadopted at shelters.

Pups between the ages of 7 to 14 months often wind up at shelters or at the vet for euthanasia, because the owners did not train them, resulting in "behavior problems."  
Even worse, some owners dump unwanted pets on the road or in the woods, where they cannot survive on their own, since dogs and cats are domesticated animals that depend on humans for care.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, most puppies and kittens born in the United States never reach their second birthdays. They die from being hit by cars, euthanized by owners, starving or being injured in fights with other animals, or taken to shelters or pounds, usually before age two.

As noted by the Pet Action League, the months following the holidays will be very busy for rescue organizations. Many of last year's holiday puppies and kittens are now up for adoption. It is tragic how many poor animals wind up abandoned.

The Dalmatian Club of America adds: "During this time of year, many people capitalize on the flow of emotions and spur of the moment decisions....

This is when the pet stores are full of popular breeds straight from their suppliers -- puppy mills.

And, it is not just the pet stores. You need only look in the classified ads to see the flood of people trying to turn the family pet into the Christmas Money Maker."

Keep in mind that reputable breeders don't allow puppies to go home during the holidays because of the delicate state of the animals and the difficulty for new owners to help a new animal acclimate in a holiday setting full of distractions and stress (not to mention puppy choking hazards). To a reputable breeder, safe, responsible environments for their pups is far more important than money.

Because owning a dog is a huge emotional, financial, and time commitment, any person taking on this responsibility must be fully prepared.
Puppies need to be house trained, watched and confined when they cannot be watched to prevent typical puppy chewing and pottying behavior that leads to destruction, accidents and even injuries.

Before bringing a pet home, the prospective owners need to have pet care supplies, a crate, a safe and sufficiently large place to exercise the pet, a chosen veterinarian ready.

The decision to bring a dog into your family should be a family decision, not a surprise gift. 

Everyone, including the children, should educate themselves on different breeds of dogs and decide what breed or mixed breed would fit best into their lifestyle.  

An adult in the household will be responsible for this pet, not the children 

The adult must be willing to accept this responsibility and be willing to care for this pet for the next 15 or so years, which may well be long after the children lose interest or leave the nest.

Instead of buying that cute little puppy or kitten as a gift, give books on pet selection, training, care, health and diet, and individual breeds.

Videos and subscriptions to pet magazines and newsletters are also good choices. The AKC (American Kennel Club) also advises pet owners to personally discuss the responsibilities of pet care with prospective owners.

These presents are wonderful ways to introduce the joys of pet ownership and will help the family or individual decide on the right dog to bring home.

It's a decision that everyone in the household should make together - when they decide they are truly ready for a new lifetime companion and family member. This will benefit everyone - the gift giver, the family and the deserving animal.

Gift-givers can also help with buying pet care supplies, or offer help with the adoption fee after the holiday season

Pet Adjustment and Holiday Time

Why are holidays usually a bad time to introduce an animal to a new home?
  • The new owners will probably be too occupied with holiday preparations, celebrations, cooking, cleaning and guests and overall activity to give the new pet the attention he or she desperately needs. It is already a jolting adjustment for a puppy to leave his mother and littermates.
  • The first few days in a new home and with a new family are critical to a puppy. His transition into new home and family will affect his ability to bond with and trust humans. A stressful introduction can have negative after-effects and impede safe, successful integration into the family.
  • Busy holiday time is a really hard time to keep to a proper housetraining, feeding and elimination schedule...and it is vital to start housetraining on day one and establish an effective schedule on which the pup can learn to rely on his human caretakers.
  • The activities in the household might present safety hazards and increased opportunities for the pup to get in trouble or hurt. Especially when the household is not used to having a pet around and underfoot, it can be hard to keep ornaments, decorations, tinsel, wrapping, string, scissors, candles, potentially poisonous holiday plants and other dangerous items out of animals' reach.
  • The holiday hubbub of guests, flashing lights, noisy toys, gift unwrapping, camera snapping, romping children, etc. can scare an animal of any age, particularly a puppy. Guests and household members may even step on pets, which can be traumatic even if no bones are sprained or broken.
  • Elderly guests may trip over the pet and get hurt.
  • It is essential to always supervise when dogs and children are together. Since this is hard to do during a big holiday, the chances of a bite increase. Children not used to having a dog in the home are more prone to behavior that can frighten a dog or pup, provoking a defensive bite. That's a bad start for kids and the pup alike.
  • Visitors entering and leaving the house mean lots of chances for a pet to escape. A new pet can be more prone to running faster and farther since he has not yet bonded with the family, and he is stressed out by his jarring transition to a new, busy place full of large unfamiliar beings.
  • The abundance of holiday food, drink and candy will enchant pets, who may get sick from ingesting food or choke on wrappers.
  • Giving a pet to a child as a holiday gift is not good for the child or the animal, cautions Dan Lapsley, an educational psychologist at Ball State University. He adds that it is a mistake to use a pet as a way to teach a child responsibility. Even adolescents aren't ready to handle such a commitment of time, money and energy alone, so getting and caring for a pet should be a family venture. Parents need to learn proper animal care first. After all, the best way to teach responsibility is for the parent to demonstrate responsibility.
Yet another reason to avoid introducing pets on a holiday

Young children are often used to being the center of attention, and may be confused, jealous and act out to redirect adults' attention away from the new pet and back to themselves. 

Lapsley likens the experience to bringing a new child into the family; the parents need to discuss the introduction of the new pet before getting a pet...explain how things are going to change at home...and emphasize that the whole family must work together to make the pet a welcome (and well-adjusted) member of the family.

This is why so many shelters, animal welfare groups and breeders will not place an animal during gift-giving holidays. At some shelters, an estimated 50 percent of holiday adoptees eventually end up back at the shelter.

To improve the chances of a successful adoption, introduce pets during a relaxed, quiet time when you can devote full attention to helping the pet adjust.

Note from the ASPCA:

The ASPCA "recommends the giving of pets as gifts ONLY to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one, and the ability to care for it responsibly". (which is a very important fact in keeping the pet)...Best case scenario would be to take the person to meet the pet first ♡♡

Recommend Reading:

The DoDo - It's Cruel to Give Pets As Xmas Presents

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