Giving a pet as a gift is not a good idea unless the recipient is an adult, is part of the process and fully understands the commitment involved. If someone receives an animal they are not ready to take care of, that animal could end up abused, neglected or abandoned.
Important considerations include the time commitment, the commitment of other resources, choosing the animal, and the acquisition of the animal. There are also special considerations if the intended recipient is a child.
Keeping a pet should be a long-term commitment, for the lifetime of the pet. Some dogs and cats live for more than 20 years. Anything less than a lifetime commitment would be irresponsible and a betrayal of the trust that our animals place in us when we bring them into our homes.
After the initial novelty wears off, the next 10-20 years will include quite a few feedings, walks, litter box changes, and trips to the vet. A gift that comes with that kind of commitment may seem more like a millstone than a delight for someone who didn’t understand the commitment beforehand.
Even if the animal lives only 2-3 years, such as a hamster, that’s a long time to take care of someone every day if your heart is not in it. That is how hamsters end up at shelters or get passed around among classmates.
Besides time, a companion animal requires space, money and human attention. By giving an animal as a gift, you are committing the recipient to devoting a portion of their home to the animal. The recipient will also have to spend money on toys, food, bedding, and veterinary bills; and may even have to replace a soiled rug or shredded drapes along the way. To properly care for the animal, they will also have to spend time with Fido beyond cleaning up after him or he will become bored and lonely.
Choosing the Animal
The person who will be responsible for the animal must be the one who chooses the animal. This way, concerns about allergies, special needs (the human’s or the animal’s), life span, and lifestyle can all be taken into consideration. Some people may prefer an older dog instead of having to clean up after a new puppy who is not yet housebroken, while others feel they can bond more easily with a young pup. If the person already has animals, choosing another animal who will be compatible with the others could be a lengthy process.
Acquisition of the Animal
A pet store or breeder may allow someone to purchase an animal as a gift, but with the millions dogs and cats killed in shelters every year, buying an animal spells death for one in a shelter.
A legitimate shelter or rescue group will not allow people to give their animals as gifts. The person who will care for the animal must come in, pass through a screening process and adopt the animal. They may even require the entire family to come in, in order to head off issues such as allergies in the family.
Children: Special Considerations
Children are notoriously fickle. Giving a pet as a gift to a child means that the adorable puppy rolling around under the Christmas tree could be next summer’s chained up dog in the back yard if your child loses interest.
Even if the animal holds your child’s interest for 10+ years, what will you do when your child grows up and moves out? You could have another ten years of caring for this animal ahead of you if your child is unable to bring him to a dorm or apartment.
Furthermore, children cannot be expected to be responsible for an animal’s veterinary care, expenses or transportation. If the animal gets sick, it’s not going to be Junior who pays the vet bill, buys special food or drives the animal to the vet.
Again, the solution is not a small animal like a hamster. Like larger animals, hamsters also require daily care, and neglect will kill them. Unlike larger animals, the parents likely will not notice if the food bowl or water bottle is empty if the cage is kept in the child’s bedroom. There is also the added hazard of escapes – hamsters, gerbils, mice and other small animals are notorious escape artists, and it doesn’t take long for them to get into the walls or get lost in the basement or attic.
In order to properly care for the animal, an adult must be fully responsible for the animal at all times.