So You Were Given a Pet for the Holidays

Someone did it. You were given a pet for Christmas.  You were not consulted to see if this was OK.  You may have been consulted and said “Please, no” only to be ignored.  Now what?  That is up to you.  Here are a few things to get you thinking about your next steps – and this will cover multiple species!

What you will need is based on what you were given, what supplies were gifted too and your prior knowledge of the critter. You may need to learn about nutrition, environments, and behavioral needs.


Rodents for example:  some are herbivores, others are omnivores – do you know the difference?  Different rodents have different behavioral needs.  In birds, the needs of a parakeet are different from those of a canary. The needs of cichlids are different from those of clown fish.  I cannot demand a Border Collie to be a Basset Hound.  My Persian cat’s needs are different from the abandoned cat we took in when a family who owned him a few houses down moved and left him.  Red Eared Sliders and Tortoises have different care needs. Thank goodness for the internet!  You can sit down and research the needs of what you were gifted.  The chances of finding an open bookstore or library on Christmas Day are small.  Even if you do, the store may not have what you need.


My son’s first tank.

It is a good idea to have a baseline veterinary exam done within a couple days of receipt. Even if vaccines were given, you should still have most gifted pets vet checked. If it has been awhile since you had a puppy or if this is your first one, consider a couple in-home sessions with a trainer to get you started.  Enrollment in a good puppy program is also highly recommended. The Pet Professional Guild can help you find a host of animal related services for different species from trainers to groomers, boarding kennels, etc.

Now the hard part: what if you cannot keep the animal? The suddenness of the responsibility can be scary at first.  Sometimes third party professional advice can help you make the best decision.   Talk to some professionals about physical, behavioral and medical needs.  Get information about pet sitters and boarding if you need to travel.  You may decide you can make this work with a support system.  You may have needed a different set of eyes to help you see the reality through your initial stress.


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For others, there are legitimate reasons why it would not be fair to keep a gifted pet.  There may be lease concerns or pet restrictions where the recipient lives.  There may be medical conditions or the recipient may be caring for an ailing relative.  The recipient may not be in a financial position to care for another life.  Hopefully the giver is in a position to keep the animal.  If you are unable to return the animal to the initial source and the giver cannot keep the animal, then you have to look at other options.  Many dog clubs have associated breed rescues.  There are rescues for many species of animal.  A professional can help you find help if you cannot fairly keep the pet.

There has been so much written about why giving a pet as a present is a bad idea. For those of you considering giving a pet as a gift any time of year, please do not.  Even if the intended recipient has spoken about getting a pet or recently lost one, the choice of pet is personal.  If you have received a pet you did not know was coming, immediate action can increase the chance of a long and happy relationship.

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training in Virginia and the developer of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project – started in 2000.

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