Animals aren’t good holiday gifts


You don’t want us to suffer, do you?

It is that time of year again: shopping for that perfect gift to please your children, family members, friends or loved ones. And what is a better gift than an adorable fluffy animal?

Throughout the year, different animals are given as gifts, mostly to children, for a variety of holidays such as Easter, Halloween and Christmas. Baby chicks, birds or bunnies are given for Easter, black cats are given for Halloween, and puppies and kittens are traditionally given during Christmas. While everyone is delighted by these critters and they are usually given with good intentions, giving an animal as a gift is an incredibly bad idea.

For example, baby chicks are an extremely popular Easter gift throughout the United States for children. Unfortunately, these chicks are put through stressful and oftentimes inhumane treatment before and after they are bought. They are often dyed festive Easter colors while they are still incubating, where a needle injects the dye into their egg, or are sprayed with the dye soon after birth. They are then shipped off in huge quantities and some will die along the way.

Once they arrive in pet stores or specialty shops, they are then often just bought on a whim by a parent or relative. Once home, they quickly become a child’s plaything. This often leads to Easter chicks being mishandled, hurt, killed or forgotten once the child becomes bored with them or they outgrow their colorful dyed feathers. If they do not die, they are often given away once they start to become larger.

Similar scenarios happen with rabbits, birds, dogs, cats or small mammals that are given as gifts to children and even adults. They are neglected, mistreated or given away for adoption, only to be given away to animal shelters where they may wait long periods of time to be adopted, suffer the stress and anxiety of being moved around or even be euthanized if they are not adopted soon enough.

In particular, giving puppies and kittens as gifts is a kind but incredibly misguided gesture. The recipient of the animal may not have the proper knowledge, time, living space or finances to pay for the animal’s food, toys, bedding and expensive veterinary bills. Not only that, but the recipient did not have a chance to go through the process of meeting and socializing with the animal beforehand to see if they were a good match, whether the animal was adopted from a shelter or a breeder. This often leaves the animal in a precarious situation where they may be neglected, mistreated, an inconvenience or not a proper fit for the owner of the household.

These scenarios are not just applicable to adults getting animals as a gift. While there are countless scenarios where children receive the puppy or kitten of their dreams for Christmas and the animal becomes a wonderful member of the family, parents cannot always rely on their children to be able to provide for the animal for the possible 15 to 20 years the animal will be around. Children can lose interest in animals, may move out somewhere where they are unable to bring the pet with them or may not be able to pay for the animal’s expenses. These scenarios ultimately leave the care of the animal up the parent, and if the parent does not realize this when giving their children a pet, it can lead to possible mistreatment or neglect of the animal.

I volunteered at an animal shelter for almost five years. I saw countless animals, such as black cats, rabbits or guinea pigs, come in for adoption after the holidays that were obviously misguided gifts that went wrong. Talking with veterinarians, learning about real scenarios and doing my own educated research, I have realized that the only proper way to give an animal as a gift is when everyone involved is aware of the commitment they are making and the responsibilities they are taking on when giving or receiving an animal as a gift.

It is important for people to clearly understand that an animal is in no way an object or a possession. It is a real, living, breathing fellow creature who needs proper care and attention. Of course, there are scenarios when a pet is given as a gift and is provided all of the care and attention that it needs, but it is not safe to assume that those you are giving an animal to will be able to provide or afford the proper care.

However, “gifting” an animal is not completely off the table. Many animal shelters offer certificates that can be used as a gift that pay the adoption fee for an animal so the recipient can go to the shelter themselves to go through the proper screening process, be educated about the proper care of the animal and find a good match.

The bottom line is, like with any huge life choice, that all participants should be aware of the responsibilities and the consequences of that choice.

This Christmas, do not assume a friend, child or loved one should be given an animal as a gift without their knowledge. Make sure to discuss the situation with them first to see if they are educated and truly ready to put time and money into taking care of a fellow creature and help them make the steps towards finding and adopting the perfect animal. Both the animal and human will thank you.