The holidays are right around the corner, and my niece wants a dog. She’s been asking for years. I feel for her and hope she gets one at some point, but I do my best to stay out of the "should we — shouldn’t we" discussions within her immediate family. Adding a pet to the home is such a huge decision, I don’t want to feel that I’m influencing the family dynamics in any way. And I’d certainly never give her a dog as a gift. This got me to thinking though, is it ever appropriate to give a pet as a gift?

In my opinion, the answer is "no."

Pets certainly should never be given as a surprise gift. It’s bordering on hubris to think that one person could know with certainty that another person a) wants a pet, b) wants one right now, and c) wants that particular individual you’ve picked for them with regards to species, breed, age, and other traits. If you are certain about all of those things, you must have been party to some in-depth discussions, and we’re no longer talking about a surprise gift at all.

Which brings us to the second scenario. A family has decided to get a pet. Should one show up under the Christmas tree or Menorah with a bow attached? Again, "no." Putting a pet on par with the latest and greatest toy, sweater, gadget, etc. lessens the importance of the endeavor you are about to embark on. Pets are not toys; they are commitments that can last for decades.

Add to this the fact that the holidays are probably the worst possible time to bring a new pet into the home. The distractions of other gifts, visitors, and events will only take away from the significant amount of time and attention you really should be giving to settling the pet into its new home.

Now that I’ve vented all of my bah-humbugedness on this topic, let me tell you what I do think is appropriate. If a family is ready and willing to make the commitment to a specific type of pet, I’ve got no problem with all of the accoutrements of animal ownership showing up under the tree with a promise of a pet to come when things settle down a bit.

If my niece’s parents do decide that they are ready for a dog, I would love to be there on Christmas morning when she opens up her first gift and finds a leash, collar, bed, crate, bowls, and chew toys inside. She would be ecstatic and would surely understand why it is best for all involved if the dog actually arrived a few days later.

Dr. Jennifer Coates

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