Everyone loves the image of a puppy in a box with a big red bow under the Christmas tree, but the truth is pets, especially exotic pets with their specific needs, are not good gifts in most instances. Owning a pet is a responsibilty and thrusting it upon someone as a surprise leads to trouble.
Animals are an important part of our lives and give us a lot of enjoyment. However, pets, especially exotics, require a lot of work, which is something unfairly included in your gift. When someone takes home a pet, they should promise to care for that animal for its entire life, which is too much to promise for someone else.
Pets are family members, for the whole family
Children often ask for a pet for Christmas, but are not always emotionally mature enough to provide the care necessary. A parent wishing to add an exotic pet to the family must take the ultimate responsibilty for that animal’s care. While caring for an animal does teach responsibilty, if that lesson results in the death or ill health of an animal it is cruel, and that cruelty ultimatley lies in the adult. Make sure your pets are a part of the family, not merely an object lesson.
In addition many exotic pets are not appropriate for children. Sugar gliders are noctural and require attention after children are usually in bed. A child who is not diligent with hand washing can catch salmonella or other diseases from reptile and amphibian pets like geckos, tortoises, turtles, frogs, and newts. Chinchillas, rabbits, and guinea pigs can be flighty and scared around children who may move too quickly. Many a hamster has died in the squeezing hands of a child too young to understand their strength against a small rodent.
Grace T. (age 6) and her sister Tiffanie T. (age 7) of Orem, Utah recieved an adorable baby Lionhead rabbit for the holidays. However, with their over-cuddling, the creature died. The children meant no danger to their pet, they were only playing with it, however they were too young to hold it gently enough. This kind of tragedy is not uncommon.
Pets are for always, not just Christmas morning
Sometimes people assume the holidays are the best time to introduce a new pet into the family because people are home and off work. However, when it is given as a present along with all the toys, a new animal may be forgotten quickly as all the other gifts. Unlike toys that break and wrapping that is discarded an pet needs to hold the same importance for life. They should not depend on novelty. Too many pets are homeless because a child, or even an irresponsible, thoughtless adult, got tired of them.
Alternatives to exotic pets as presents
- Plush or minature animal toys. For a young child who is not ready for the pet they want, you might consider a toy of that pet such as Littlest Pet Shop from your local Utah Walmart or Toys R Us. Or you can get a plush Oomfy pet that come with a book about your animal as well as donating to a good cause. “Proceeds from the sale of these products are used to fully finance the rescue, rehabilitation and eventual release of the orphaned wild animals.”
- Pet Gift Certificate. If you decide that your family is ready for a pet, there are alternatives to giving a live animal. You can download and print the Pet Promise Certificate on Petfinder.com. With the Pet Promise Certificate, you promise to pay the adoption fees for the pet and your child promises to take good care of that pet.
- Pet supplies. Another choice if your family is ready for a pet is to give the pet supplies necessary. You might give an aquarium filter instead of a turtle, a heat lamp for a tortoise, or a box full of spare sea shells for a hermit crab. For other pet present ideas check out this article.
- Donation to animal shelter or rescue to help animals in need. If you are looking for a present for an adult or older child who loves animals, consider a donation to a worthy cause. For a list of good gift options that give more, read Gifts that give more.