No pets for holiday presents!

Photo: Brandenburg

There's no question that baby animals are irrestibly cute. But Christmas is not the time to be giving animals as gifts.

The gift that keeps on being a hassle
Every year during the holiday season, dog, cats and other animal companions are given to unsuspecting relatives and friends. The giver has the best of intentions -- they want to give something that will be remembered. But a breathing "gift" doesn't also give the fondest memories.

The SPCA and Humane Society Associations around the world have a variety of campaigns discouraging people from giving pets as gifts. Ireland SPCA launched its No Pets for Christmas campaign on December 6.

Puppies are the most popular gift followed by kittens, ferrets, birds and reptiles. None should be given during the holiday season.

Consider the recipients
A dog and cat can live up to 15 years and sometimes even longer. That's quite a commitment to ask from someone without asking them if they are ready and willing. Birds and reptiles can require special housing and feeding and that may be a strain on a family. Pets may not be allowed in their apartment or condo building.

Unfortunately many people who are on the receiving end never wanted a four-legged family member (or one with wings or scales). Those who are looking for a dog or cat usually want to personally select their future "best friend."

Christmas stress hard on animals
Even if the animal is a welcome addition, the holidays are not a great time to introduce a new animal into a household. Everyone is busy and there isn't the time to help an animal adjust to its new surroundings. A stressed pet, particularly an energetic and playful pup left unsupervised, is more likely to get into trouble. No responsible breeder will sell puppies at Christmas since leaving their mother and sibling is a traumatic time and any puppy will need extra attention.

Wrong message
Pets under the tree are often thought of something to play with rather than a living being and like most Christmas gifts, the novelty wears off. Lumping an animal in with the latest Christmas toys sends the wrong message to children. Pets should be seen as a responsibility rather than some commodity to be bought. Unfortunately, when you purchase one of those over-priced dogs and cats from pet stores you are supporting the mostly unsupervised puppy farm industry that breeds unhealthy animals in miserable conditions.

When reality hits
What happens when reality doesn't live up to the fantasy and the romance fades? Just visit an animal shelter after the holidays where many of those cute Christmas present have been dumped.

The majority of Christmas pets end up being dropped off at the pound between seven and fourteen months old when they aren't cute anymore but have become problem pets. Many of these innocent victims face an unknown future and some may not leave alive.

Pet alternatives
Don't run the risk of giving a present that makes you resented. Leave that cute puppy in the window. Surprise them with the idea of adopting an animal; wrap up some items the animal will need. Toys, bowls, leash, collar and bed can be given along with a stuffed toy as a substitute. A book on caring for the animal they would like to adopt is practical as it provides useful information on selecting, raising and caring for an animal companion and the responsibilities and commitments involved.

When the time is right
Make the search for the family pet part of the gift. Give a card with the names of the animal shelter and adoption agencies or even better set up an appointment and make going with them part of the gift. Offer to take photos or shoot a home video of the pet arriving home. Supporting your local shelter helps a deserving animal find a home. Shots and neutering is nearly always included in the price of the animal.

Adopt a wild animal
If you are set on giving an animal then the World Wildlife Fund has an online adoption centre with over 80 endangered animals. Your gift helps support conservation efforts for animals around the world.

Hold off on buying that new pet and you will be giving happier memories. After all, Christmas is a time for good will to all creatures!

Glenn Perrett has a degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo and is a regular contributor to Green Living Online.