Maybe you mean well. Maybe you’re inspired by your own relationship with animals. Maybe you think it’ll help someone’s depression or loneliness. Maybe you want more orphaned animals to have a home. Maybe you’re not wrong, but is it right to choose to give a pet to someone without their permission and input?
Consider this: if they don’t really want an animal or can’t truly afford what you would like to give them, you’d be putting the recipient in a very awkward position, financially and emotionally. It may strain your connection with the person, who feels torn between what you want and what they (don’t) want. More importantly, it could negatively impact the adorable animal itself, one that is, it needs to be said, vulnerable, dependent, and entirely innocent in this situation. The cute creature might be neglected or rejected as the recipient tries to adjust, could suffer psychologically in the process and may even become emotionally unstable from being shunted from one situation to the next while the recipient tries to make right of your “generous” gift. Be very careful of creating a problem without meaning to.
Real reasons you should think twice before you give a pet as a gift
You may not know what someone wants
Imagine you give them an African Grey parrot only to find out all they want is a Weimaraner dog. A parrot needs attention, and its failure to have a tail may mean a lifetime of being ignored in a pretty cage (parrots need attention and companionship). Or even shouted at for voicing its basic needs (parrots do that). Not cool.
Choosing a pet is a complex decision
Lifestyle, living conditions, personality, budget, emotional state – these are just a few of the variables that need to be considered for both the human and the animal involved. Are you qualified to calculate if they can afford medical care for the pet you choose for them? Do you know exactly what temperament animal they’d get along best with? Probably not, right?
How generous is it, really?
A pet is an investment and the returns are immeasurable, but the cost of acquiring animals add up quickly, and those costs keep coming even if it’s a free shelter pet that comes sterilized and vaccinated. Getting a pet is a long-term financial commitment that we explored here . Pets give a lot and deserve to be properly fed, housed and cared for. They also need medical care, sometimes psychological assistance, and possibly some professional training. We haven’t even touched on all the amazing toys you’d want to give them. What’s more, human finances can fall on hard times, so even if your friend or family member can afford an animal now, what happens to the animal if he or she loses a job, falls into heavy debt or is bereaved without warning?
Baby animals grow up
… and need more space, equipment, time, attention and care. It’s easy to look after a tiny baby bunny; it’s harder when the bunny grows up, gets out of its hutch and hops down the passage into the street to find a mate. It’s not something one necessarily thinks of while swooning over a cuddly little thing that is two days’ old. It’s something the little cuddly thing will always think of as it tries to adjust to an environment unsuited to it. “It doesn’t fit the garden anymore” is a tragic line from a person surrendering a pup to a shelter because it grew into a heavy, healthy adult dog that needed more room than they could give it. Don’t force anyone to be that person…
Holidays come to an end
It’s easy to get carried away on holiday, when everything is easy, and you have lots of free time. Once the holiday is over, though, Rover still needs walks twice a day, and Sushi still needs those meds three times a day till the infection is cleared. Petting the guest house’s resident rat is different from actually caring for one full time. The holiday spirit that inspires impulse buys is no good for an animal that needs consistent care in a real home.
What you can do instead of giving a pet as a surprise gift!
There’s lots you can do to touch the heart and lives of the humans and animals you love without obliging both to a situation not suited to them. You could:
- donate the cash or items of u se to a no-kill shelter that supports homeless animals (and neuters them) e.g. CAT Garden Route.
- volunteer with the person at an animal shelter. Your time and energy could have so much more impact this way, and it will help you both become more aware of what it really means to take on the responsibility of an animal. You can pet and exercise animals awaiting adoption which can mean so much to a lonely cat or dog. Some animals wait years. Others are never adopted and eventually put to sleep. Volunteering with established animal support organisations is especially helpful right after Christmas, and St Valentine’s Day, when shelters are flooded with abandoned animals given, you guessed it, as surprise gifts that the recipients didn’t want or couldn’t cope with.
- support someone who already has a pet. Perhaps someone with less privilege and choice than you. Your contribution could make the world of difference to both the pet and the people caring for them. One great gesture is to offer to cover the cost of professional spaying or neutering. This will potentially reduce the number of animals awaiting adoption in animal shelters.
- Pets are not the only animals that need our help. South Africa’s wildlife is increasingly under strain as its habitat is claimed for farming, livestock or the spread of urban sprawl. You can make a powerful difference by donating what you might have spent buying the animal to a legitimate conservation and wildlife support organisation like Blood Lions or the Endangered Wildlife Trust.