We've all heard the advice: Never, ever give pets as gifts. But what if that conventional thinking is misplaced? That's what some animal adoption experts want to change.
"When people think about pets as gifts, they’re thinking about the worst case scenario — that [the recipients] have no interest in getting a pet," says Christa Chadwick, CAWA Vice President of Shelter Services for the ASPCA. "We think it’s perfectly cool and okay to give pets as gifts as long as you have an understanding that the person you’re giving the pet to has an interest in owning one."
The nonprofit's philosophy stems from a 2013 study it conducted and published in Animals, an international peer-reviewed open access journal. After polling 222 people who had received pets as gifts, the authors found no significant relationship between receiving a dog or cat as a gift and the attachment the pet owners felt for their animals. Not only were 86% of the pets still in the home, but a majority of respondents said that receiving a pet as a gift had increased their self-perceived love for that animal.
Rather than supporting a blanket ban on the practice, the ASPCA now officially recommends "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," emphasizing that the animals should ideally come from responsible animal shelters, rescue organizations, or other trusted sources.
"One of the main missions of most animal welfare organizations is to adopt animals into homes," Chadwick explains. "If we were to say, 'No pets as gifts,' that would be closing down a really great and viable avenue to get more animals into loving homes." That position does conflict with some other organizations' stances. PETA, for example, strongly believes animals do not make good gifts, but the ASPCA does not stand alone.
"I’m definitely a strong proponent of giving animals as gifts as long as the recipient wants a pet," says Gary Weitzman, DVM, MPH, CAWA, a licensed veterinarian and president of the San Diego Humane Society.
His organization also offers an adoption guarantee, so he sees gifts as a win-win for the shelter. "It's saving lives — it's allowing more animals to go into homes," he explains. And if it doesn't work out? "The animal gets a little time away from the shelter and we get more information [about the animal's personality]."
So what's the right way to gift someone a dog, cat, or other animal? Here's what you need to know before you make any big decisions.
When to Give a Pet as a Gift
"Know your audience," says Dr. Weitzman. "Any gift you give somebody, you want to make sure it’s something that they want." Gifting a cat-loving family member or dog-obsessed partner a pet is different than wrapping one up for an acquaintance. If the recipient is a child, make sure their caregivers support the idea as well.
As Dr. Weitzman says: "This is not a Dell computer you'll have for three years. This is a 15-year or 18-year commitment to an animal."
Consider these other factors before talking with an adoption counselor:
- Interest: Did this person already express interest in owning a pet?
- Cost: Is the recipient financially capable and willing to pay for food, supplies, veterinary care, and other services over the animal's lifetime?
- Time: Does the recipient have time for daily exercise, interaction, and play? How often is this person at home?
- Space: What kind of environment will the animal live in? Does the building or residence have any restrictions on pets?
- Compatibility: What kind of animal would fit this recipient's lifestyle best? How active is this person?
- Health: Does the recipient have allergies or other conditions that would conflict with caring for this pet?
- Other Pets: Will this new animal get along with other animals in the household?
The easiest way to find the perfect fit? Ask the recipient directly and go through the adoption process together.
How to Give Pets as Gifts
A bow-bedecked puppy under the Christmas tree may come to mind, but there are better ways to present someone with a pet. Wrap up a leash, toy, or stuffed animal as the "gift" and then go together to pick up the animal. Alternatively, purchase a gift certificate to the shelter. The recipient can either put it towards adoption fees or donate the funds directly. It also gives the recipient flexibility in terms of timing (i.e., waiting to take in a puppy until after the family gets back from a holiday vacation).
If you do decide to gift someone with an animal, make sure you have all of the necessary supplies — leash, collar, food, bedding, toys etc. — ready to go, Chadwick advises. Plan for an orientation period as the animal gets accustomed to the new environment, like setting up a safe place for them to rest and feel comfortable.
With thoughtful consideration, a pet can be a perfect present. "The best gift in the world can be a dog or a cat," Dr. Weitzman says. "Unequivocally, hands down, the best birthday gift I ever received was a German shepherd puppy in 2006." He had previously met the dog and fell in love, but then heard that he couldn't adopt him.
"It was all a ruse," he remembered. "I got home on my birthday, I got blindfolded, this puppy got put in my lap, and it was the best thing to happen to me as a gift in my entire life ... I just lost him a month ago. He lived a wonderful 14-year life, but boy, nothing on Earth will ever compare to that gift."
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