5 reasons not to give a pet as a Christmas gift (and one idea how to do it, if you insist)

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care ... (photo courtesy of Gentle Shepherd Farms)

There’s nothing cuter than the image of a fluffy little puppy under the Christmas tree, big red bow tied around is neck, surrounded by brightly wrapped packages, just waiting for your children to pad downstairs in the their little jammies as they cry out with delight. Oooh! Aaaah!! A puppy!

That, my friends, is one dangerous image.

Christmas is not the time to introduce a new puppy to the family, especially if it’s a surprise gift. Unlike the ugly sweater Aunt Edith sent from Peoria or the rock tumbler Grandma Jones thought your spouse would love, a puppy isn’t a product that can be returned if it doesn’t fit. The same goes for kittens and gerbils and hamsters and lizards and fish and sugar gliders …

Here are 5 reasons why puppies make terrible presents (and, at the end, one fantastic way for you to give a pet for Christmas and do it in a humane way that benefits the gift recipient and the animal):

Too cute! But he's only going to stay this way for very little while.

1) That adorable little fluff ball everyone falls in love with today will very soon turn into an adolescent canine with more energy than brains and after that a full grown, adult dog with adult dog needs. Sure, today you can stick little Fido in a basket where he’ll fall asleep for 20 out of 24 hours (the other four he’s peeing or eating). But after about a week of that he’s going to be awake and ready for action. And after that, he’s not going to be 5 lbs anymore. He’s more likely going to be 40 lbs or 60 lbs or more.

That cute fluff ball becomes this drooling giant. Lovely and wonderful - if you know ahead of time what you're getting into.

A St. Bernard puppy is cute; a St. Bernard dog is still cute – but it’s a drooling, shedding, giant poops in the backyard for a decade kind of cute.  Make sure you’re being realistic; a cute puppy lasts a few months, but an adult dog sticks around for years. Make sure that when you’re adding a pet to your family - whether it’s a dog or cat – you understand that you’re making a commitment for a decade or more. A physical, emotional and financial commitment. 

Little tiny puppy, big scary new house. (This is Bailey, the day I brought her home from the shelter.)

 

2) Christmas is an exciting, stressful time, so now isn’t the best time for a puppy to make the transition to his new home. You’re off schedule, there are lots of people in and out (and some of them may be adding to your stress level), and things can be overwhelming and confusing for a little puppy. Imagine if you were suddenly plucked from your family and plopped into a completely strange environment where you didn’t know anyone or understand the language.

When you bring home a new dog, he needs time to settle in, get all the smells down, learn the routine, get a sense of where he is and what’s going on around him. Some experts estimate that it can take a couple of weeks before a dog settles into his new routine. For a shelter dog, it can take even longer – in the space of maybe a week he may have gone from the streets to a kennel to new home. That’s confusing, frightening, and very stressful. He needs a calm environment with patient people who can help him adjust, who will understand that he may need to bark or mark or chew or hide under the kitchen table for a week or more. What he doesn’t need is to be dragged around to visit relatives, where he’s constantly encountering more strange people and environments.

Dogs do dog stuff. Are you prepared for dirt, dog hair, and chewed shoes? (This is my dog Scout. We should have named him Mud.)

 

3) A puppy is cute but it’s still a live animal with live animal needs. He’s going to pee and poop – probably on your carpet, your furniture, your new sweater from Aunt Edith. He’s going to need to learn to go outside to do his business, which will mean trips to the backyard every hour – even through the night. Yes, friends, you need to get up with darling little fluff ball and take him outside to potty. Even if you crate train him, you need to help him learn that the best place to potty is outside. (As he grows, he’s going to bark and dig and run away and chew your shoes and destroy your laptop power cord and shed all over your house. We have two dogs that eat poop. Who could have predicted that?)

And there are lots more things a puppy can get into at Christmas time – from ribbon on packages (which can tie up a dog’s digestive tract faster than you can say, “Ho ho ho!”) to Christmas ornaments (think about what a wire ornament hanger can do in a puppy’s throat) to chocolate, cookies and plants (poison, poison, poison). Is Christmas really the time you want to be on 24/7 alert for the kids’ toys and stray candies and other puppy dangers?

YouTube Preview Image

4) It’s easier to fall for the puppy mill dog at Christmas. Oh, look at that puppy in the window at the mall! That purebred little darling is just ready to come home with you right now! Did you know that most dogs sold in pet stores come from puppy mills? Despite what the store owner will tell you, puppy mills pump out dogs for stores all across the country, dogs that come from inbred, inhumanely treated, filthy conditions. Oh, but you don’t see that on the store window. (The video above is from an undercover investigation by Companion Animal Protection Society of one of the country’s largest USDA approved dog breeding facilities. If you bought a puppy from a pet store, chances are it came from here.)

