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What to consider before gifting a pet this holiday season

We buy pets as holiday gifts with the best of intentions. Haven’t decades of commercials shown us that there’s nothing more adorable than a cute little ball of fluff jumping out of a gift-wrapped box into its new owners’ welcoming arms?

So…we hate to be the grinch at the party, but there’s a reason animal abandonment soars after the holidays and shelters become inundated with puppies and kitties returned by owners who were unprepared to be pet owners. If you’re considering surprising your family with a new furry family member this holiday season, here are some cautionary points to keep in mind.

The holidays are stressful—for humans and for animals. Especially as we emerge from two years of pandemic isolation, there will be a lot of local and national travel as we reconnect with family and friends. Is it fair to leave a new pet alone, even for just a day? Or to ask them to mingle with strangers who show up at their new home? It’s a recipe for anxiety, accidents and even sickness for an overwhelmed animal. 

Kids will be kids—and there’s nothing wrong with that. But it’s hard for small children to understand that live pets aren’t as sturdy as the stuffed kind—especially when they’re surrounded by the excitement of the holidays. Puppies, kittens, chicks, bunnies and other young animals can end up with broken bones—or worse—from completely unintentional injuries inflicted upon them by enthusiastic little ones who only meant to hug or play. Consider whether your children are really ready for live pets.

Pet ownership should be a family activity—but too often, it isn’t. Pets need to be fed, exercised, housebroken, trained and played with, and kids have short attention spans (as do many adults). Once the newness wears off, do you want to spend your time chasing after family members to get them to walk the dog in the snow or change the cat litter? Don’t make a new pet a holiday surprise; instead, sit down with your family and discuss the long-term commitment and daily obligations. Once you’re confident they’ll fulfill their pet care duties, go to the shelter together to choose your new family member.

Pets are expensive—and we’re not just talking about the shelter adoption fee. According to the ASPCA, the first-year costs of owning a cat or dog can run from $500 to more than $1,000. Then, you’re looking at yearly expenses between $1,000 to $2,000, depending on the animal’s size—over lifespans that can reach 15 years. And that doesn’t include emergency dental care or vet bills for injury or illness as they age. Take some time before you head to the shelter to research the financial aspect, especially if you’re set on a higher-maintenance breed.

Remember, a pet can’t be regifted. Unless you’ve confirmed that your potential recipient(s) have the time, ability, resources and willingness to commit to the care of an animal, consider a gift certificate to a local shelter so they can choose their own pet on their own time. Even better, wait until after the holidays when things have calmed down and there’s time to make a thoughtful decision.

Every living creature deserves a safe and loving home. The love and joy you’ll get from knowing you are ready and able to provide a good life for your new furry family member will make the time you spend on your decision worth every second.