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Pets as presents?

things to consider before giving the gift that keeps on living...

Giving a puppy, kitten or other animal as a gift to a loved one has been romanticized over the years in many movies and books. Who can resist the furry face and playful antics of a puppy or kitten begging for attention?

But what happens after that first mess on the carpet or chewed up shoe? Who would have guessed that paper training could be such a challenge? Too many of these "presents" end up being "disposable" -- dropped off at shelters or picked up by animal control running loose just a few months after they appeared to be one of the family.

Within six months of the release of Disney Studio's 101 Dalmatians, relinquishment of these dogs to animal shelters and Dalmatian rescue organizations had increased by at least 25 percent; preliminary statistics indicate a similar trend following the release of the sequel, 102 Dalmatians.
-- HSUS Cautions Moviegoers
From the Humane Society of the United States

The Dalmatian craze is just one facet of "pet gifts" - is giving any animal as a gift such a good idea? Sure, it is bound to be unlike any other gift the person may receive, but is it the best gift you can give?

Veterinarians are all too familiar with adoptions and gifts gone bad -- pets who wind up tied out in the yard, starving for affection and sometimes food and shelter, too. It is well known that animals who bounce between shelters and homes have a difficult time bonding emotionally and adjusting socially. A common outcome of moving between repeated "homes" (for dogs in particular) is a disorder called Separation Anxiety, which is a type of hyperattachment, to the point of being destructive or physically sick if the owner leaves the home.

General considerations often overlooked:

Pet lifespan - People need to be mindful of the commitment and financial responsibility of owning a pet. It is easy to adopt a kitten, get a litter box and a bag of food, and believe that you are all set. Considering that the average lifespan for an indoor cat is 15-20+ years, this is a commitment far beyond the shrink-wrapped litter box ensemble all ready to go in the store. Depending on the breed of dog, the lifespan ranges from 8 years (giant breeds) to 15+ years (smaller breeds in general).

Veterinary care and food - Basic veterinary care for a healthy pet should include vaccinations (kitten/puppy series, then boosters after that), spaying or neutering, dental cleanings, annual examinations and any associated blood work. This does not include any health problems or injuries that will undoubtedly show up over the pet's lifetime. A 60 pound dog may eat 40 pounds of food a month.

Personality -- of the person and of the pet. This is also a serious consideration, and due to the many variances in species and breeds of pets, it is something that should be researched and considered thoughtfully. Many of the breed information sites for dogs and cats offer personality and temperament information about the breed, and this information can be extrapolated to mixed breeds as well.

Lifestyle -- again, of the person and of the pet. A Chihuahua won't make the best jogging buddy, and a Labrador isn't a lap dog (well, there are exceptions to this, I am sure!). Allergies in people may dictate what type of pet and even what breed of pet would be best. A working person with a busy schedule will find that an active pet will most often be bored and destructive when left alone for too many hours, creating stress and guilt for the owner. This leads to bad behavior in the pet, and these behaviors can be hard to break.

Helpful alternatives to giving pets as gifts:

Adoption certificate - as busy as animal shelters are, they don't want to place an animal with someone not wanting or not equipped to have a pet. Giving a certificate allows you to give the gift of a pet "on paper", and if the recipient is not ready for a pet, this saves an unpleasant situation from happening. If this is just what the recipient wanted, excellent! Now they can personally select the pet that is right for them. Adoption certificates usually cover the basic adoption costs, which often include spaying or neutering and first vaccination(s).

Pet supplies and books - gift certificates work well for this, as well as actual presents of bowls, leashes, treats, and pet care books. Like a new baby being welcomed into the family, it never hurts to have a "shower" of useful gifts for when the pet does arrive, chosen by the new owner.

A donation - to a shelter, rescue group, or adoption agency. Those who are unable to take on a pet (or add another to the collection) will appreciate this kind gesture helping out the less fortunate animals. Visit the many adoption sites online and see what they are in need of.

What do YOU think?
Cast your vote, and join in the discussion!

- Poll -
Should pets be given as gifts?

- Discussion -
Have you given or received a pet as a present?

Have an enjoyable holiday season,

Janet, DVM
Text: Copyright © Janet Tobiassen Crosby. All rights reserved.

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