Believe it or not, you can find lots of purebred dogs at the shelter, dogs who are there for simple reasons, like their owner passed away or moved. Not all shelter dogs are strays or problem dogs. In fact, there are lots of dogs that were sold for hundreds and thousands of dollars at the pet shop that end up at the shelter after the owners realize that puppies bark and pee and chew - where you can fall in love with him for a nominal adoption fee.

This is my cat, Murphy. I wasn't sure I even wanted a cat the day I stopped at the shelter, and after visiting with several kittens I was pretty convinced I didn't. Then Murphy came into the room, and it was love at first meow.

 

5) Just because you like a puppy doesn’t mean he’ll like you – or the person you’re buying for. Adding a canine – or kitty, for that matter – to your household needs to be a family decision. Oftentimes people will go to a shelter looking for a specific kind of animal and instantly bond with another that looks nothing like what they’d imagined they’d bring home. That’s because, much like humans, dogs like certain people and they don’t like others. Most dog and cat lovers will tell you that when they met their animal soulmate, they “just knew.”  You can’t make that happen for someone else.

And you need to find a pet that matches your family dynamics – for example, if you’re bookworms who spend a lot of quiet time indoors, a Border collie is not the dog for you. (In fact, you need to be slightly crazy to own Border collies as pets; I speak from experience.) And just because you once had a chocolate Lab doesn’t mean every chocolate Lab is going to like you or act like your last chocolate Lab. Dogs have personalities, just like people.

And imagine how you’d feel if you really didn’t want a pet at all - but ta da! Someone handed you a live animal and expected you to be happy. And take care of it. For years.

But hey! We want to give a dog or cat as a gift – to our kids, to a parent, to a friend. All is not lost – there is a fantastic way to give the gift and do what’s best for the animal!

Give a gift certificate! It can be something you make up yourself, offering to take  your loved one to the shelter or rescue store and let them pick out the pet they want, and you’ll pay the adoption fee. You can even add in lunch or a trip to the pet shop to stock up on litter or dog toys or whatever else they might need. It’s a great way to spend time with someone you love, and help them meet the new furry friend they were meant to have! And even better, if the person decides not to get a pet, you haven’t spent money or put a live animal into a situation where it needs to be rehomed.

RELATED POSTS:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/heavenlycreatures/2011/12/setting-the-record-straight-on-barkworks-puppy-mills-and-the-work-of-caps/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/heavenlycreatures/2011/12/pet-sales-banned-at-malls-nationwide-rescue-stores-begin-to-replace-pet-shops/

  • Jennifer Parrott

    Hello Heavenly Creatures and Joanne Brokaw. I have been researching your sites and the You Tube videos this morning about puppy mills and Barkworks pet stores. I am sad and concerned. For the past six or more years my husband and I have been trying to rescue a dog. We have hoped for another Golden Retriever but had been more than willing to entertain other breeds or mixes. We have had no luck at all. We have been repeatedly denied every dog we have shown an interest in adopting. The reasons we were given over and over again are; your children are too young and “this dog” will be too much for them; or, your children are too young and ‘”they” will be too much for this dog.
    I can name up to five friends of mine who have purchased dogs at the Barkworks of Mission Viejo for the same reasons. Our animal shelters and rescues in Orange County and perhaps into LA are driving the masses to the pet stores! I don’t have a big voice or a campaign behind me and I am hoping/begging you to make a big noise about this issue. Barkworks is in business because of the “Rescues” and shelters denying, mistreating, and discriminating against families with young children (often said they need to be at least 6years old; but if you have a 6 year old then they say they have to be 12!)
    Our most recent attempt took place early this month when my eleven year old daughter filled out an application for a beautiful four month old golden retriever online. I approved it and added to it my experience of working in a vet hospital, my Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and animal behavior and the fact that our golden is now a happy, healthy 9.5 years old. I was denied for having young children and was told that they will keep my application on file, visit my home and place my family with the “right” dog someday. They want to choose my next family member for me! Forget it.
    I am ashamed and embarrassed to tell you the worst part. After too many failed attempts my husband and I went to the local pet shop and purchased our next family member. I am not an expert but did my best to examine her given my vet tech experience and deemed her healthy as far as I can tell. I was up all night last night praying that the Lord that He had given me wisdom and that He would somehow protect us from my mistake of purchasing a puppy mill dog.
    Please do not judge me for that but her my plea instead. Put these rescue places and shelters in the headlines for the horrible choices they feel entitled to make. I want them outed for the fact that they are perpetuating the cycle of puppy mill to pet shop and denying my family the right to own a pet at our own discretion. Yes, I wish I had gone to a breeder but the prices were too high for a golden and I didn’t want to put a dog on a plane.
    Sincerely confused and defeated,
    Jennifer Parrott of San Clemente, CA.

