Animal advocates urge people not to give pets as surprise Christmas gifts

As the holidays near, animal advocates are urging people not to give pets as surprise gifts.

Deni Goldman, shelter director at Shultz’s Guest House in Dedham, told Boston 25 News giving someone an animal they may not want or may not be prepared for often leads to neglect or surrender.

“Having a pet is a lifetime commitment,” Goldman said. “The Christmas holidays are just for a few short weeks.”

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released a public service announcement called, “The Worst Gift You Can Give at Christmas.”

The ad depicting a sad dog with a bow on its neck says, “What did I get for Christmas? A chain in the backyard.” It warns of the “10- to 20-year financial and emotional commitment” of owning a cat or dog.

Often, the excitement of opening a box with a cute puppy inside wears off, Goldman said. Sometimes, the recipient of the gift simply doesn’t want a dog. Additionally, families often do not anticipate how the animal will interact with children until it’s too late.

“The dog might be too nippy, too jumpy, too unruly for a small child that doesn’t understand boundaries,” Goldman said. “The dog may also be a hazard around an elderly person. And there’s no way to prepare for that if the dog just appears at home under the Christmas tree.”

Shultz’s Guest House requires all members of the household to meet their potential new pet before adoption to ensure the animal is a good fit for the home. The shelter does not allow meet-and-greets in the two days before Christmas to avoid the animals being given as presents.

Often, when a family realizes they cannot keep their new dog, surrendering the pet can be traumatizing to an animal that may have already experienced emotional turmoil.

“It’s hard for the dog to be in a home environment, then come back to a shelter environment,” Goldman said. “It’s also very difficult and hard on the family to have to give that dog up.”

People who give animals as presents may not consider the expense of owning a pet. Goldman warns potential pet owners of the lifetime financial commitment, from routine veterinary bills to training and unexpected medical emergencies.

Shultz’s Guest House has seen an uptick in families looking for pets during the coronavirus pandemic. The shelter, which finds homes for dogs rescued and transported from Tennessee, expects to have placed 700 dogs in their forever homes by the end of the year.

Goldman says new dog owners must consider how the pandemic and an increase in their time spent at home may affect their new pets. If they return to work after spending months at home with their new dog, the pet may experience separation anxiety when it is suddenly alone.

While it is true a dog can complete a family, finding the right match at the right time is critical for everyone, Goldman said.

“We want all these animals to have homes, and ultimately they all will have homes,” Goldman said. “It’s just important to put them in the right homes and at the right time.”

Goldman said parents who want to surprise their children with a pet can do so responsibly. She advises letting a child unwrap a box with a collar or dog toys inside, and then planning to go together after the holidays to pick out a pet that is a good fit for the home.

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