Responsible pet adoption during the holidays and around special occasions can be summed up very simply: pets are not presents.
Many dogs and cats given as gifts end up at animal shelters shortly after they are gifted. They face an uncertain and typically grim future.
You might find it difficult to resist surprising your kid with a puppy or kitten, or presenting a pet to your parents, but the reasons not to do so are more compelling.
Pets are forever
The recipient might not be prepared for a gift that requires a long-term commitment, financially and in terms of their lifestyle.
If you are getting a pet for the family, have an open discussion about who will be responsible for various aspects of the animal’s care. That litter box is not going to clean itself, nor is the dog going to take himself out for a walk every day.
And then there are the ‘what if’ scenarios. What if the pet outlives the recipient? What if the person to whom you gifted the pet is temporarily unable to care for the animal due to their own illness, injury, or emergency?
All pet guardians should have a plan to ensure the responsible and continuous care of their companion pets.
Pet guardianship changes your lifestyle
In many ways pets are like children. They are completely dependent upon you for food, shelter and medical care, and thrive on routine and structure.
Giving a dog or cat as a gift demands the person receiving it change the way they live in unalterable and sometimes unpredictable ways, which is why a pet should never, ever be a surprise.
Talk with the recipient first. Make sure he or she wants a pet and can make a commitment for the life of the animal.
Pets cost money
Whether giving or getting, prospective pet guardians need to educate themselves about the financial commitment involved in bringing home a dog or cat.
Costs will vary by species, breed, size, overall health, region of the country and other factors. First-year expenses for a dog can run as high as $2,455 and annual costs up to $1,967.
These costs include food, medical, training and grooming fees, in addition to toys, licensing and equipment. The figures assume premium brand kibble for dogs, various preventative vaccinations, pet health insurance and microchip implantation.
Cats are generally less expensive, but their costs of care have gone up as well. First-year cat costs can range up to $2,285. Annual expenses range from $340 to $1,825.
Your costs will vary depending upon where you live, how you choose to care for your pet, and the animal’s overall medical condition.
And just like for people, pet health care costs are on the rise as newer and more expensive medical treatments are available to keep Fido or Fluffy in tip-top shape.
All of this might be more than your recipient bargained for – or can afford.
Giving a gift that will cause financial hardship is neither fair to the recipient nor to the animal dependent upon that person for its care.
Why pets end up in shelters
There are many reasons pets are relinquished to shelters, but chief among them is that their owners are no longer able to afford them.
The number of dogs and cats who are abandoned, or surrendered to shelters is in the millions. Among them are senior pets who have known only one family their entire lives, as well as disabled or sick pets whose guardians cannot afford their care.
It is estimated that half of all dogs and cats, collectively, will not make it out of a shelter alive.
It is heartbreaking when people run out of options to care for their four-legged family members, but it is wrong to put that responsibility upon someone who is unprepared for that commitment.
How to help needy pets any and every day of the year
There are millions of animals in shelters today who need your help. If you are unable to adopt and realize that “gifting” a pet is not the right thing to do:
- Ask your local shelter if they have a holiday foster program to give a shelter dog or cat a much-needed break from the stress of shelter life.
- If you have more time, become a foster parent to a dog or cat awaiting adoption.
- Make a donation to your local shelter, rescue, humane society or SPCA; in most cases it is tax deductible.
- Donate in-kind goods; many shelters need used blankets, sheets and towels to make the animals in their charge more comfortable, and often need donated food, toys and medical supplies. Call or check online for your shelter’s “wish list” items.
- Volunteer at your local shelter. Walk dogs, maintain kennels, socialize cats, assist in adoption events, or answer the phones.
- Donate to a pet food bank in your neighborhood. If there is not one near you that is just for pets, ask your local human food bank if they accept donations for pets – many do.
- Start a pet food drive, either for a pet food bank in your community or in conjunction with other charity drives that may be taking place through your work, house of worship or other organization.