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Gifts to help animals reflect holiday spirit
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi State University veterinary experts, who agree that pets generally do not make good gifts, suggest people can capture the holiday spirit by donating to an animal health-care group in someone’s name.
Pets are not toys or objects. They are living, breathing organisms that depend on humans for food, shelter and comfort when placed in a home. When pets are neglected, ignored or unwanted, they suffer.
“Giving a pet as a gift is risky,” said Dr. Phil Bushby, who is the Marcia Lane endowed professor of Humane Ethics and Animal Welfare at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine. “If the recipient doesn’t want a pet or doesn’t want the particular pet selected, the animal may end up being relinquished to a shelter.”
Selecting a pet for a home is a highly personal decision. The pet owner and the pet must get along for the arrangement to work. This can be accomplished only when the recipient is actively involved in the decision to get a pet and the selection of a particular type of pet, he said.
The person giving an unexpected or surprise gift of an animal has the best of intentions but may be looking for a short-term solution to a situation in which the friend has lost a pet or is alone.
“Think how hard it is for people to say when they don’t like or don’t want a gift such as an item of clothing or an appliance,” said Dr. Jennifer Burgess, whose veterinary specialty at the college is animal behavior. “Saying no is even harder when the gift is a living, breathing being. This often puts too much pressure on the recipient and can result in an unhappy animal, too.”
Bringing a new pet into a home during the holidays is especially stressful for an animal. If the owner is surprised, he or she has not had time to prepare for a pet. Many families spend the holiday season entertaining, cooking and shopping. Those activities often mean the pet is pushed into the background or home alone.
Pets that are already part of the family can be stressed when a new animal is introduced. Some animals are compatible, and some are not. There is risk of injury or harm when this situation occurs. If owners are not paying close attention and devoting enough time to each animal, problems ensue that disrupt the atmosphere in the house.
There are good alternatives to giving pets as gifts that people should consider:
- Contribute food, supplies or time to a local animal shelter and make this donation in honor or memory of a friend or family member.
- Start a shelter supply drive in the neighborhood and designate the friend as the honorary chair of the effort.
- Buy a certificate to spay or neuter if someone has acquired a new pet.
- Volunteer at an animal shelter, take the friend as a partner and have a fun day caring for the animals there.
- Join a rescue group and encourage a friend to join at the same time.
- Encourage a friend who may want a pet to consider adopting one of the many suitable adult animals at a shelter.
- Volunteer to pet-sit for a friend or family on holiday vacation or out of town for a period of time.
- Contribute to an animal group or buy a membership in an organization devoted to animal welfare and care. Make sure to convey where the gift should go and how it should be used.
People also can choose to honor pets and people who love them through the many gift opportunities provided through MSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine. In the end, choose a good alternative to giving a pet as a gift.
“Between 6 million and 8 million dogs and cats are housed in animal shelters across the country each year,” Phillip Bushby said. “With a 70 percent average rate of euthanasia in those shelters, the end result of giving a pet as an unexpected gift may very well be its eventual placement and death there.”