I’ll be the first to admit that the puppy in the above photo is a level of adorable that seems nearly criminal. Nothing has a right to be this cute: It’s compact, practically looks like a baby bear, and I absolutely want to bury my face into that fur, which appears to be made of clouds and love. He even looks like he could use a little cheering up, and, oh, how I want to do the cheering! If you gifted me this puppy, I would squeal in delight. By next week, though, I’d be pretty pissed at you. Because it’s almost never a good idea for one person to gift another person a pet.
You are gifting responsibility
This year has been…trying. We could all use a fresh bright spot, a new furry friend to call our own. But with great cuteness comes great responsibility—particularly with an animal that will spend its early days peeing all over the floor or scratching up the couch or chewing up all your kid’s LEGO mini-figs. Even animals that are contained by a tank or cage need caring for. They need to eat. They deserve to live in a clean environment. They need some level of consistent attention. Always wanting a rabbit and actually caring for a rabbit are not the same thing.
Even if you are a member of the same household—say, you are gifting your partner the animal—and are prepared to take on most of the care of the family’s new pet, the responsibility will never fall 100 percent on you. One day, the pandemic will end, and you’ll be back in the office or you’ll be out of town on business. Or you’ll be sick or busy, and your partner will have to take their gift out to pee in a blizzard. By that point, that cute pup is a full-blown dog, and your partner is cursing you out under their breath.
And then there’s the financial responsibility. Even if you have some reason to know or believe that a person has the financial means to care for an animal, that doesn’t mean they want to spend their money on caring for an animal. My dog’s dental bills alone are breathtaking. I was not fully prepared for that—and luckily, I can afford to care for his teeth—but that was a responsibility I gave to myself and have no one else to blame for it.
It’s a bad idea even if you know they want one
Maybe they’ve been talking about wanting a bearded dragon for years. As long as you’ve known them, even! You are completely sure they want one, maybe they’ve even said they’re going to get one, and you want to be the one to actually make it happen. Don’t do it. You may be missing critical information—specific factors that you don’t know to take into account.
First, it stands to reason that if they really wanted one, could afford to care for it, and have the time and energy involved in owning it, they’d probably have pulled the trigger already. If they haven’t, it could be because of space concerns, a need to more thoroughly research breeds, a concern over how their kids would interact with it, or simply a current inability to care for One More Thing.
Plus, I’d want to pick out my own cat. I love cats. I’ve always wanted an orange cat, specifically—a detail I’m not sure my own husband could tell you because it’s just not a thing that comes up all that often. A person might want to have that “this dog is meant to be my dog” moment at the animal shelter. These bonds, they should not be forced!
Don’t gift an animal to your kids either
I mostly got to thinking about this topic because my 10-year-old very much wants a fish. I’ve already mentioned that we have a dog, and I’m not particularly interested in caring for anything else. I thought the desire for a fish would wear off eventually, but little dude still has his heart set on it. So, we thought we might get him one for Christmas, and I took to the Offspring Facebook group for advice on the set up. I received a ton of recommendations for tanks and heaters and types of fish. And I received a thoughtful comment suggesting, instead, that we let him be a part of the process.
It really got me thinking that, yes, waking up to a fish on Christmas morning would be pretty cool (although logistically complicated the more I thought about it), but part of the excitement of getting a pet is going to pick it out. I am sure he would love any Betta I chose for him, but the anticipation of knowing he’s going to get it, as well as picking out accessories for the tank, is also fun. So, he’ll get a tank for Christmas (please don’t tell him) and the promise of a fish, and then he’ll get to be a part of the rest.
The only exception
I do see one exception to this rule: If the recipient of the animal has, explicitly, told you they want to be gifted this one specific animal (not just a kitten, but this kitten), and they are of an age or maturity level to take on whatever responsibility that particular animal would entail—or you’re willing to help. Then, by all means, stick that puppy under the tree and enjoy the ensuing delight.