By now, Santa has lost count of how many kids have asked for a new puppy or kitten to be under the tree Christmas morning. And really, few things bring more smiles than the surprise of a wriggling, tongue lapping, furry bundle of joy exploding out of a gift box.
But should animals even be considered as part of a holiday gift exchange?
As far as Santa and the Bangor Humane Society are concerned, as long the recipient is on the nice-not-naughty list and is prepared for the responsibility of a new fuzzy family member, it’s a perfectly good idea.
“Our thoughts are they can be good gifts,” said Stacey Coventry, director of development and public relations at the Bangor Humane Society located at 693 Mount Hope Avenue in Bangor. “There is really no evidence if you give a pet as a gift that it will end up coming back to us.”
To make sure you are on the BHS’ nice list, according to Coventry, a person must be 100 percent honest with themselves and with a breeder or shelter on why they are opting for a pet as a gift.
“Especially when you come to the shelter, don’t hide the fact you are looking for a pet as a gift,” Coventry said. “And before you even come in, give serious thought and have the needed conversations, ‘does the person you want to give this pet to really want a pet?’”
Coventry calls the steps in selecting just the right pet at just the right time for a gift “mindful matchmaking” and it’s done with both humans’ and animals’ wellbeing in mind.
“We always ask if this is going to be a family pet and, when picking out the animal, we ask people to bring in the whole family,” Coventry said. “If it’s going to be a surprise for the kids, we want to make sure all the adults are on board and involved.”
Many times grown children are convinced a cat or dog is the “perfect” gift to be a companion for an elderly parent or relative who lives alone.
While that can be a great idea, Coventry said, it requires some serious thought.
“Make sure that person really wants and has the energy to handle a dog or cat,” she said. “Make sure they have a support system in place like other family members or friends that can help out taking care of the pet if needed.”
Family members with good pet giving intentions must also be confident the intended elderly recipient has the financial resources to spend on a new pet’s food and care, or be prepared to step in to help out with the costs. Having the conversation with the recipient on exactly what they might like to have helps the shelter staff find the right match, Coventry said.
“We want to match the animal to the person based on lifestyle and personality,” she said. “Is this person a ‘cuddly cat’ kind of person or would that annoy them and they’d be better off with an independent cat?”
An alternative to presenting a pet on Christmas morning, Coventry said, is instead giving a gift certificate from the shelter and then coming in as a family to select the perfect pet when the holiday dust settles.
Speaking of that holiday dust, Coventry noted Christmas is a hectic enough time for people, so imagine a new pet’s perspective. Unwrapped boxes, tasty human treats possibly within reach, music and all the holiday cheer can be overwhelming for a weeks-old puppy or kitten.
Homes are bedecked with poisonous plants (like poinsettias) lit candles and fragile decorations, all of which are decidedly not pet-friendly. In addition, routines are set aside in favor of rounds of parties, visiting relatives and vacations.
But none of those need be deal breakers.
“Be aware the new pet will need some quiet space and create that space for them,” she said. “Don’t expect the animal to interact with people all day and night and be an advocate for the new pet and tell people, ‘We just adopted this pet and are really excited but right now he’s had a busy day and needs some rest.’”
And think of all the accompanying gifts for years to come. Cute little dog or cat outfits, pet-appropriate treats, toys and beds are just a few that any four-legged family member would love to see under the tree.
The more ambitious pets will even unwrap them for themselves — along with your gifts, if allowed, as a fun Christmas morning game.
Above all, Coventry said, be aware and respect the new pet’s boundaries.
Among the best ways to get the family and new pet off to a good start, Coventry said, is a post-holiday meal stroll around the neighborhood.
“You’ve just had a big day opening gifts and enjoying a Christmas meal,” she said. “Why not suggest a nice walk with the new puppy after dessert?”