Thursday, December 10, 2015

Pets as presents? New research says it's not always a bad idea

Pugs can make good presents for the right family
For years, we've been told that pets make for terrible holiday presents. Rather than giving a family a live, wriggling being to love and cuddle and enjoy, we've been asked to hand out pet bowls, pet beds or vouchers for a new animal.

Turns out, that's not a position supported by science.

The ASPCA dug into the statistics about pet relinquishment to shelters. The reasons owners gave for giving up a precious pet often had to do with time commitments (for dogs) or allergies (for cats). Fewer than 1 percent of people named the pet's status as a gift as a reason for leaving it at the shelter. And other research highlighted by the ASPCA in that same blog post suggests that very few pets that enter shelters entered the family as a gift. Most come from breeders, pet shops and shelters.

As a result of this fascinating data, the Willamette Humane Society (of which I am a board member) recently changed policies, allowing people to adopt animals meant to be given as gifts. The hope is that this little shift will result in a higher adoption rate—and more saved lives.

When this movement happened, I'll admit that I was a little skeptical. It's hard to challenge and change a belief that's been in place for so very long. I've just never thought that giving a pet as a gift was smart, and I couldn't imagine why it would be a good idea.

And then I started thinking.

When I hand out holiday gifts, I do a lot of thinking about the people I love and what they like and dislike. I know all of my gift recipients very well. I talk to them all the time. I go to their houses and they go to mine. I've met their friends, their pets and their family members. I know a great deal about what their schedules, preferences and dislikes are. I even know a little about how their personal finances are set up.

That means I might be in a great position to select a perfect pet for the people I love.

If I put the same thought into choosing a pet that I might put into choosing something silly like a book, I could connect someone I love with a much more rewarding gift. And I could save an animal's life at the same time.

I should mention (for the friends and family members reading) that I have no intention of giving a pet gift this year. I can't really think of any friends who are either interested in or looking for a furry Christmas gift. But I'm thrilled to think that there are families out there walking through shelters, looking for the perfect present. If more lives are saved, I'm all in.

You can read more about this ASPCA research here. And if you're in Oregon, you're in luck. Tonight, the Willamette Humane Society is holding a panel regarding Christmas puppy gift giving. Head to that, and you'll learn all about what to look for in a little pup, and what things to avoid. Learn more about the panel here.

Any of you given or received animals as gifts in the past? Leave me a blog post comment. I'd love to hear about the things that did or didn't work for you. 


  1. My first 2 dogs were gifts from my husband. One was an early Christmas gift and one was a gift for finish my Master's. In both cases I had been asking for a puppy for a long time. So for us it worked out. I think you need to be careful whenever you get a pet!

  2. Alex, our beloved cat, was a pet to my husband from his former girlfriend. Best gift ever!