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Is a pet a good gift?

No. But the holidays can be a great time to adopt one -- responsibly.

By Karen Datko Dec 16, 2009 5:49PM

The interwebs are filled with stories of happy pet adoptions. (Heck, we’ve even written one, reprinted here.) Disastrous tales also can be found. Here’s one, via AP, that got our attention:

Chihuahuas make up 30% or more of the dog populations at many California shelters. And experts say pop culture is to blame, with fans imitating Chihuahua-toting celebrities like Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus, then abandoning the dogs.

Get the picture? Every pet is not a good fit for every home. If you’re thinking of gifting a pet to a family on your holiday list, stick with the robotic kind.


Here’s why:

  • A pet can be a 10- or 20-year commitment, Unleashed reminds us. Most gifts don’t come with an obligation.
  • A pet requires the recipient to spend money -- lots of it over time. Caring for a dog or cat costs $8,000 or more over the pet’s lifetime. And sometime owners face a heartbreaking decision about whether they can afford medical treatment for their pets. That won’t happen if you give a picture frame.
  • The entire family should be involved in the decision. Are family members fully on board with the work involved? Puppies are cute and fun, but house training is mandatory. Is the recipient willing to set the alarm for the middle of the night? Who is going to walk and play with the dog? Does it have a place to run?
  • Keep this in mind: Sherry Woodard at Best Friends wrote (.pdf file) that puppies “cannot be properly socialized and house-trained if left alone all day during the regular work hours kept by most adults.” Pet sitting is costly in many locations.
  • Holiday celebrations can be chaotic. A new animal in the house needs a calm atmosphere. PAW has a lot more to say about that.
  • People, too, have special needs. Is someone in the house allergic to most dogs or cats?

That doesn’t mean the holiday season is a bad time to responsibly adopt a pet -- after you consider the bulleted points above. You’re giving a gift of life to a pet someone else rejected.

For instance, The Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals (which aims to make New York a no-kill city by 2015) has joined with Iams Home 4 the Holidays to schedule holiday animal adoption events through Jan. 4. Iams, with its partners nationwide, hopes to find homes for 1.5 million orphaned pets this year. The need for new homes has increased because of the economy.


Still want to give a family the gift of a pet’s love? Best Friends (.pdf file) suggests that you give a gift certificate that covers the cost of a future pet adoption. And, if the recipient doesn’t want to use it, offer instead to make a donation to the local shelter in the giftee’s name.

If you want to volunteer to help unwanted pets, read this excellent piece at You don’t have to live in the Portland area to benefit from the suggestions.


On a related topic, are pets appropriate recipients of gifts? The American public says yes. Another AP story says that “52% of pet owners plan to buy their animals a holiday gift -- up from 43% last year.”


Related reading:

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