Every year at Christmas when I was a child, I had my heart set on finding an adorable puppy with a big red velvet bow under the Christmas tree. Like most children, after years of watching subtle, and not so subtle holiday advertising, I believed that, “Everyone gets a puppy for Christmas”. Fortunately, my parents were the responsible types who knew that, “Puppies are not presents!” Below I’ve listed several responsible and humane alternatives to giving live pets as gifts this Holiday season.
Give Stuffed Animals Instead. Yes it’s a simple concept, but it is often effective with younger children. Children aged 2-6 years, are often satisfied with a stuffed puppy or kitten animal, instead of a live puppy or kitten. To make the gift more of an experience, you could make a fancy invitation that tells your child when he/she will go to the store to “adopt” his/her new animal. Stores that allow your child to build his/her own stuffed animal are popping up at malls all over the country. Many of these stores allow your child to pick a stuffed animal “body”, stuff it, bathe it, and put in a stuffed “heart”. Like a real pet, your child’s stuffed animal will come with an adoption certificate and its’ own carrier. If you don’t have one of these stores nearby, you can order the body online and stuff it at home.
Give Lessons. Older children aged 7-10 years, will be better able to understand the reason that live pets should not be given as gifts. Find a substitute gift that will give your child the opportunity to enjoy spending time with an animal, without the responsibility of caring for a pet on a day-to-day basis. Horseback riding lessons would be perfect for a child who requests a pony for Christmas. Make sure that your child is involved in all aspects of the animal’s care. Cleaning stalls, brushing, and feeding “their” horse will help your child understand the responsibilities that pet owners have.
Give Memberships and Trips. A zoo membership allows children to see exotic snakes and lizards without actually owning and caring for one. If you child is interested in farm animals, a trip to a local farm or animal sanctuary will allow your child to learn about, and interact with, different types of animals without the cost or time commitment involved with raising one. Take a trip to the library and ask you child to research the different types of habitats that animals live in. Use this opportunity to remind children that farm and exotic animals are happiest in their native environments, and don’t make good house pets.
“Giving” Vs. “Gifting”. Children ages 10 and older should be able understand why it is inhumane to give live pets as gifts. Parents should explain that puppies, kittens, and other live animals that are given away as gifts, often end up in shelters after the holiday season is over. Take this opportunity to explain that animal adoption is a long-term commitment that requires a great deal of time, dedication and money over the course of an animal’s lifetime. Tell your children that instead of adopting a live pet, your family will donate the equivalent of an adoption fee’s worth of food and supplies to a local rescue organization or shelter. Engage your children in the giving process as much as possible by asking them to research the types of food and supplies that shelters need. Spend a day shopping for those items and donate them in person. If your holiday schedule is too hectic, consider donating the monetary equivalent of the cost of a spay or neuter.
Family’s on a budget this Christmas? No problem. Donate a box of used towels and blankets for the shelter animals to snuggle in. Or “donate” a few hours of time dog walking and cat box cleaning. Use this opportunity to teach a lesson about the importance of giving to animals in need vs. giving a live animal as a gift.
No matter what gifts you give your children this year, use this opportunity to teach them that a live pet should never be given as gift. Encourage responsible pet ownership , and remind children that every dog and cat in the local animal shelter was once a cute puppy or kitten who may have been sitting under the tree with a big red velvet bow last Christmas.