Giving a pet for Christmas – magical or a mistake?

The holiday season is upon us and that means people are searching for the perfect gift for friends and family. From socks to wine and pajamas to animals, people will receive both wanted and unwanted gifts.

What about you? Have you heard murmurs from the kids that you could use a cat to keep you company? Are you thinking your grandchildren really need a dog in their lives? Let's look at the good and bad of giving and receiving pets as gifts.

Research from the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) found that 86 percent of pets given as gifts remained with the recipient. Furthermore, several studies conducted in the 1990s and 2000 (Patronek, 1996, Scarlett, 1999 New, 1999, New 2000) found that pets acquired as gifts are less likely to be relinquished than pets acquired by the individual. This implies that despite the common warning not to give pets as gifts, it isn't as bad an idea as one might think.

But there are some caveats to consider first: Has this person expressed a sustained interest in getting an animal companion? Does this person have the ability, both financially and physically, to care for an animal? Does the intended recipient have the time to care for a pet?

If you believe your grandchildren are truly interested in a pet and will be responsible for his/her care then there is one more question to consider: have you asked the parents? If not, giving the grandkids the surprise of a furry gift might not be welcome by those who will bear the financial responsibility.

But when gifting is done right, it can be a rewarding experience. Here is a story from one of Anchorage Animal Care and Control's Facebook followers:

I was gifted a kitten for Christmas when I was 7. It was really exciting and I was smitten. Our family's motto regarding animals has always been that "pets are not disposable objects" and so my parents went into the situation knowing that they were ultimately responsible for her for life. I/we cared for and loved her for her entire life. Honestly, they knew how much I wanted a cat, they agreed amongst themselves on the commitment, and used the holiday as a fun "reveal."

And what if you suspect the kids and grandkids may be planning a surprise for you? If you truly do not want the responsibility of an animal, then be honest and let them know that before you are faced with an adorable kitten or puppy looking at you with eyes full of love and hope.

But if you do want a friend, how about letting them know that you'd like to be part of the process of choosing the animal. Your family can accompany you to a local shelter or rescue and help you find the animal that matches your lifestyle best.

Another option is to ask for help in paying for the things you'll need to care for your new pet. We loved this advice from a former pet store employee: "The best idea is a nice big gift card to the pet store for supplies – being a part of the gift by helping to plan out their new pet adventure is fun, educational and shows you really care about both your human and the creatures you love."

We'll leave you with one final consideration: Are the holidays the best time to give or receive an animal? Settling an animal into a new home is a slow and patient process that requires the attention of the family. Perhaps it is best to consider letting someone know that you intend on gifting them with a pet but will wait until after the holidays when life is calm again.

Laura Atwood is the Anchorage Animal Care and Control Public Relations Coordinator.