Animals are a gift but should they be given as one? It may all depend on the circumstances.

Creating a forever home for an animal who needs a family can be an act of grace and kindness that introduces important lessons and immeasurable joy to your household. Couple that with the idyllic image of a kitten batting at brightly colored holiday ribbons or a fuzz ball of a puppy asleep amidst colorful packages under the tree, and the idea of presenting someone to love to someone you love becomes almost irresistible. While there is no clear consensus among animal care experts on the practice of giving animals as gifts, the debate surrounding the issue offers valuable points to consider if you are thinking about introducing a new pet into your family, especially if that introduction involves a big red bow.

Pros and Cons

Regardless of their stance, those who determine animal adoption policy, provide care to animals, and speak out about whether a pet should be given as a gift share clear common ground: they care deeply about the health and welfare of animals. With that in mind, those who oppose the practice argue:

  • Presenting a pet as a gift may send the subtle message that an animal is a fungible object;
  • Festive occasions can be loud and chaotic, creating a less than ideal situation for introducing an animal into a new environment—in such circumstances, animals can become stressed or overstimulated, ingest foods or plants that could do them harm, or be temporarily forgotten amid all the activity;
  • Holiday travel and hosting guests disrupts a household routine, compromising the stability needed to successfully transition an animal to a new home;
  • Gifts are often chosen for their immediate impact: the “wow!” factor. In the excitement of giving, ongoing and hidden costs can be easily underestimated or overlooked;
  • Pet ownership is a long-term relationship: animals and their people need the opportunity to bond, and they must be a good fit for one another—now and for the duration of the animal’s life. Because choosing a pet can be deeply personal and requires an ongoing commitment and consistent care over time, your girl should be actively involved in selecting her pet.
Girl smiling with cat

While these perspectives provide an important framework for thinking about whether the gift of a pet is appropriate for your girl, they are not the only ones worthy of consideration. A growing number of reputable animal advocacy organizations cautiously support gifting pets on the grounds that:

  • Presenting a pet as a gift has the potential to expand the notion of what it means to give, to the benefit of both pet and person—the gift is not the pet, per se, but the opportunity to love and care for the pet and to give an animal a safe and loving home;
  • The timing may be better than you’d think, precisely because holiday schedules are not routine: school breaks, fewer practices or games, or a more flexible work schedule could mean families have more time than usual to spend at home with their new pet;
  • Rescue groups, pet adoption organizations, and responsible breeders have reasonable but thorough adoption processes; a trustworthy organization will always work to ensure an advantageous placement for the animals in their care, whether the pet is a gift or not;
  • A host of studies conducted in recent years have revealed that gifted animals are among the least likely to be surrendered to shelters, a finding that prompted many organizations to reexamine and revise their holiday adoption policies;
  • If you’re willing to forego the surprise, involving the gift recipient in the process of choosing their pet can be a meaningful experience, in and of itself, and something special you and your girl can do together. Learning about animals and their needs in advance—including their diets, behaviors, health, and habitats—can be fun and fascinating. If, however, you feel like the surprise is half the fun, consider wrapping pet supplies, pet enclosures or aquariums, or other necessary equipment in preparation for welcoming a new pet.
Girl smiling with cat

In short, every situation is unique. With thoughtful consideration, giving a pet to your girl can be a joyous and memorable experience—but be aware that it can also be a challenge. Opening your heart and your home to an animal in need of a family is both generous and rewarding—especially when taken on with a great deal of care.

You and your girl can read about other girls and their pets—or even submit your own pet story— in “Meet a Reader’s Pet,” featured in each new issue of American Girl magazine!