Lots of people may find themselves considering the gift of a pet this holiday season. If the kids have been clamoring for a puppy all year, parents might reason that purchasing one as a Christmas present makes sense. Well-meaning aunts and uncles often bring a canary and cage as a gift to a niece bound for her first apartment. Girls who want to give their boyfriend something lasting choose a small animal: hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs and more have turned up under the Christmas tree thanks to that line of reasoning.
In my own family, one special Christmas, a high-school-aged son decided that the perfect gift for his girlfriend was a Madagascar hissing cockroach. Apparently, nothing spoke his feelings quite as well as a giant bug. The insect ended up being adopted by a young cousin who was a budding entomologist; the girlfriend found another beau before New Year's Eve!
Use Reason this Season
In many homes, Christmas means guests in every bed, erratic hours, children distracted by relatives, lights, gifts and more. A home buzzing with all the joys of this special time of year is no place for a puppy or kitten! The young animal will not get the attention it deserves - and may suffer a great deal of accidental harm as well. When everyone runs to the door to see the carolers, pets left in the other room can hurt themselves in an instant with everything from chocolates left on low tables to the cords from electric light sets.
By all means, give your children the pet they desire - but not until AFTER Christmas. If your family has already determined precisely what pet is right for them, contact the breeder of your choice and arrange for a gift card, or a photo of puppy or kitten being held for your family. Bring the animal home when life has returned to normal after the holidays.
Resist the urge to surprise a loved one with a living creature, whether a hissing cockroach, a gerbil or a parakeet. Pet ownership is a serious commitment that will extend over a long period of time, not something to impose on someone without their informed advance consent. Here again, a gift card is a better choice than the pet itself. If the wise source of your pet purchase is your local pet shelter or a reputable breeder who may not offer gift certificates, perhaps you can improvise one under the circumstances so that niece or boyfriend can make their own choice after some careful research.
What about an elephant?
Instead of bringing your loved ones a house pet, consider giving them an 'adopted' pet from one of the national rescue organizations or zoos. At most zoo websites, resident animals can be 'adopted' on an annual basis. Usually, these 'adoptions' come with a package containing a photograph of the animal, information on its habitat and often, a keepsake to memorialize the experience - a hat, or mug, or toy. If your nephew has always wanted to be a marine biologist, he'll be thrilled when you 'adopt' a manatee for him from www.savethemanatee.org; your bird-loving niece will enjoy a year of sponsoring a raptor at www.adoptabird.org. Surely everyone on your list will enjoy an elephant - or a herd of them! - for a year, available for 'adoption' at www.defenders.org.
Check with your local zoo as well; many have extensive adoption and sponsorship programs, and the advantage of gifting from a zoo in the recipient's home town is that they will be included in special events open only to adopters and sponsors. In the course of a year, a zoo adoption program can create memories that last a lifetime. Isn't that what the perfect holiday gift should do?
The Alaska Zoo
The Bronx Zoo
The San Diego Zoo
The Avian Reconditioning Center, AdoptABird Program, http://www.arc4raptors.org/adopt
Petroglyphsnm.org Pet Poisons