The “-ber” months are here again! These months are the busiest time of the year, especially since they are synonymous with holiday festivities and gift-giving. And we all know holiday gift-giving is serious business – we want to show our loved ones just how special they are to us by giving them the best presents.

For our friends and family who are fond of animals, it seems it seems like an animal companion is the perfect gift we could give them. Perhaps you’ve seen videos on Facebook or YouTube where unsuspecting loved ones are given boxes to open, their faces turning into smiles and surprise, eager to find out what’s inside until they start crying or jumping up and down from joy upon finding cute baby animals innocently gazing up at them waiting to come out of the box. And these might be the reactions that you want your friends and family to have.

However, as precious and lighthearted as those moments might be (and as good as your intentions are), taking care of an animal should not be taken lightly. Caring for an animal is a lifetime responsibility that warrants careful planning, and we need to think twice whether it is appropriate to surprise our loved ones something they might not be physically, emotionally, or financially ready for.

Adopt now, worry later

Adopting an animal is a lifetime commitment that requires ample patience and energy. They will need house training, regular cleanups, exercise, and play time. Having an animal companion could be costly as well, as they require pet food, medicine, routine vet check-ups, and the occasional unexpected hospitalization bill. You don’t want to give a loved one a responsibility that they did not ask for or, worse, force them to stretch an already tight budget.

If you’re thinking about giving animals as a gift this holiday season (or for any other occasion), here are some reasons you might want to hold off on that idea.

1. Growing pains

Early kitten or puppy behaviors such as nipping, jumping, or constantly demanding attention may appear cute at first, but they might quickly turn into behavioral concerns when the animals bring these habits into adulthood.

The fun stops when they begin missing the litter box or resort to biting or excessive barking to seek attention. Some people might not know how to handle these behaviors and could think of their companion animal as a nuisance rather than a source of joy.

2. You sneeze you lose

Sadly, many animal lovers can’t have pets because of existing allergies. Some may also develop allergies over time as they become continuously exposed to the animals’ saliva, dander, and waste. Likewise, animals may also have unexpected health concerns that could require extra attention and time.

3. They love me, they love me not

As easily as one could fall head over heels with a cute animal, one could also just as easily lose interest in them as they grow older. Your loved ones might also not be prepared to include the animals in their future life plans, for example, a friend a friend or family member getting married or having a baby, your child soon being swamped with schoolwork, and others could be relocating homes or migrating0 abroad.

4. Abandoning animals is a crime

All the reasons outlined here could lead to neglect and abandonment (both of which are illegal in the country under Republic Act No. 8485 or the Animal Welfare Act of 1998). Animals are not toys or objects that could be re-gifted and should not be given away on impulse; they are living beings and need to be treated as such – with love and utmost care.

Consider whether your loved ones would be comfortable looking after another individual who will constantly depend on them for the next 10 to 20 years. It is very important that we think about the rights and wellbeing of the animals, as it is their lives that are literally on the line. The last thing you would want is for them to end up in a shelter or out in the streets.

Sad reality

In their article entitled “Shelters Full of ‘Present’ Animals After the Holidays,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) reports that by January, many animals who were given as gifts over the holidays will have already joined the 6 million animals who end up in shelters in the US every year.

In the Philippines, abandonment of animals, dogs in particular, continues to be a trend. WeCareForDogs.com included “dogs being given as gifts” in their list of top ten reasons the number of abandoned dogs in the country continues to rise.

It’s the thought that counts

All things considered, it would be best to stick to the basics and play it safe when it comes to giving gifts. And as cliché as it may sound, it’s really the thought that counts. Clothing, mugs, or stationery that are animal-themed are always good options.

If your family or friends already have companion animals under their care, it would be great to give them vouchers or gift certificates so that they can choose what items they actually need. Low-waste products such as reusables and eco-friendly products make ideal gifts as well since they have a smaller impact on our environment.

The next best move is to simply ask your loved one. Only if they are sure that they really want a companion animal should you ever consider gifting them one. It may spoil the “surprise” but at least they won’t be shocked. Better a pleasant reaction than a bad one, yes?

It would be a great bonding moment as well to visit a local animal shelter and look for adoptables together – this way, you’re making sure that they are ready to commit and understand all that is required to take care of an additional family member.

It’s not only your loved ones who are getting a special gift, but also the animals as you open your hearts and give them a forever-home this holiday season.

This appeared in Animal Scene magazine’s September 2019 issue.

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