Pets Are Not Presents

“I don’t care what my daughter says.  My grandson needs a puppy!  She’ll get over it.”

I overheard a woman saying this to a cashier when I was shopping yesterday.  I was appalled.  Flagrant familial overstepping of boundaries aside, I felt terrible for this future puppy.  Giving someone else a pet is basically saddling them with two decades of responsibility and expense, which isn’t fair to either the family or the pet.  Or, people give their own child a pet “to teach them responsibility,” which is unfair to the child and the pet.

Puppies and kittens are cute.  I used to volunteer at the Humane Society, and watched people fall in love with them immediately.  Unfortunately the majority came back within a year, the primary reason being that they just weren’t cute anymore.  This was a euthanasia shelter, so the animals had about ten days before they were euthanized.  If we had animals that were especially charming, which was often, the staff and volunteers would take turns petitioning to keep them around longer, claiming we knew someone who’d want it, but they were out of town, just wait a week…  We’d do that until we found it a home, but there were too many animals and too few families.  Occasionally, a group from the “no-kill” shelter in Denver would show up, noses in the air, and take some of them, claiming that they would save them.  About two months later we’d have most of them back so that we could do the dirty work.  (I never forgave them for that.) So many sweet, loving animals that just weren’t “cute” enough.  The worst was how new arrivals would cry for their families, wondering why their people left them.  They would pull out their fur, howl, and were desperate for attention.  Even if their people didn’t love them, they still loved their people.

There’s a common theory that giving a child a pet teaches them responsibility.  This often results in a dead pet and a heartbroken child.  Children under the age of nine typically don’t have a firm grasp on life needs, death and long term consequences; they don’t understand that not feeding a pet hurts it.  It’s not because children are cruel or selfish, it’s because their brains aren’t completely developed.  All children develop at different rates; some may be able to handle it and others may not.  Children also may not be inclined to clean up feces or scrub food bowls; saddling them with that without asking is unfair.  Choosing a pet needs to be a family decision, and the family needs to be responsible.  An animal’s welfare should not be left in the hands of a young child.

Some people have suggested that getting a small animal is better, because “if it dies, it was only five bucks.”  It’s still a living creature, removed from the wild, that depends on its keeper for its needs!  It’s also more likely to be injured from a child’s overzealous hug. They also are absolutely not cheap.  I once had a rat that in its second year required several hundred dollars of veterinary care because it got mites.  I was floored by the amount, but I paid it, because he was my responsibility. He required constant attention, cleaning and new toys to thrive.

Children love animals.  They also love stuffed animals, plastic animals, and wind up animals.  Please consider this before you give a child a living creature that no one else wants to care for.  Not everyone, even if they do love animals, can afford one or provide the proper home.

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