In our recent post on Creating a Successful Pawliday Season, we explored some of the hidden dangers for pets around the holidays – and how to avoid them. However, there is one hidden danger that requires its very own post: getting a pet as a gift for someone. The biggest risk of giving an animal as a present is that the person might not want a pet, and the innocent animal has to be returned. It can be very traumatic for all involved. Or the person truly may want a pet, but then doesn’t realize the responsibility that’s involved with being a guardian to a living, breathing, individual that needs constant care and attention. It’s the pets that end up suffering the most if they end up unwanted, homeless or in neglectful homes, even if it’s unintentional.
That said, for many of us, pets are an absolute joy to include as part of the family. So, around the holidays, when a human family member has been expressing interest in acquiring a new four-legged friend, how can you resist? Can you share the joy of ‘puppy’ love with your loved one(s) in a way that does not risk endangering pets? Let’s take a moment to explore the many options.
Open, Honest Communication
Dogs are adorable! The idea of a fluffy little bundle of joy under the tree can seem irresistible to many children. If your child is begging for a dog (any time of year), the first step is to establish open and direct communication. Investigate and thoroughly discuss, with the entire family, what it takes to be responsible enough to take care of a pet, for the lifetime of the pet. It requires planning when bringing home a new pet, so these discussions should include a whole list of realistic expectations. Here are some questions to get the (tennis) ball rolling:
- Is this a sustainable lifestyle change for the family? (When vacation is over? When the kids go back to school?)
- Will the family want this ‘gift’ in 3 months? One year? When a new baby arrives? When you move? Change jobs?
- Is the entire family on board? (Not just one person and not one who can’t take on the financial responsibilities entailed.) Realize that everyone will be involved, one way or another.
- Pets need constant care and attention, and not just for a year or two. Adopting a puppy means having a dog for around ten years or more. Plus, they don’t move out, but the pre-teen kid who is begging for the puppy might! Keep in mind, you (the gift giver) are responsible for this dog when the child goes off to college.
- The people who will end up providing for the dog’s medical care, training and other needs should be integral in the decision about whether to bring a new pet into the family (and which pet) for the many-year commitment that is dog guardianship.
- As the ‘gifter,’ what are your 1-year, 3-year, 5-year and 10-year (and beyond) plans for YOUR relationship with this pet?
Does Your Buddy want a Buddy? …Really?
How about getting a new puppy or dog for a resident dog because you think the resident dog is lonely or needs a friend? Did the dog ask for such a gift? Give this decision a lot of thought and consideration. Consult a professional with expertise on dog behavior. Sometimes guardians end up with twice the problems they thought they’d solve — or a whole set of new ones.
If after extensive research and thoughtfulness, together you reach the decision that this is not the optimal time to open your home to a new inquisitive canine, there are some wonderful alternative gifts for dog lovers. How about a membership to an animal sanctuary, a donation to an animal-friendly cause or organization, a virtual reality pet game, offering to help a neighbor with their pet, becoming a professional pet sitter, or volunteering with a local shelter or rescue group (a kind way to get that “pet fix” without the extra added responsibilities of full-time guardianship)?
On the other hand, if after very careful consideration the entire family is excited to take on the ongoing responsibility and love of a new pup, congratulations! That’s very exciting! Now what? Now you wait – because the holidays are a busy time, and a new pup needs lots of attention and patience. But preparing for your new pet can still be a festive part of your holiday celebrations. Make a collage of cute dog pictures and frame and wrap it. Have fun purchasing and wrapping items related to welcoming a new pet into the home: books on pet care and force-free training, toys, treats, etc. Include a “gift certificate” good for choosing a new fur friend together. Then, when the holiday dust settles, everyone who will be involved in caring for the pet – which is everyone in the household – can have input and take an active role in the process. This way, you can all enjoy a shared, meaningful experience together. And, isn’t that what it’s all about?
Wishing all inquisitive pet parents – and inquisitive pet parents to be – a wonderful, joyful holiday season!