“Good intentions aren't good enough when gambling with another being's life,” says Marc Bekoff, Ph.D.
by Good Dog
We’ve all seen the commercials around the holidays where a family surprises a loved one with a young puppy, usually with a big red bow around its neck, or as it pops out from a gift box, ready to play.
This might seem like an adorable idea, but there’s a lot more to consider in the decision to give or get a pet as a gift. Here are some important points to keep in mind before surprising someone with a puppy.
If you’ve read the other Learning Center articles here on Good Dog, you’ve seen just how much work (time, money, effort and attention) goes into raising a puppy. By surprising someone with a puppy, you’re essentially giving them a great amount of stress with no time to prepare for it. The ASPCA suggests to give “pets as gifts only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one, and the ability to care for it responsibly.” So if your friend/loved one has repeatedly mentioned that they wished they had a pet, and you know them to be responsible enough to care for another life, then it could be okay.
Caring for a new puppy can cost about $1,000-$2,000 in the first year alone, without including any training expenses. While getting a pet is certainly an investment made out of love, it’s still going to cost a good amount of money along the way. So, just as your friend/loved one should have expressed interest in getting a pet, and should have proven to be a responsible person, they should also be ready to take on the financial responsibility of owning a new animal. However, what happens if your friend/loved one isn’t ready to take on a pet?
The holidays can be a hectic and stressful time for folks -- so bringing in a new life to care for, clean up after, and train can often increase those stressful issues. Many local shelters around the world report huge increases in dog abandonment (or relinquishment) to shelters in the months following the holidays. Psychology Today mentions a study that almost half of all dogs and cats “taken in [...] as pets” end up getting relinquished back to a shelter.
A study authored by experts from the ASPCA in 2013 found that “receiving a dog or cat as a gift was not associated with impact on self-perceived love/attachment, or whether the dog or cat was still in the home. These results suggest there is no increased risk of relinquishment for dogs and cats received as a gift.”
An important note: another Psychology Today article written by Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., a professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, explains, some of those studies are using data in a way to help get animals adopted.
“Good intentions aren't good enough when gambling with another being's life,” said Bekoff.
Yes, dogs are often given to kids to teach them how to be responsible -- they have to walk the dog, pick up after the dog, make sure they get fed, and so on. However, kids are still kids. They won’t always think with responsibility in mind; so whoever acts as the parental figure(s) in their lives should be ready to raise that puppy when the kid, understandably, can’t keep up.
Way less fun than surprising someone with a puppy, for sure, but introducing the idea to them and going with them on this journey may reduce any feelings of overwhelm or stress. This way, you can figure out exactly what they’d want in a puppy companion (size, personality, energy levels, working with a breeder vs. a rescue, etc) and no one is disappointed.
It’s not conclusive whether or not it’s a dangerous idea to give someone a pet as a surprise gift. However, if you start doing some investigating to determine if your friend/loved one actually wants a puppy, and can handle the financial, time and energy responsibilities, you might be able to figure out if they're ready to take on dog ownership.
A dog is a lifelong companion, and getting a dog should be treated as a serious (and wonderful) opportunity to care for another life. While it might spoil the surprise aspect of the gift, the responsible course of action is generally considered to be asking your friend/loved one ahead of time, and help them find the puppy that is right for them and their lifestyle.