The Greatest Gift

dog and cat under Christmas tree

For the past couple of weeks, Petswelcome been making suggestions for gifts for your favorite dog and/or cat lover. This week we’ve got the best suggestion of all, and that is turning someone who doesn’t already have one into a pet lover. How do you do that? you might ask. Easy, give the greatest gift, the gift of a pet for the holidays.

Now, like all great ideas (and gifts) there needs to be plenty of consideration behind it. A pet is not a thing so it needs to be very carefully thought out. First, it’s very important that you have a good understanding of a person’s likes and dislikes (e.g., hate reptiles, prefer warm and fuzzy) as well as their overall lifestyle. In most cases you will be giving it to a family member or loved one who has either (a) hinted that a pet would be a great gift or (b) is a person you think would greatly benefit from one, for example, an older person who would enjoy its company but not be overwhelmed by the responsibility. It’s critical to match the person with the type of animal you are thinking of getting and make sure there are no issues or conflicts that will turn your great gift idea into a Trojan horse that makes the intended giftee’s life worse off, as well as that of the pet.

Here are some things to think about:

  1. Does the person have any allergies or other conditions that would make pet ownership unsustainable? For example, many people are allergic to animal dander, saliva and urine (and not necessarily to the hair or fur, as commonly thought). In such cases, getting a dog that doesn’t shed will not help the situation, so maybe another type of pet (bird, fish, reptile) would be better.
  2. Do they have a full-time job or are out of their home for long periods of time? If so, a puppy or even an adult dog isn’t a good idea. It’s important to be flexible and consider other types of pets that do not require as much interaction.
  3. Pick a pet that is not going to radically change somebody’s life but, instead, will make it better. While it’s tempting to get a cute puppy that will garner oohs and aahs on Christmas morning, that puppy is going to grow into an adult dog and will demand time, space and attention that might be beyond what the receiver can commit to. If you’re not going to be around to help out, consider a pet that will provide companionship and pleasure but without the huge responsibility. Think a hamster, rabbit, guinea pig, a bird or even a small aquarium. I spent many hours in front of an aquarium as a kid and was enchanted and delighted without having to do anything beyond sprinkling food into the tank once a day.
  4. If you do live with the person you are thinking of getting a pet for, make sure that it doesn’t turn your own life upside down when you realize that you are going to be the one responsible for it. This is a common occurrence when, for example, you get a puppy for one of your children. I remember, as a kid, I wanted an Irish Setter and pestered my parents until they finally relented. Of course, I was not ready for such a spirited and energetic animal and so its care (as well as damage control) fell to my parents. The whole experience, while it made for great stories after the fact, ended up not being a good one for the family or the dog.
aquarium fish
An aquarium can provide hours of delight with minimal upkeep.

Once you’ve decided that a pet is a gift that fits the lifestyle of the person it’s intended for, the next consideration is where to purchase it. Even for small animals such as hamsters, gerbils, turtles and birds, we suggest trying to find local breeders or enthusiasts who have a real love and passion for the animals they are raising. And while we don’t rule out large pet chains like Petco or PetSmart because of the convenience factor, the reality is that you can’t really gauge how the animals are treated behind the scenes. Such large companies cannot offer pets the nuanced care and attention that individual breeders can, so our general rule is that the shortest supply line makes for the healthiest pets.

When it comes to cats and dogs, our first choice is always rescues and/or shelters. If that’s not an option, then we recommend breeders. However, we prefer rescues because what better captures the spirit of the holidays than offering a homeless cat or dog the gift of a loving family (and vice versa)? One of the most rewarding experiences a pet owner can have is nurturing a cat or dog that has been without companionship into a confident and happy animal, one that reciprocates with constant affection and devotion. Rescues are a viable option for purebreds, too, so if you are looking for a specific breed there are hundreds of breed-specific rescue groups that work in concert with shelters.

When it comes to holidays, pets are a great way to say I love you. With some careful consideration and forethought, you can give a gift that will keep on giving, one that will be appreciated and cherished by animal and human for years to come.


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