By Marcy Eckhardt
At animal shelters across the country, we discourage people from adopting pets as gifts for a number of reasons.
Animals that are new to a household need a chance to fit in, ideally in a low-chaos situation where they are able to watch how the household runs, rather than interact with it. It also helps if there is not a lot of new, different or unpredictable people around (something that’s not always avoidable during the holidays).
And, of course, the main reason is that if the people are going to keep the animal through the good and not-so-good times, they have to have a bond or a connection to the animal, and that only happens when they can pick them out themselves.
The first few months of an animal’s life is a crucial socialization time, and so is the first few days at their new home. During this time, they are learning the feeding, bathroom and walking routines, but also who is who, how each likes to pet, play, what is allowed and what isn’t. It’s a lot to take in and digest, let alone to interact with and act appropriately.
When we add in the chaotic environment of the holidays – such as different people coming by and a constantly changing routine – it is easy to see why so many animals are returned in January. Even puppies that are often “bombproof” can be traumatized by the constant activity and nonexistent schedules.
But the main reason we discourage pets as gifts is because pets are a ton of work. They often cause us to lose sleep, spend money we had earmarked for something else and ruin the things we hold dear. In order to love your pet through these challenges, you have to have a connection with them. That connection often forms when you meet them, when they remind you of a pet you had in the past or one you always wanted.
When picking a pet as a gift, a person finds a dog or cat they like, rather than one the person they are getting it for is drawn to.
An animal is one of the most precious things we can share our households with. But as living beings, they sometimes have their own opinions of where they should be living and who they should be living with.
Set yourself and your loved ones up for success by paying for the adoption (and the necessary supplies), but allowing the recipient to pick the animal out themselves. And consider doing it in January, after the holiday chaos has subsided.
Marcy Eckhardt is La Plata County Humane Society’s dog trainer and behaviorist and executive director of pranaDOGS Behavior & Rehab Center. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.