Giving the Gift of a Pet

This was originally run in a shorter version in the print edition of Northern Virginia Today, Dec 2017.  I have expanded it here for my blog. Though this covers the Winter Holidays, the same holds for any time someone will consider gifting a pet.


Grandma has heartwarming dreams of her beautiful Sally opening a box to find her dream kitty. Carols playing, a glittery box, Grandpa dressed as Santa. This is a better gift than the other grandmother will give!  What about giving a pet to your new girlfriend Christmas Eve?  Oh how great would that be? Puppy and a mistletoe kiss! Stop. Turn off the Hallmark Channel thoughts and look at reality. The reality is pets are a commitment. Some are more of a commitment than others.

puppy eating turkey

What needs to be considered before gifting a pet?

  • Can the recipient meet the physical, behavioral, financial, short and long term needs of the animal?
  • Is there a chance of a move in the future?
  • Are there plans to take in an ailing relative?
  • Have you considered allergies to the animal or an associated product?
  • Are there community restrictions about what type or size pet that can be owned?
  • What if the pet is not what the recipient wants or can sanely live with?
  • Are the parents fully on board with you giving their child a pet?
  • Does the person even want a pet at this point?
  • If the recipient cannot keep the pet for whatever reason what will happen to the animal?

Before you gift a pet make 100% certain the person is actively looking to add one. This goes for friends and relatives.  There can be NO surprises. What can happen if people do not consider the life of the recipients and that of the pet?

The recipient must choose the pet, the source and the timing. If any of these are wrong the outcome may not be favorable for owner or critter.  Here is an example:

A couple I worked with was thrilled to be retired and all their children had moved out.  They saw FREEDOM. To celebrate they made arrangements for a several month trip to travel the US. Reservations were made. An RV was rented. They were excited. Then the children decided Mom and Dad must be lonely and gave them a puppy.  The dog was physically and behaviorally a good match for the couple but the timing was horrible. None of the children were able to take the puppy for those months so the couple cancelled their plans.  All during sessions I heard how upset they were. They did not want a puppy at this point.  They made it work and grew to love the pup but there was loss of deposits from the trip. Now they had to figure out how to either travel with the dog, find someone to care for him, or not take their dream trip at all.  Not all places or RV rentals are pet friendly.  Travelling with a pet can affect how long you can stay out and where you can go.  By gifting a pup when they did the well-meaning children were selfish.  Their parents had been dreaming of this trip for years and now could not do what they wanted, how they wanted. They were not opposed to having a dog.  The timing was horrific.

When gifting a pet all you can be is the person who pays. This means the recipient makes ALL the decisions including no pet at all. However, if you know the animal is a poor match such as your brother wanting a bulldog for a long distance running buddy or the critter is not permitted in the community, then nothing is making you write that check.  It is OK to say “No.”

So, the recipient is 100% in agreement and actively looking for a pet. The desired critter is a good match for the potential new owner.  The source has been chosen and everything is set to go.  Can you now give a pet over the holidays? The answer is “It depends on what the holidays will be like.”

If the recipient hosts parties or has seasonal plans, wait. The recipient may not want to housetrain a puppy during the winter or worry about a kitten and that Christmas tree.   If the recipient is a homebody and has no plans to host or attend events then the timing may be better.  Again, it is up to the recipient so have careful conversations.

A friend of the family was actively looking for a pet.  She knew exactly what she wanted.  She was prepared to bring in the critter at any point.  She had the time and resources to make it work.  A friend of hers made all the arrangements and “surprised” her friend with the puppy she had been looking for.  In reality, it was all set to go.  It was simply a case of waiting for the puppy to be old enough to go to a new home.

Now on to you parents!

Your child is begging for a pet and is writing letters to Santa. He is driving you crazy! Should you get him that puppy he wants?  Stop and ask yourself “Do I want the responsibility?”  No matter how mature or responsible your child seems, no matter what he promises, the pet’s care is ultimately yours.  Do not forget that long term commitment. My Sheltie, Muffin was with me through the end of elementary school, middle school, high school, college, marriage and the purchase of our first home. When she was not able to be with me, who was responsible for her?  It is better to tell a child no than to make promises you have no intention on keeping or bring in an animal you will not care for.

My daughter wanted guinea pigs like her big brother had.  When the time was right I located a woman who was getting rid of her daughter’s guinea pig.  The pet was a gift from the parents and they assumed the child would be fully responsible.  Within a couple months the parents were doing all the work.  Instead of being responsible for the pet, they decided to get rid of it.  She lived with us for many years.

Gifting a pet is much different from gifting a pair of socks. Close communication and consideration for both the critter and the recipient must be addressed.  I have known people who met all the criteria and the pet had a wonderful home.  The recipient was actively looking for a pet.  The giver knew what was wanted and the timing.  The recipient was 100% on board with the puppy. So it can work but there can be no surprises.  If you are not willing to follow the strict criteria about giving a pet, do not. Instead of giving a pet wait until the pet is acquired and give the gift of pet supplies and pet supply gift cards!

Karen Peak is the owner of West Wind Dog Training and the Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Virginia.

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