As a general rule, giving a live animal to someone as a “gift” is a very bad idea, unless the person really wants the animal. Animals need and deserve care and attention, and taking that on requires a commitment for the lifetime of the animal. The recipient (or the parent of the recipient, if we’re talking about a child) must be willing and able to give proper care for as long as the animal is alive. Even when that is the case, and the recipient really wants the animal, putting the animal under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning still isn’t the greatest idea.
In general terms, there are two cases where you might be considering giving an animal as a gift: when the potential recipient asked for an animal, and when the potential recipient did not.
If the potential recipient has not specifically asked for an animal, or been talking about wanting one, then you absolutely should not give a live animal to this person. Even if you think the person may be ready for an animal, you may be wrong. The potential consequences are ugly. Instead, consider giving an animal-related gift.
For a child, or for a teen or adult who collects stuffed animals, the obvious choice is a stuffed animal. Stuffed animals require no care, but they are cute and cuddly. You can also get a plastic or ceramic animal figurine – the plastic one would be a toy appropriate for any age, while the ceramic would be more of a decoration or knick-knack appropriate only for older recipients.
Posters, paintings, and other wall art make great gifts, too. Teens and young adults are especially appreciative.
Other animal-related gifts include movies, books, comic books, and magazines. There is a wealth of both fun animal-loving fiction and highly informative non-fiction available.
For the older recipient, accompany the physical gift with a wildlife adoption. Many wildlife charities, including the World Wildlife Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, and hundreds more, as well as many zoos, have an “adoption” program where you send some money to help support their programs and they send you some information about an animal you have symbolically adopted. You can also simply make a donation to the recipient’s favorite animal-related charity in the recipient’s name. Try to match the gift to the donation. For example, include a stuffed elephant with an elephant adoption, or a ceramic wolf with a wolf adoption, or the movie “Happy Feet” with a penguin adoption.
Assuming that the potential recipient has specifically asked you for an animal as a gift, or at least hinted a lot about wanting one, then giving the recipient a live animal may be the right gift. Of course, that assumes that we are talking about a responsible adult or a child who has a willing responsible parent to care for the animal. (NEVER give an animal to a child who is not yours, unless you’ve cleared it with the child’s parent first!) Even so, do not waltz out and acquire the animal. It is better to let the recipient pick out his or her own animal. Obviously, the problem with that lies in the notion that you need a Christmas morning surprise.
Obviously, you could take the recipient to pick out his or her pet two or three days before Christmas, but then you’ve given the present early. (If you insist on taking the animal home until Christmas Day, well, you’ve still spoiled the surprise, because they know exactly what’s coming. Besides, you’ll traumatize the poor animal by giving him a home and then moving him to another just as he’s starting to get used to it – a rather cruel twist to the concept of Christmas.) If your potential recipient won’t mind an early present, this makes a great plan. Shelters seem to get extra-crowded just before Christmas, so the timing is right – plus, you give the gift of a home to the animal for Christmas. You can still tie a bow around Fido’s neck on Christmas Day, even if he’s been with you for three days already.
Alternatively, there are ways to give an animal under the tree without actually putting a live animal under the tree. You could get a “gift certificate” from the local animal shelter, where the adoption of one dog or one cat is pre-paid. Sure, the shelter is probably closed on Christmas Day, but your recipient can go first thing the next morning (or whenever else they like) and pick out a new friend. Similarly, you can print out your own “gift certificate” that certifies that you will take the recipient to the animal shelter or the local donkey farm or wherever is appropriate, where he or she can pick out a new friend. Again, there is no critter under the tree, but the recipient can redeem the certificate as soon as possible, or whenever seems convenient. You can make the certificate nice by using a digital certificate-making program or creating a nice certificate in Photoshop, then printing it on nice paper.
Sure, you could simply drop the certificate in an envelope and hand it over – but such a presentation is fairly unexciting. Give it a kick. Buy a stuffed animal of the appropriate kind (for example, if Johnny wants a dog, buy a stuffed dog), tie the gift certificate around the stuffed animal’s neck with a ribbon as if it were a tag, and wrap the stuffed animal as the present. The recipient gets a toy under the Christmas tree, and a real animal tomorrow. For an older recipient who does not collect stuffed animals, perhaps a ceramic figurine would be better appreciated. Even better, you could instead wrap up some of the supplies a new pet might need, such as food and water bowls, or a rodent cage and water bottle, or whatever is appropriate – and include the certificate in the package.
While finding a puppy or other live animal under the tree might seem like it ought to be an exciting moment, the excitement of getting to go and pick out a new best friend is worth a lot more – even if the recipient has to wait an extra day. It’s worth it!