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Forget the surprise if you’re thinking of giving a pet as a holiday present

by Gabriel Martinez
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Pet Gift Etiquette

“Abandon the idea of surprising someone with a pet as a holiday gift”

Adriene Mishler was still mourning the loss of her beloved blue heeler mix when her then-boyfriend unexpectedly presented her with a Christmas puppy that bore a striking resemblance.

“At that moment, I wasn’t emotionally prepared to form an attachment to another animal,” she recalled. “However, looking back, I realize I had a unique opportunity to channel my love into something new during a period of sorrow and isolation.”

This incident took place in 2014, and today, her dog Benji is adored by over 12 million viewers who regularly watch him snuggle up or nap in videos on her YouTube channel, “Yoga with Adriene.”

While Mishler and Benji’s story had a happy outcome, the same cannot be guaranteed when it comes to surprising someone with a new pet, especially amidst the chaos of the holiday season.

Gifting a pet without prior discussion and planning is not advisable. However, offering a pet without the element of surprise, with thoughtful consideration, can bring joy to both animals and humans. This is particularly crucial now, as shelters and rescue organizations are grappling with an overwhelming number of animals due to economic challenges and rising supply costs.

In response to this influx, shelter operators and animal welfare organizations are advocating for a more personalized, conversational approach to assess potential homes for pets. This approach replaces the lengthy written questionnaires of the past, which are now seen as unnecessary barriers to adoption.

However, this new approach requires active involvement from prospective pet owners, eliminating the allure of a sudden, unprepared pet gift presentation with a big red bow.

Instead, many shelters are offering Santa-themed gift certificates, suitable for Christmas Day, and suggesting that all the necessary pet supplies be wrapped as gifts, allowing recipients to choose their own animals later. In cases where a live animal is given on the big day, some shelters dispatch staff or trained volunteers to facilitate the transition, answer questions, and provide support.

Experts like Jackson Galaxy, a cat behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s “My Cat from Hell,” who has been involved in animal welfare for three decades, emphasize that allowing the recipient to be part of the selection process is crucial. They contend that the animal often chooses its owner, and this natural process should be respected.

While some argue that introducing a pet during the hectic holiday season is ill-advised, others believe it can be acceptable with proper care and consideration. However, it is essential to ensure that the person receiving the pet is genuinely interested in adding a new member to their family.

Lindsay Hamrick, director of shelter outreach and engagement for The Humane Society of the United States, emphasizes the importance of understanding the recipient’s desires and enthusiasm for the new pet. This applies not only to parents giving pets to their children but also to adult children considering pets for their senior parents.

In the high desert of Utah, Best Friends Animal Society, located near Zion National Park, deals with a wide variety of animals, including horses, bunnies, birds, dogs, cats, pigs, and injured wildlife. The organization emphasizes the need for all family members to be on board with the decision to adopt a new pet during the holidays.

While Best Friends does not endorse surprise pet adoptions, they, along with other experts, maintain a cautiously optimistic stance on pets given as gifts. Data suggests that the return rate for pets given as surprises is not significantly higher than for those chosen deliberately. However, it is strongly recommended that families select the pet together.

Surprising someone with a pet should not be driven by assumptions about what the recipient needs or wants. This includes presenting a cat to a non-cat owner or introducing a new pet shortly after the loss of a previous one. Consideration should be given to factors like the desired appearance, size, or breed of the pet.

Holly DeRito, founder of Waggytail Rescue in New York, shares a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of surprise pet gifts. She recounts a case where a dog was returned because it was given as a gift and the recipient didn’t want it.

Katy Hansen, director of marketing and communications for the Animal Care Centers of NYC, a large network of shelters, echoes the sentiment that gifting a pet as a surprise is never a good idea. They handle a substantial number of animals each year and emphasize the importance of thoughtful adoption.

In summary, while the idea of surprising someone with a pet during the holidays may seem heartwarming, it should be approached with careful consideration and a deep understanding of the recipient’s desires and commitment to pet ownership. The best practice is to involve the entire family in the process of selecting a pet to ensure a happy and successful adoption.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Pet Gift Etiquette

Q: Is it a good idea to surprise someone with a pet as a holiday gift?

A: Surprising someone with a pet during the holidays can have mixed results. While some people may appreciate the gesture, it’s generally not recommended. The best practice is to involve the recipient in the decision-making process to ensure they are genuinely interested in and prepared for pet ownership.

Q: Why is surprising someone with a pet discouraged?

A: Surprising someone with a pet can lead to unforeseen challenges. The recipient may not be ready for the responsibilities of pet ownership, or the pet may not be a suitable match for their lifestyle and preferences. This can result in the pet being returned to a shelter, which is stressful for the animal.

Q: What is the recommended approach for giving a pet as a gift?

A: Rather than surprising someone with a pet, consider offering them a thoughtful gift certificate or wrapping up all the necessary pet supplies. This allows the recipient to choose a pet that suits their needs and preferences. In some cases, shelters may provide support by sending staff or volunteers to facilitate the adoption process.

Q: Are there exceptions to the rule against surprising someone with a pet?

A: While surprising someone with a pet can be problematic, some exceptions may apply. It’s crucial to ensure that the recipient genuinely desires a new pet and is prepared for the responsibilities. Involving the recipient in the selection process is still highly recommended.

Q: Do pets given as gifts have a higher return rate?

A: Data suggests that pets given as surprises do not necessarily have a significantly higher return rate than those chosen deliberately. However, to minimize the risk of returns and ensure a successful adoption, it is best to choose a pet as a family, considering the recipient’s preferences and lifestyle.

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