Most shelters will not allow the adoption of a pet as a gift to someone else. There are many reasons for this. In order to protect both the pet (which is the main job of a shelter), and the potential adopter, all rescues have procedures that they follow. As much as it hurts to tell an enthusiastic gift-giver “no”, the shelters must do so. Here are a few of the reasons why you should never give a pet as a gift:
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SEVEN REASONS YOU SHOULD RECONSIDER GIVING A PET AS A GIFT
ARE YOU SURE THEY WANT A PET?
When I worked as an Adoption Counselor, I had two ladies come in to look at dogs to adopt. On speaking with them, I learned that they were sisters, looking for a dog to take home to their 70+ year old mother. It seems their mother’s beloved dog had just passed away, and the daughters thought it would be a wonderful present to bring a new dog into their mom’s life. A sweet thought. How could this go wrong?
I spent a few moments chatting with them, before explaining that we didn’t adopt pets out as gifts.
My questions (and from their expressions, ones they hadn’t thought of):
- Was Mom ready for a new dog? Although I’ve known people who have adopted a new pet the day after they’ve lost their former one, many people need time to grieve. The daughters weren’t really certain.
- Are you sure Mom wants another dog? Often people, especially elderly people on their own, have been thinking that, once their loved pet passes on, they’ll travel, or visit family, or do other things that having a pet has made difficult or impossible. The sudden introduction of a new pet gives Mom only two choices: a. give up on her dreams; or b. refuse the new animal. If she’s an animal lover, the choice will be a. every time, but is that fair?
- A pet and owner personality match is very important. Will Mom and the new pet be a good match? As much as a daughter thinks she knows her Mom (or a Mom their child), you can’t possibly match a pet with a person as successfully as they could themselves.
IF THE PET IS FOR A CHILD, ARE THE PARENTS ON BOARD?
People, even parents who should know better, often think their child is ready for more responsibility than they really are. Never give a pet to a child unless the parents understand that they, not their child, are 100% responsible for that animal. Returning the animal to the shelter because “my child didn’t follow through and take care of her all the time” is not acceptable.
Children are children, and do not have an adult sense of responsibility. Expecting them to take complete care of a pet is expecting the impossible, and abandoning an animal because the adult won’t step up is more irresponsible than a child could ever be. So, unless the parents are fully aware that they WILL have to care for any pet in the home, don’t give one to a child as a gift.
That having been said, getting a pet when you have children is certainly a great way to instill compassion and responsibility. But the final decision to get one should involve all family members including the kids. A pet personality is very specific to the family.
DO YOU KNOW THE FAMILY WELL ENOUGH TO JUDGE THE FIT BETWEEN ANIMAL AND HUMAN?
Some families thrive with an energetic pet who loves to rough house, go for runs, and bowl over people in their exuberance. To other families, this pet would be nothing but a nuisance.
Laid-back families (watching TV in the evenings is their go-to activity) would do best with laid-back pets. Active families want active pets. Can you judge this appropriately?
WOULD THE INTENDED OWNER BE APPROVED TO ADOPT IF APPLYING ON THEIR OWN?
This is a difficult one. Depending on how well you know the person, and whether or not you’ve seen them with their animals, a mistake can easily be made here. Loving your pet is not necessarily enough. Does the new owner have a history of taking previous pets to the vet and getting the necessary vaccinations? Does she intend on keeping the animal inside, or tied up in the back yard? Have his previous pets been spayed or neutered? These are all things an outside person may not know. But shelters and rescues need to know these things in order to approve an adoption.
WHY GIVING A PET AS A GIFT FOR CHRISTMAS IS A BAD IDEA
Not only will most shelters not approve this, many shelters cut off all adoptions for a week before and a week after Christmas. These organizations will allow visiting and all the paperwork to be completed during that period, and approvals granted. But animals will not be going home until after the New Year.
