There’s nothing cuter than a puppy or kitten as a Christmas present. Or a kid goat for a family in the developing world.
It’s really easy to be pulled in by the sweetness of these creatures and give in to the temptation to give gifts of this nature.
But animal-gifting is loaded with potential hazards and we need to carefully think through any animal-related gift—even those that benefit charitable organisations.
When it comes to puppies as Christmas presents, the cute factor seems to go into overdrive and more practical factors are more likely to be overlooked. Wanting a big impact on Christmas morning can play too dominant a role in our pet selection process.
But pet ownership is a serious, time-consuming and costly business. So, if we’re considering getting a puppy or kitten out of a genuine desire to have a dog or cat in our lives, we need to do some research beforehand.
With dogs in particular, we need to do a lot of homework around temperaments, exercise needs, health issues and lifestyle compatibility. But even cats, hamsters and rabbits require more care than just a suitable bed, toilet and food.
So, rather than surprising someone with a puppy or kitten, it might be more appropriate to make up a fancy “I.O.U. a puppy” certificate and allow them to do the necessary research before you acquire the pet.
Before any promises are made, however, the following factors need to be considered:
Is the person receiving the gift able to properly care for it?
Often, pets given at Christmas are intended as a surprise for the kids. But are the kids old enough to take on the responsibility? If not, are you prepared to take up the slack—ensuring dogs are walked and kitty litters are cleaned out daily?
Even with elderly adults, this is an issue that needs careful consideration. While pets can make excellent pets for their company, if the person is living alone, it is important to choose a pet whose physical needs can be easily met by their new owner.
There can be no ambiguity around who will do what in terms of the animal’s welfare. Improper consideration of these factors results in surrender of no-longer-wanted pets—and the weeks after Christmas is when this is most prevalent.
Can the pet owner afford the ongoing care?
There’s initial vaccinations, neutering, annual boosters, daily feeding (and some pets, like humans, have special dietary needs making for higher food bills), kennels and other pet-care services when we’re away and unexpected trips to the vet following accidents or illnesses.
Especially when gifting an animal to senior citizens, we need to take the recipient’s ability to afford these ongoing costs into consideration. A pet should be a source of joy, comfort and company—not a financial burden.
In households with young families, Christmas can be more than exciting—it can be a little chaotic.
This adds to the unsuitability of the timing for giving a pet as a gift. But if it has been promised for a while—and all the proper research has been done in terms of care—here are a few suggestions to bear in mind around gifting at Christmas:
Skip the surprise element and involve the soon-to-be pet owner in the selection.
It might seem cute to put a kitten or puppy into a gift-wrapped box to add to the wow factor on Christmas morning. But from the animal’s perspective, it’s cruel. Even with air holes, it’s claustrophobic and frightening. And involving the new pet-owner in its selection helps to ensure a higher probability of bonding.
Visit your local shelter and give a home to an abandoned animal who badly needs a new home.
Shelter staff get to know the personalities and quirky traits of the individual animals in their care and help to match you with an animal that will suit your family’s needs and lifestyle.
Be ready to start toilet-training puppies and kittens from the word go.
Okay, for kittens it’s relatively simple—place them in a tray of litter and scratch their paws in it and they usually know what to do from there. But toilet training a puppy is a whole other kettle of fish and we need to be prepared for the fact that there will be accidents—especially over the first few days when the puppy is adjusting to life with a new family. (Do you really want to be dealing with this at a hectic holiday time?)
The other popular way of gifting animals at Christmas is to donate a farm animal to a family in the developing world, on behalf of one of your loved ones.
I have certainly availed of this idea, more than once, for people who have everything they need or want and are “impossible to buy for.” However, despite its ongoing popularity, this too may not be a poorly thought-out idea, running counter to the interests of the animals donated, as well as the financial well-being of the families they are intended to help out of poverty.
Animals need food and water too. Without such, they can’t be of any economic value to the recipients. But feeding and watering their farm animals can be an added financial burden. And when it isn’t met, the welfare of the animal suffers.
“Farming animals is an inefficient, expensive and environmentally destructive way of producing food. All farmed animals require proper nourishment, large quantities of water, shelter from extremes of weather and veterinary care. Such resources are in critically short supply in much of Africa.” ~ Andrew Tyler (Director, Animal Aid UK)
If seeking to combine helping out developing world families with crossing someone off our own gift list, there are an abundance of charitable gifts available that do not involve animals. Instead why not consider buying a gift that contributes toward feeding or educating children, or meeting health needs such as cataract operations.
And there are also plenty of charitable gifts on offer that directly and positively affect the lives of animals.
For animal-lovers, donations toward the feeding, vaccination or neutering of shelter animals—or meeting any expenses that enable the charities to care for animals until adoptive homes can be found—is bound to be appreciated.
And let’s not forget about conservation. How about adopting a tiger, polar bear or red panda on behalf of a loved-one? Who wouldn’t appreciate such a gift?
Charities will usually provide heart-warming photos along with the gift certificates, so the cuteness factor is taken care of. And the internet provides us with a wealth of similarly cute pictures that we can paste into our own home-made “I owe you a kitten” certificates.
There really is an abundance of animal-friendly gifts available to us, and some are better for the animals than others. So, please exercise care when choosing what to give.
Happy, mindful gifting.
Author: Hilda Carroll
Editor: Catherine Monkman