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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


23 December 2013

Is It Okay To Give Pets As Gifts?

Hi Mia!

By now, the world is well aware that a major benefit of an international pen-pal blog is presents! You introduced me to TimTams (a delicacy that I am beyond obsessed with), and just today I got Aussie Toast Stamps and an "ugly" Christmas sweater that is not ugly at all!!

But in all seriousness. I love packages. I love mail of any kind. I get very excited when I hear the crazy mailman in the hallway (although lately he has been putting our mail in other people’s mailboxes so I have to wait until our kind neighbors pass it along). Anyway, I love all mail. Mail is like a present.

All this talk of gifts actually relates to our favorite topic (dog science!) because there seems to be a subtle shift in the thinking about pets as gifts. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had the idea that it’s not a good idea to give a pet as a gift. A quick look around the Internet reifies this belief:

PAWS: “Giving a pet as a gift is usually an ill-advised decision that can end tragically.”

Dogs Trust: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.”

Dr. Andy Roark, VetStreet: "Friends Don’t Surprise Friends With Commitments. Pets = Commitments."

Dr. Karen Becker: "5 Reasons Not to Give a Pet as a Christmas Gift This Year."

But there's a new conversation brewing, and a few studies point in a different direction. A recent survey by the ASPCA found “no significant relationship between receiving a dog or cat as a gift, whether a surprise or not, and the receivers’ self-perceived love or attachment toward the pet.” Additionally, “receiving a dog or cat as a gift does not negatively impact that pet, either by altering the human-pet bond, or by shortening the time the pet is kept in the home.”

Maybe there is more to the story than, Don’t Give A Pet As A Gift! And if that’s the case, we should consider how pets could be gifted in ways that benefits both people and animals. 

I also wrote about this topic on Scientific American. If you're going to gift a pet, I highlighted two suggestions by Wisconsin Humane Society Executive Director, Anne Reed: 1) Carefully think about what the gift recipient wants and not what you want, and 2) Think about giving an adoption kit with all the necessary animal accouterments, and then take a trip to the animal shelter together. 

I'm excited that this topic is on the table for discussion. At the same time, we should keep in mind that this study comes from a small survey of 222 people scattered across the USA who received a dog or cat as a gift in the last 10 years. I would love more details into what makes for successful or unsuccessful pets as gifts. 

Speaking of presents, I'm off to eat some Tim Tams! Happy Holidays and Happy Belated Birthday to you!!



Weiss et al. 2013. Should Dogs and Cats Be Given as Gifts? Animals 3, 995-1001. Open Access

More Reading On Pets As Gifts 
Julie Hecht: Should Pets Be Given As Gifts? Scientific American 
Jessica Pierce. Giving Pets as Gifts: Should You or Shouldn't You. Psychology Today
ASPCA Blog: Pets As Gifts—Wrap ‘Em Up!
ASPCA Blog: Give a Gift of a Dog or Cat This Holiday Season!
Andy Roark: Video: Think Twice Before Giving Pets as Gifts. VetStreet
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