Every year around the festive season, horror stories about holiday pets hit the headlines – from animals being abandoned, to being taken in by shelters in droves. Some irresponsible owners even leave their pets at shelters to go on holiday, and collect them again in January.

One of the problems that persists year after year is the idea of gifting pets as surprises, even as associations like the SPCA beg citizens to stop giving pets as gifts.

If you’re seriously considering gifting someone a dog this festive season, here are some questions to ask yourself:

1. Why does the gift have to be a surprise?

If you’re considering gifting someone – like a sibling, friend, or spouse – a dog, it’s likely that they’ve already brought up the topic themselves. Instead of surprising a them with a dog, involve them in the entire adoption. Ideally, this should start months in advance so they can assess their lifestyle, finances, and readiness to become a pet parent.

The shelter or breeder you adopt from will also assess their suitability, and they have a chance to change their mind during the process if they realise it isn’t the right time to become a pet parent.

Your only role in this should be facilitating the process, and possibly paying the adoption or vet fees. Ultimately, the decision should be made solely by the recipient without any pressure.

Keep in mind: If someone has the means to adopt a dog themselves and hasn’t done it, it’s probably because they aren’t truly ready.

What to gift instead: Books about becoming a dog parent.

2. Are you trying to fix a pre-existing problem?

You might have heard that a dog is the perfect companion for someone suffering loneliness, depression, or anxiety – but you should also know that real therapy dogs take years (and thousands of Rands) to train, and aren’t necessarily right for everybody.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking you know what’s best for someone else’s mental health –  gifting a dog to someone who isn’t emotionally ready for the responsibility isn’t only unfair to the dog, it’s unfair to the recipient too.

Keep in mind: While any dog has the potential to bring joy into their owner’s life, training and socializing a dog takes a lot of time and effort; someone who is going through a hard time may not be up for it.

What to gift instead: Vouchers for a spa day, membership to a club or activity, some therapists even offer vouchers for counselling.

3. Will you be the one looking after the dog?

This is the only question that matters, and if the answer is “No”, then you shouldn’t be gifting a dog (or any other pet).

It goes without saying that you should never gift a pet into another household, for example, to your nieces, nephews or godchildren. That decision should always be made by the adults in that household.

If you’re a parent who is gifting their own child a dog, you should already know that you’ll be doing the bulk of the walking, cleaning, and training. In the words of the SPCA:

The children beg for a pet. The first day, the poor animal is overwhelmed with attention, the second day it’s less of an attraction and by the third day, it’s a case of “Who’s going to clean up the mess?” with calls of “It’s your dog”, and “No, it’s not, it’s YOUR dog” going back and forth until somebody eventually cleans up the mess. Three to four weeks down the line – you’ve guessed! [The dog is abandoned or taken to a shelter].

Keep in mind: Children and dogs can be best friends and companions, but a child cannot be a responsible pet owner – a dog is also not a tool to teach children about responsibility.

What to gift instead: A commitment to taking the kids to shelters to help with volunteer work. This will give them time to play with dogs while educating them, without the responsibility that comes with owning a dog.

As it turns out, there is a responsible way to gift a pet – if you’re gifting it to yourself. Do the right thing and be a responsible pet parent by ensuring you’re ready to commit to 10 – 15 years with your new best friend, and don’t forget dotsure.co.za Pet Insurance!