pets-arent-giftsToday we share an article from Mamapedia about the complex issue of giving pets as gifts, written by Katya, the Director of Partnerships and Promotions for Adopt-a-Pet.com. Jenny always exchanges the gifts she gets. It’s not that she’s picky or hard to please; she just has her own sense of style. So whether it’s her birthday, anniversary, or the holiday day time, her family and friends know to make sure and get Jenny a gift receipt!

Last year one of Jenny’s friends, Suzie, thought it would be a good idea to buy her eleven and eight year old sons a dog for Christmas. Her boys had always said they loved dogs, and after many discussions, they convinced their mom they were ready to help take care of their own. Suzie came home December 25th of 2009 with an eight-week old puppy named Max.

When Jenny and Suzie went to lunch a few days later, Suzie expressed concern about her decision to get a dog. She had a sinking feeling in her stomach because she quickly saw that not only were her kids too young to truly help out, she also realized that buying someone a pet as a gift doesn’t require them to understand the responsibility and commitment that comes with it. She had explained it to her children in theory, but now, in practice, Suzie could foresee that all the work of owning a pet would all fall on her. Suzie was in a bind: this puppy was not a sweater or a blender. She could not simply return it. Yet now the brunt of the work load lay on her, and as a full time mom and career woman, she could not take on anything more.

Jenny, being the ultimate returner, did not have much advice for her friend and was grateful she’d just been given earrings and sweaters… she could not imagine trying to return a living pet! Suzie decided to try the local animal shelter, and that’s when Suzie’s life would be change forever. Just a few days after New Year’s Eve, Suzie pulled up to the animal shelter with 9 week-old Max to see a line of people turning in animals just like she was.

Cats, dogs, bunnies, puppies, kitties – person after person who had purchased a pet for their family and decided it was a wrong idea. Person after person turning in an animal to the shelter. Person after person returning a sentient being as if it were a thing. The reason this day and this event changed Suzie forever is because it was the day she saw herself in that line and she didn’t like what she saw. It was also the day Suzie became an active animal shelter volunteer.

Why our country continues to breed animals when millions are put down in shelters every year is a baffling question. Suzie soon learned that buying a pet from a pet store is never a good idea, as reputable breeders would never sell their animals to a pet store. Pet stores sell pets as if they are products, commodities, things that can be returned or exchanged. When Suzie left that line, with Max in her hands and went back home, she felt a new-found bond to Max. He looked back at her with trusting eyes, and she knew she had made the right decision. Giving pets as gifts absolves the recipients of accountability and may even keep them from learning the most important lesson: the need to respect a life.

Suzie now volunteers regularly throughout the year at her local animal shelter, but during the holiday season is when she dedicates most of her time. She shares her story, she tells people what she learned; this is her way to make a difference and hopefully help reduce the thousands of animals that are dumped in shelters every year after the holidays. Her friend Jenny recently asked her about getting a dog for her daughter’s birthday, and Suzie relayed all that she’d learned. She invited Jenny to come volunteer with her for a few days, and told her that if indeed she still felt ready to get a pet for the family after that, she could bring the whole family to the shelter so they could all adopt their dog together. Teaching children to value animals’ lives and making them part of the adoption decision process, invest them in having a pet. It is also hopefully the answer to ending pet overpopulation.

Suzie realized that not only did her kids have to learn commitment when she first brought home Max, she did too. How else would her kids have learned about commitment other than my watching their mom? Suzie led by example and she still has Max. Going on walks with him is one of her favorite times of the day- just her and her dog, quiet and enjoying the sunshine. She has since last year adopted two more pets, a loving Boxer mix and adult cat.

Keeping Max was one of the best decisions Suzie ever made, and he has become her greatest muse. She is so grateful that she did not leave him at the shelter that day, but that she was there to awaken to the reality. Suzie will never buy a pet again. Her friend Jenny continues to volunteer with her and somehow in the process, she has learned to appreciate presents for what they are not to return gifts so much! Now that’s a holiday miracle.

Katya Friedman is an active Los Angeles shelter volunteer, certified dog trainer, and the Director of Partnerships and Promotions for www.adoptapet.com.