    • Joanne Brokaw

      Jennifer, I can completely understand your frustration. Being on the adopting side of the counter, I can imagine how difficult the restrictions can be.

      I volunteered for a year at our municipal animal shelter and the criteria for adopting were very lenient. There were times when dogs were adopted out and I wasn’t 100% sure it was the perfect match. At the same time, the shelter was way overcrowded and they could only do their best to find homes.

      But when I took in a puppy to foster I was surprised at how restrictive the rescue was. The thing is, after a while, I began to understand why. The rescues get the dogs after people buy them at pet shops on a whim, (which I know you did not do) or adopt them from a shelter and realize they’re in over their heads and return them (you’d be amazed at how many ppl adopt and return dogs!), or otherwise find themselves unable to care for a dog and the shelters unable to take it.

      Rescues often end up with the dogs who might otherwise end up euthanized, so it’s critical for them to make sure they don’t put the dog in a situation where a child might get bit or hurt (which would send the dog directly to the needle). The “no children” is really quite common, again because the rescues often have dogs that have already been thru a few homes and might not be a good match for kids. They want to make sure this is the last stop for the dog. And remember that unlike a shelter, rescues have dogs that they’ve actually been living with in a home environment, so they have a MUCH better idea of how the dog acts in a real family environment. If they don’t think a dog should be around kids, you can be sure there’s a reason for it and the restriction is for both the dog and the family’s benefit. They want to find the dog a forever home, because they can foster another dog that might be euthanized otherwise, so I really believe they’re setting those parameters for a reason.

      Thanks for at least making the effort and I’m sorry you had such a difficult time. I’ll pass your comments along to one of the rescue organizations I’ve been talking with and see if someone would be willing to address your comments and concerns; they’re valid questions and I’m sure you’re not the only one who has them!

      Do keep us posted on your pup – we’ll pray it all works out for you!
      Joanne

  • Jennifer

    Jennifer,

    While I understand your frustrations, I am very curious about your application. I’m wondering if there was something on it that the rescues didn’t like and they didn’t want to come right out and tell you. I’ll give you an example: Say you had two dogs hit by cars and surrendered another to a kill shelter and talked about that in the application because of the questions on the application. No rescue worth their salt would adopt to an applicant with this kind of history. Again, this is just an example. They might have used your child as an easy way out without getting confrontational about the history of your animal care.

    Rescues are not shelters. We uphold much higher standards when placing dogs into homes. It’s not a slam on shelters, it’s just the difference between the two. We’ve usually had to rescue these animals from very dire circumstances and we have a responsibility to them. Our biggest responsibility is to place them into a home where they will never face such circumstances again. Shelters really just have to move them out because they have dozens more coming in. Rescues don’t have that problem. Their dogs are usually living in loving foster homes while they wait for their forever home. We aren’t in a rush to just get them out, so we can save more. It’s not a numbers game, or it shouldn’t be. Of course we want to save more but we are not willing to put an animal in jeopardy or a less than ideal living situation just so we can do that. It’s a responsibility we take very seriously.

    Having said all that, I do understand why you got frustrated. However, there is never an excuse to buy a puppy from a pet store. If you cannot find the dog you want through rescue, a highly reputable breeder would be a good second choice. It’s more than insulting to place the blame on shelters and rescues because someone got frustrated and ran to the nearest pet store to purchase their pooch. With all the information out there on puppy mills and the incredibly cruel life the animals are forced to live, it’s unacceptable.

    I want to address one thing you’ve said. You said: “They want to choose my next family member for me! Forget it.” Well yes, that’s exactly what WE do. We match dogs to appropriate homes. If you find a dog you absolutely fall in love with but that dog is not good with children, why would we place that dog in that situation? That’s a bite waiting to happen and we cannot set them up to fail. Or say you have a cat but the dog you fell in love with is bad with cats. That’s not an appropriate placement. The dogs in a rescue are VERY well known by the people in that rescue and we know what would be the best placement for them. Sometimes people fall in love with a dog and it’s a perfect match but more often than not we have people who just fall in love with a picture and the dog just isn’t appropriate for their home. Again, rescues have the ability to be pickier about where their dogs go.

    We don’t feel entitled to these choices, they are OUR responsibility. I’m sorry you see that as “horrible choices”.

    Jenn

    • Joanne Brokaw

      Well said, Jenn. Thanks for the rescue perspective – I don’t think people really know what goes into dog rescue and finding homes for those dogs. I know I didn’t! ;)
      Joanne

  • Daniel Schmidt

    Wait, if you take them to get the pet themselfs, won’t you end up loosing more money yourself?

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