Pets are always giving to us. They give their love, their trust, their loyalty without reserve. At this time of year those qualities may make it seem like a pet would be the perfect surprise for a special person in your life. Here at the shelter we’ve already started fielding calls about giving pets for the holidays but surprisingly to us they’re not put the way we expected. We rarely get the, “I want to surprise my niece/nephew/boyfriend with a pet” calls here at the shelter. By and large people seem to understand that bringing an animal into a young family or relationship isn’t a good idea unless everyone is on board. No, at this time of year the calls we’re getting are more like this:
“My dad has been so lonely since mom died this past spring and I want to get him a dog to keep him company.”
“Mom fell and broke her hip and can’t leave the house much any more so I want to get her a cat to be with her.”
“My parents just retired. We had a great dog when I was a kid and I want to get them one now that they have lots of time.”
Yup. The calls we’re getting these days are largely from devoted, loving adult children concerned about their older parents. This is a particularly delicate conversation because it’s not just a holiday gift these people are asking for, it’s a chance to enrich the lives of their aging parents and give them something long term to have as a companion. It comes from a place of deep love and a desire to care for one of the closest and most important people in their world. Often the logic is that “It’s not the same as giving a kid a pet as a gift because mom/dad is older and has lots of time.” or, “I know it’s a good idea because we had a pet when we were kids and dad loved him!” Here’s the truth though, it’s NEVER a good idea to give someone a pet without their knowledge. NEVER!!!
Dad might still be grieving and not ready for a pet.
Mom might be terrified that the cat will get underfoot and cause her to fall again.
Maybe mom and dad have their own plans for retirement that don’t include a pet.
But let’s play devil’s advocate. Let’s say none of this applies to you. Let’s say you’re sure, SURE that a pet is the perfect gift for mom, dad, or uncle Bob. OK. Please do this:
Come to the shelter and get a gift certificate for the adoption fee for the animal you’re thinking about. Yes, we do that! Then give the certificate as the gift and use it to start a conversation with mom, dad, or uncle Bob about whether they would like to add an animal to their lives. If they do, great! They can come here and pick the pet that they make a connection with (it might not be the one you would have picked) but if they don’t they can donate the fee back to the shelter, sponsor an animal for adoption by someone else, or even buy a bunch of dog sweaters and calendars (we’re not picky about how they spend it).
For animal lovers a pet might seem like the best possible gift, and it might be. But only when everyone involved is part of the conversation and on board with the adoption and only when the pet owner has been able to meet and connect with the pet in person before the adoption.