The holidays are a hectic time in just about every household. There are extended family members in and out, lots of errands to run, and lots of chores to be done. This is not the time to bring an animal into your lives. All adopted pets need some down time when they first arrive. Peace and quiet will allow them, and you, to acclimate to the new household. (For further reading, check out my earlier post about celebrating the holidays with a recently adopted pet.)
Would you like to be suddenly pulled from your family and deposited in the middle of a loud party? I suspect not (except for some of you ultra-extroverts). A dog or cat feels the same. Remember, they’ve been uprooted, and they don’t understand why. Many rescues now call for a two-week shutdown before a newly-adopted animal is allowed free rein in the home. That’s just not possible in the middle of the holidays. Much better to wait until life has gone back to your regular routine.
REASONS NOT TO GIVE A PET TO SOMEONE WHO HAS NEVER HAD ONE BEFORE
Giving someone who has never had a pet a dog or a cat is a recipe for unhappiness. A person may be eagerly looking to become a pet owner, but without experience and with no one to answer questions, it will be much more difficult than it needs to be. New pet owners should go to shelters or rescues with knowledgeable staff who can work with them directly. People new to domestic animals will need an “easy” pet to begin with, and only a staff familiar with the pets can choose which ones will fit.
WILL THE SPOUSE/PARTNER APPROVE OF AN ANIMAL IN THE HOME?
This is a tricky one. Many years ago my Mother got the idea of getting her father a dog from the shelter for Christmas. I remember the dog well – a tri-colored shepherd mix with a sweet personality. But Mom didn’t think of one thing – her mother had absolutely no desire for a pet, nor any intention of allowing her husband to bring one into the home.
The end result was my mother having one more dog that she really didn’t need (we had a few already). My father was not thrilled about this either. At least they kept the dog. In many instances, the animal would have been returned to the shelter, because of a poor decision on the part of humans.
SOME IDEAS TO TRY, IF YOU REALLY WANT TO GIVE SOMEONE A PET
A GIFT CERTIFICATE
Rather than giving a pet as a gift, pay for an adoption certificate. Many shelters and rescues would be happy to work with you in this way. You can go in, pay the standard adoption fee for the type of pet you want to gift, and get a certificate. Then, you can take your friend to the shelter and help them choose which pet they would like. (Bear in mind, though, that your friend will still have to go through the approval process.)
A TOUR OF THE SHELTERS
Wait until a few days after the holiday or birthday and take your friend on a tour of local rescues and shelters. Let her know you’re willing to take all the time necessary until she finds the pet she wants. Sometimes a person just needs a little nudge.
SEND OUT A SCOUTING PARTY
Visit the shelter a day or two before you take the giftee. You might be able to make the process a little easier by eliminating the pets that you know won’t fit her lifestyle. The ones who are too energetic, or too large, or not the right age. That way, when she gets there, she’ll visit with only the ones who might suit.
SPECIAL TIPS FOR GETTING A PET FOR A CHILD
If you are planning on getting a pet for your child, or for someone else’s child, plan ahead. If the child is under 10, or particularly high-strung, make sure they’re well-rested and well-fed before you go to the shelter. A kid in a state of excitement will frighten a lot of animals, and make everyone’s trip less enjoyable.
If your child exhibits fear of the animals, STOP. Forcing a frightened child to interact with a pet can ruin both her later enjoyment and the animal’s future interaction with children. There is no set age when a child should outgrow a fear – and there are also many adults who are frightened of animals. Maybe he’ll be ready for a pet one day, but he isn’t now. There’s no shame in finding out that this is not the right time for your family to adopt.
In short, adopting a pet is a very personal thing – having been around many animals in many different environments, I know that there are animals that call to you, and those which do not. There’s no magical way to judge which are which, only the person whose pet it will become can know. So, by all means help your friend or family member find a pet to love, but let them have the joy of discovering the right one for them.
Beagle with bow photo by Vlad Sargu on Unsplash