The holidays are without a doubt the worst time of year for new pets. Parents, children, and friends suffused with the joy of the season eagerly choose a puppy or kitten to give as a gift with visions of the overjoyed look on their loved one’s faces as they open the box and see their furry little friend. And indeed, there is nothing better than the unconditional love and companionship that a pet can provide. Unfortunately, most of these gift-givers neglect to consider that they are also handing over a huge responsibility, one that may last for several years. Pets are not toys to be played with and discarded after the initial flush of newness wears off. They are living, breathing, feeling creatures that require care.
There are immediate needs to be met, especially if the animal is still a baby. First and foremost, they will need food, bedding, and a place to go to the bathroom. From there, they will require a lot of attention and probably some sort of training, not to mention visits to the vet, a series of shots, and eventually, an operation to spay or neuter them. This not only means a huge commitment of time, but it could also demand a lot of money. For a family that is strapped for cash and short on spare time, a pet could be more of a burden than a blessing.
So what becomes of these holiday pets? In all honesty, most will end up in shelters, the victims of anonymous drop-offs from families that either can’t or won’t keep them. This is not only unfortunate for the pet-owner, who no doubt feels terrible about not being able to care for their new pet (there’s nothing like the gift of guilt), but also for the animal in question. Not only will these animals spend the foreseeable future in a cage, they must undergo the trauma of being bustled from place to place, with no sense of stability, and they may face euthanasia at overcrowded and underfunded animal adoption facilities.
Now, there are certainly times when it is acceptable to give a pet as a gift. For example, if you know that someone has been lonely and they have the time and money to care for an animal that needs a home, you may want to discuss the prospect of adding a fuzzy companion to their life. If it’s something they’re interested in, then there is no reason you shouldn’t take them to a shelter to save the life of a newfound friend and help them to form a relationship with an animal that will be mutually beneficial to both parties. Or if parents are keen to teach their kids the joy and responsibility of pet ownership (and are willing to pick up the slack and care for the animal if their children can’t), then a puppy or kitten may fit the bill. However, the key in each of these situations is that the parties involved are not only informed, but are willing and able to make a commitment to love and care for a dependent animal. Only then is it truly a gift.