By Lea Weishaar
Holidays are full of cliches: Valentine’s Day is for proposing, the New Year is a time to lose that extra weight and Christmas is when an adorable puppy should be sitting under a tree, topped with a bow. However, unlike a ring and a scale, a pet cannot be ignored once the holiday is over. So how appropriate is the cliched gift of a pet? And what happens if the responsibility is more than the recipient bargained for?
“We firmly believe that bringing a pet into your home should be a decision made by the whole family,” said Kaitlin Daugherty, education and marketing assistant for the Humane Animal Welfare Society, or HAWS, in Waukesha.
According to its website, HAWS cares for more than 6,000 animals yearly, including strays and homeless pets. However, that does not mean it has lax standards in order to make more placements. In fact, its commitment to finding the right fit for an animal and owner is one reason it discourages the idea of pets as presents.
“The amount of time, money and emotional investment it takes to properly care for a pet are all important factors that need to be considered,” Daugherty said. “If a person is gifted a pet, these decisions can be rushed or negated completely, resulting in an unhappy or unprepared home.”
The need for preparation is a viewpoint shared by many other shelters such as the Ozaukee Humane Society, located in Saukville.
“When we were working with potential adopters we always stressed the importance of having the person who was going to be responsible for the animal be there. They did not allow gift adoptions,” said Karyn Carpenter, who worked as an animal care technician at the Ozaukee Humane Society. “They wanted to make sure that the animal did not return to the shelter, which can happen if it is a gift for someone who is not expecting the animal.”
Similar to HAWS, the Ozaukee Humane Society is a facility that, according to its website, cares for about 2,000 animals each year. In addition, the Wisconsin Humane Society, which merged with the Ozaukee Humane Society in 2004, helps nearly 20,000 animals annually.
Unlike the employees at the Ozaukee Humane Society, the employees at the Wisconsin Humane Society openly encourage the idea of giving the “gift of companionship.” In fact, they advise potential gift-givers to take their questionnaire in order to determine if a pet would be a good present.
Their website also outlines the process that would occur if an animal were adopted for this reason. This process includes assigning legal responsibility to the gift-giver “until the recipient meets with an Adoption Counselor at the WHS and signs the adoption contract.”
Through this process, the Wisconsin Humane Society is trying to support this gift idea in the most responsible way possible, but some still feel that gifting a pet is not a smart idea.
Brianna Adams is a proud mother of one — canine, that is. Gertie, a 2-and-a-half-year-old cattle dog/pit bull mix, was adopted from a private rescue center in South Florida. Adams is also an avid volunteer for animal shelters and animal therapy programs, as well as being very passionate about animals and animal welfare.
“I would advocate for adopting an animal from a shelter or humane society 100 percent,” she said. Although, when the subject of adopting an animal from a shelter to give as a present was brought up, Adams was very vocal in her views.
“I honestly am not certain as to why someone would buy a pet as a present,” she said. “I think it is irresponsible because you’re not taking into consideration that someone else has to take care of it … Exceptions can be made if all parties involved agree that this is the route they want to take. If its a joint effort … then I think it’s just fine.”
Although the image of a puppy on Christmas morning is one that many animal lovers might cherish, the reality of providing for the pet might be more than some can handle. So before you surprise a loved one with such a heavy responsibility, take the time to assess the situation. And put yourself in his or her shoes: do you want to be cooped up with an energetic puppy during the cold winter months?