First off, Happy New Year! Here’s hoping that 2014 is everything you want it to be.
There’s a timely issue making the rounds that I thought would result in an interesting discussion: giving pets as gifts. I’m sure you’ve all heard the warnings to “never give a pet as a gift.” Yet, recently that advice has been questioned by several different sources. Emily Weiss of the ASPCA did a study which found that people who received pets as gifts were as attached to them as pets acquired otherwise. In addition, the same percentage of gifted pets stayed in the home as those from routine adoptions. You can read more about this in an ASPCA Guest Blog by ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker.
The well-known sanctuary Best Friends made the same point this December, see their blog entitled Debunking the Adoption Grinch. I have admit that I had to stop and think about this, because I’ve had a raft of clients who weren’t happy about being “gifted” a dog or cat. That got me thinking about what criteria might lead to successful “pets as gifts,” versus those that would lead to the opposite. Here are my thoughts, I’d love to hear yours.
1. The gift’s receiver must have already decided that he or she both wanted a pet. Giving a dog to a twelve-year old child after she spent months researching breeds, and when the family is all on board, is a good idea, not a bad one. The problems occur when someone decides that the recipient should want a pet. The most common problem pet-as-gift I can think of, and that I saw relatively often, was an animal given to someone who had experienced a loss, and the giver decided, on their own, that a pet would make things better. Here’s an example from my case files: A woman loses her husband of 40 years, and her children decide to give her a puppy to cheer her up. Except that the only thing the widow was looking forward to was finally being able to travel. A lot. With no responsibilities any more. Finally. And yet, her children were adamant that a dog would be GOOD FOR HER (yes, they were yelling at one point). The poor woman sat in my office in tears because she didn’t want to have to take the dog back to the shelter, and yet, really, really didn’t want a dog in her life.
2. Everyone in the household understands and welcomes the implications of bringing a sentient life into the home. That means that the entire family is willing and able to welcome a newcomer, including one who chews on shoes if they aren’t put away in the closet. Gifts to one person can be punishment to another, if it means that they can’t have their friends over anymore because their sister has a dog who is defensively aggressive around teenaged boys. Dogs and cats, at any age, can’t be put into the back closet because Auntie Jane didn’t know her nephew wanted a Labrador instead of a Pekinese. Bottom line: It’s impossible to give a pet as a gift to one person who lives with others, so everyone in the household has to want the pet for it to work out well.
3. Conditions need to be appropriate for a new animal to come into the family. I expect this is why many people advocate to avoid giving pets at Christmas time or during the holidays. Indeed, the holidays can be extra busy for some, with house guests and parties and travel away from the home. However, the holidays can also be quiet times for some people, and it’s not always true that they are the worst time to get a pet. Every situation is different, and every family needs to ask themselves if they have the extra time required to settle a new member of the family into the house. That may, or may not be during the holidays.
One other situation, indirectly related to pet-as-gift, are the animals who have been “inherited,” usually by a parent from a child. Either the kid went off to college or joined the Peace Corps or for whatever reason doesn’t want Fluffy or Fido anymore, and prevails upon his or her parents to adopt it. Sometimes it works out beautifully, but other times the parents at best exhausted, or at worst resentful. My advice is for parents to think long and hard before agreeing to take on anyone else’s pet, and only do so if they really, really want a dog or cat themselves. If not, they can help most by assisting in finding the animal a good home, rather than being forced to take on a new family member that they don’t want.
My only personal experience with receiving a pet as a gift was when my ex-husband and I bought a Saint Bernard puppy with money sent as a wedding present. My very proper aunt had generously sent the money for us to buy engraved silver. She was clearly appalled that a set of engraved silverware had been turned into a 160 pound mass of drool and hair. Was “Cosby” the Saint Bernard a practical “gift” for two young people with no money and no permanent home? No. But we really, really wanted him, and we really, really loved him, and did indeed give him a wonderful home for many years. And besides, we didn’t have to polish him.
So… your thoughts? Have you ever gotten a pet as a gift? Given one?
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Holy Moly it’s cold! Sorry to repeat myself, but it’s impossible to not talk about the farm without talking about the weather. Right now the highs are below 10 degrees farenheit (minus 12 Celsius) and the lows have gotten down to minus 15 F (minus 26 C). Next week the high is predicted to be -5 F. I’m not sure Tootsie will be able to manage to potty outside at that temperature, I might have to train her to go in the garage or to wear booties. Just this morning she started picking up her paws and looking desperate after being outside less than a minute. Even Willie, eyes shining, face glowing, began picking up a paw while we were playing outside. The difference in their response was predictable but still amusing: Willie–”Gotta hold one of my paws up so can keep playing, no problem.” Tootsie–”Oh No Oh No, this is horrible! My paws hurt, please please get me inside! Can you pick me up, please?” (Answer: Sorry Toots, let’s just run together back to the house!)
I do sympathize. I grew up in Arizona and remember being shocked by the fact that very cold things feel like they are burning your skin. The first time I “met” snow was at age nine, when I ran outside to play in it (after saying “It’s raining white stuff!” to my parents) and immediately made a snowball as I’d seen kids do in movies and in cartoons. “It’s HOT! It’s HOT!” I said, running back inside with tears streaming from my face, as if betrayed by the difference between expectation and reality.
Needless to say, our exercise around the farm has been severely restricted. I’m planning on playing the “Make Up Stuff Around a Box” idea with both dogs, in which you present them (one at a time of course) with a large box, and begin clicking anything they do with, around or in the box. It’ll be good mental exercise for all of us, me as much as the dogs.
The upside of the weather is that is it just gorgeous outside, especially when the sun comes out or after a new snow. We’ve had a lot of both, so if you can grit your teeth and take your camera out in this weather (meaning: take your gloves off and touch metal), there are a lot of photo ops. Here’s a tree in a neighbor’s yard that we drive by every day. I love the soft contrast between the tree, the snow and the sky.