Pets for presents: What to know about giving animals as gifts

For years, the conventional wisdom from animal advocates was this: giving a pet as a present at the holidays is not a good idea.

But that’s not how all advocacy groups feel about the prospect of giving the gift of animal companionship to a loved one.

Still, there are caveats.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’, or ASPCA, position, stated on its website reads: “The ASPCA recommends the giving of pets as gifts only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one, and the ability to care for it responsibly.”

Ashley Valm, director of adoptions at the Humane Rescue Alliance in D.C., told WTOP, “I’m always going to advocate for good communication in a household, and in a relationship.”

But she was quick to add, “What I will say is that it’s a really great time to adopt.”

Valm explained that during this time of year “a lot of families are home for the holidays, they have a break from work, from school, it’s a really great time to settle in with a new pet.”

If you have your heart set on springing a surprise pet on your partner or loved one, don’t go in cold, said Valm.

“I’ve never been an advocate for surprise marriage proposals, either.”

Thelma, one of the adoptable dogs at Humane Rescue Alliance.
(Courtesy HRA)
Judah’s nailed the power pose. He’d like to try it out at your house, said the staff at D.C.’s Humane Rescue Alliance.
(Courtesy HRA)
Riri relaxes after a play session, dreaming of the next one with the ball just in reach.
(Courtesy HRA)
Whistle’s head tilt is on display, and this is one of the adoptable dogs available at HRA.
(Courtesy HRA)

Instead, she suggested, “You want to have had some conversations in the past, you will want to have established a common understanding of what you’re looking for and what you want.”

So, with that in mind, Valm said, plan for a lifetime of companionship, but do some preparation. Be realistic about your budget from both a time and financial standpoint.

For those who are on the fence about getting a pet for Christmas — or at any other time — Valm said to consider the “Test Drive” program at the HRA.

“You can take home an adoptable dog for seven days and see how it feels in your house,” Valm said.

However things work out, she said there’s an upside for the dog as well as the potential adopter.

“It’s great for the dog because they get a break from the shelter environment — they get a couch to hang out on for Christmas,” and the potential adopter can see if they’re really ready to have a dog in their life on a permanent basis, she said.

The Test Drive program is available for dogs only. Valm said it’s being tested as a pilot project.

Perhaps you’d like to do more than just the “Test Drive,” but you’re not ready for a permanent pet. In that case, Valm said consider fostering.

Dog fosters are urgently needed, and in that case, the foster parent keeps the dog until it’s matched with a permanent adopter. Or, as animal advocates say, a “foster fail” occurs. That’s when a foster pet owner falls in love with their new companion and decides to formally adopt that animal.

Valm said there are also resources at HRA for pet owners, including the pet pantry, which assists with the costs of feeding a pet. HRA also offers some free webinars and training classes and workshops where fees are charged.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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