A few years ago, pictures of adorable bunnies, cuddly kittens and cute puppies in overcrowded animal shelters flitted across social media as a warning against giving pets as Christmas presents. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was just one of several organizations against the idea. However, today they are speaking with a softer tone.
The ASPCA Position Statement on Pets as Gifts now says, "Recently, the ASPCA conducted a survey to learn more about people who acquire pets as gifts. In the survey, 96 percent of the people who received pets as gifts thought it either increased or had no impact on their love or attachment to that pet. The vast majority of these pets are still in the home (86 percent). The survey also revealed no difference in attachment based on the gift being a surprise or known in advance." This proclamation is not without some warnings though; they do recommend giving pets only to people who have expressed sustained interest, as well as checking with the parents if the gift is intended for a child 12 or younger.
You have to be familiar with the recipient and know their financial ability, health (such as allergies), time constraints and living situation. While a gifted pet may be free to the recipient, it comes with many years of commitment, cost and lifestyle alterations. If the new owner likes to travel or takes lots of business trips -- leaving their home for extended periods -- they must first find someone to care for their pet while they are gone. Veterinarian bills can pile up from regular checkups and vaccinations, and they can become nearly astronomical if the pet ever becomes ill. Hamsters usually live around three years, while dogs and cats live an average of 14 to 20 years -- that's a lot of food, toys, accessories (leashes, flea collars, etc.), bedding and litter, and depending on local ordinances that may include registrations or licensing. Your well-intentioned "free" gift is going to be pricey for years to come.
Though the 86 percent success rate indicates that the expenses and altered lifestyles can be worth the addition of a loving, furry companion, especially if given as a gift from a person dear to the receiver. The gift of an animal to a child should never be given as a lesson to care for another living being; unlike the digital pets of the late 1990s, a pet that dies from neglect can't simply be reset. Even if the pet is to be a child's responsibility, there has to be a willing adult who can and will step in to ensure that child and pet are thriving. If you are planning to give an adult the new cuddly critter you saved from the shelter, make sure it will be welcomed into his or her life -- if you have any doubts, then speak to the recipient and offer to go to the shelter together to pick out the pet while you pay the nominal adoption fee. Some shelters sell gift certificates you can present to your friend.
Dr. Debra Primovic of PetPlace.com says to wait until after the holiday festivities are over to gift a pet; acclimating new pets to the household takes time, and the crowded house can be overwhelming to the pet. Some other reasons Dr. Debra says pets should be chosen by the owner include ensuring compatibility with the human and animal members of the house, understanding the maintenance the pet needs, and understanding that the size of the house and the lifestyle are a match.
Adopting a pet from a shelter can save an animal's life; many shelters euthanize to relieve overcrowding. Spay and neuter your pets to help control the pet population.