If you are considering giving someone a pet as a gift, think again. And again. And some more! In fact, this is such an
important subject that The Pet Press wanted to address it head on. We spoke to two pet experts to learn what you need to know when making this decision. They offer valuable tips on increasing the chances of long-term pet gift success.
Dr. Joe Hendricks has been a veterinarian for 35 years. He and his practice partner Dr. Amy Webb-Kallin own Briarwood Veterinary Hospital in Grand Blanc where they help pet owners keep their pets healthy.
Frank Ostrowski is the manager of the Lapeer Pet Supplies Plus store. He has served this community four years, but has experience across Michigan, having been with company since 1999. In his role Ostrowski trains staff to provide excellent customer service and animal care. Here’s what the experts had to say on the topic of pets as gifts.
Does your loved one truly want a pet?
While both experts believe it is not a good idea to surprise someone with a pet, there are some scenarios where a gift could work well. “Unless you know your loved one’s needs and desires – because you’ve talked about it together – I suggest being extremely cautious,” says Dr. Hendricks, “Pets can be a commitment for many years and a huge responsibility.”
Ostrowski adds, “Don’t surprise the parents of a child with a pet! Be sure to check with parents first. Kids need the full support of their parents when taking care of a pet.” If you’re not sure the desire is there, he suggests giving a gift card and letting the family decide what level of responsibility everyone is willing to take on.
Can they take on the responsibility?
Once you’ve established that a genuine desire exists, you should examine if now is the right time to introduce this responsibility. People need to understand what’s involved and have a realistic interest in caring for the pet.
Age is an obvious consideration. “You cannot expect a 3-year-old to take care of a puppy,” Ostrowski illustrates, offering the service of Pet Supplies Plus team members who can help you research animal needs. “We enjoy talking to people about their unique situation. There are numerous options, and we can help point them in the right direction. We want a successful experience.” Dr. Hendricks concurs, “We should introduce pets at the right age and maturity,” he suggests. “At 7 years old – 2nd or 3rd grade – children can begin to take responsibility for a pet’s care.”
Regardless of age, circumstances may indicate it’s not a good time. Ostrowski gives the example of busy teenagers, “extracurricular activities may leave little or no time for the pet.”
How to prevent interest from wearing off
If you are gifting a larger animal, such as a dog or cat, remember that when your kids leave home, it may become yours. Dr. Hendricks advises parents, “You should probably enter the adventure knowing you will be raising the pet together!”
While vets and pet stores can help educate to prevent problems, a fundamental principle in mastering any new activity is to follow clear instructions. “When parents go over pet care step by step, explaining to their children about feeding, watering, cleaning, they are off to a good start,” says Ostrowski.“Caring for a pet daily builds a bond with them. There’s an emotional connection.” This bond helps maintain interest in the pet, however, “if things don’t go as well as expected, we can help troubleshoot, even six months later,” assures the pet store manager.
The veterinarian cautions that if the transition to pet ownership and care is not done correctly, the relationship between owner and pet can be reactive, including biting, which can be dangerous. “Think it through,” Dr. Hendricks urges, “once the excitement passes, there could be great sadness. In the case of puppies or kittens, you will need to spend some time with obedience training and/or potty training, or you will become frustrated. This is often why dogs or cats end up in shelters.” Ostrowski agrees, “Kids can definitely lose interest, but the reality is they may not have been able to take on the responsibility.”
What type of pet commitment fits best?
“Fish make great starter pets,” says Ostrowski. Smaller animals, such as guinea pigs, require less care and commitment, he explains, describing them as friendly, social and forgiving if you make a mistake, “guinea pigs rarely bite,” he shares. ”Reptiles are popular small pets too.”
“Dogs are wonderful because they get us outside and offer excellent companionship, but they do take up our time because they need exercise and play,” says Dr. Hendricks. ”They are good for children because dogs teach kids about obedience and many lessons on being a leader.” On the flip side, the benefits will be minimal if children take no part in caring for their dog. Ostrowski comments on pet positives, “caring for pets not only teaches children responsibility but also the concept of having empathy for another living being.”
Remember to consider the financial commitment you would be gifting someone too; expenses include food, training, boarding, vaccinations and other vet fees. Pet Supplies Plus encourages interested people to review their pet care sheets. Available both in-store and online, these resources provide valuable information on the behavior, feeding and other requirements, as well as history, common problems and illnesses associated with the animal. Accurate information helps shed light on the level of commitment involved with each type of pet.
The bottom line: plan before gifting by getting realistic advice from parents, vets, trainers and pet stores. If done properly, the pet-as-gift experience can be rewarding for everyone!