Not Just for Christmas…

Yes, I’ve said it before and, at the risk of keep banging that same old drum, I’m going to say it again. I think it’s a message that can’t be repeated often enough because it appears that the people at the back still aren’t hearing it … pets are a long-term commitment and you should always give due consideration to the decision to purchase, or adopt, any animal.

It’s the time of year when some people consider buying a pet as a Christmas gift and I’m not going to outright tell you not to. It can be a really lovely thing to do, IF you were going to get a pet anyway. And that’s the key. Say, for example, the kids have been asking for months (probably, years) to get a pet, and you and your partner have discussed it at length. You’ve decided that finally the time is right. The kids are old enough to help out and understand the responsibility that comes with caring for an animal. As a family, you can dedicate the time and effort required to look after the animal’s needs and you can commit financially to its long-term care. In this case, Christmas is a lovely time to surprise the kids (or your partner) by fulfilling their wish for a pet – although I would say that the gift should be the surprise, and not the animal itself. Christmas Day is not the ideal time to introduce a new pet to the household, amidst all the festive chaos, and you certainly shouldn’t jeopardise their wellbeing by forcing them to hide in a box, which could be a frankly terrifying experience for the poor little mite. Instead, bring the pet home either well before or after Christmas to give them chance to settle in when things are a bit more ‘normal’! If you’re looking for the ‘wow’ factor on Christmas Day, perhaps wrap up a dog’s lead, cat bed or another pet accessory as a hint of what’s to come.

Why is it not a good idea to gift a pet for Christmas?

The well-known slogan ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ was first coined way back in 1978 by the charity that is now known as Dogs Trust (back then, it was The National Canine Defence League). While their focus has always been on discouraging people from buying dogs as Christmas gifts or thinking of them as a cute, fluffy present on Christmas Day rather than a long-term family member, the phrase can easily be extended to all pets. For over 45 years now we’ve been told this and it’s become a well-known phrase, but still people don’t always give due consideration to the commitment of getting a pet.

I would say, for me and the vast majority of owners that bring their pets into SLVC, getting a pet is an amazing decision that changes lives for the better … but sadly, that’s not always the case. Some people just haven’t got the time, space, money or attention to give a pet what it needs and, often when they’re purchased as a snap decision, new owners can quickly get bored of their new animal dependent because they haven’t thought through just how much care they require. You should never, ever get a pet on a whim.

It’s also not a good idea to buy a pet as a surprise for someone else for Christmas, i.e., someone you don’t live with, such as friends, parents, or grandparents. Yes, you may love your pet. They may love it too, when they come to visit … but that’s not to say they want one of their own! Buying a pet isn’t the same as gifting a pair of slippers or a jumper. When you give an animal as a ‘gift’ you may have paid the initial outlay but you’re actually committing the recipient to a lifetime of animal care costs (including food, routine and emergency health and veterinary care, insurance, accessories, etc.), let alone the time and lifestyle changes that becoming a pet owner will demand. They may not want that! You’re imposing a huge commitment on someone that they’re not necessarily ready or willing to take on.

When buying young animals, the little fluffy kitten or playful pup that you get to begin with will soon change into something much larger, that eats more and has – excuse the pun – growing needs. What you see isn’t ultimately what you’re going to get! Also (and in this case they ARE similar to slippers or jumpers) what you like may not be what the recipient would choose … you could get it totally wrong. Remember that funky knit you thought your mum would like? Yeah, the one you later spotted adorning the window display of the local charity shop? Don’t let the charity shop become the local pet shelter. You may be a cat person … they may not be. Or, just because they enjoyed the film Marley & Me, it doesn’t mean they’d love a Labrador Retriever of their own!

The problem of abandoned or surrendered animals is worse than ever…

Yes, Karl, you’ve told us all this before, you may say … but the thing is, it’s still a problem, which is why it’s worth repeating. The RSPCA recently reported a staggering 48% increase in the number of animal abandonments in October 2023 compared to the same month in 2020, partly due to the increase in pets purchased during the pandemic followed by the subsequent cost of living crisis. It’s created a perfect storm. Shelters are full to bursting and the charity says it’s facing a winter crisis. But this doesn’t just apply to the RSPCA. All animal rescues are in the same predicament and, despite their best efforts, charities are really struggling to keep up with the ever-increasing demands placed on their services, which are largely run by volunteers and funded by donations.

Not everyone who’s had to give up an animal has done this lightly – some will have agonised over the decision to surrender their beloved pet but have been forced to do so due to financial hardship or a change of circumstances, such as having to move to new accommodation which won’t accept pets, for example. Whatever the reason for them ending up there, the fact remains that more and more animals are having to be taken in by charities in the hope that they can be rehomed. While this ongoing problem isn’t wholly related to Christmas, there is always an additional influx of animals to shelters after Christmas when people realise there’s more to that ill-thought-out gift than they’d considered. With charities already under immense pressure, I would urge everyone not to risk adding to this.

Could you adopt instead?

If you are considering getting a pet, and you’ve decided that this Christmas is the time to do it, think seriously about adopting rather than buying from a breeder. There are so, so many animals out there just waiting for a new home and a loving family. They don’t understand the ‘cost of living crisis’ or why they’ve had to move out; all they want is to be loved and cared for as a pet again. Instead of the animal being the present, you could give them the gift this Christmas – the gift of a stable, happy home. IF, and only if, you’ve really thought it through.