By Hans Kriek
Executive Director, SAFE (Save Animals From Exploitation)
Christmas time is often a stressful time for people. The pressure to come up with an original gift can turn even the most well-adjusted person into a nervous wreck.
Animals are cute, cheap and easy to acquire. It is therefore no wonder that some people look at animals as the perfect gift. Who could say no to an adorable kitten or a fluffy rabbit or beady-eyed guinea pig, anyway? Well, as it turns out, far too many people receive animals as gifts but do not really want them.
Rude to say ‘no’
Every year, thousands of animals are gifted to reluctant new ‘owners’ who consider it rude to say no. Others may initially be happy with the surprise animal but once the novelty wears off, find themselves with an unwanted guest that they struggle to care for.
Animals require proper care and lots of love. Gifting an animal to a person who is not prepared for the new arrival, puts the well-being of the animal at risk. Many will eventually be abandoned or receive improper care.
How many rabbits and guinea pigs are lingering in tiny hutches in the corner of backyards all over the country, never to be let out, never to receive the attention they need? How many cats are dumped or handed over to welfare agencies in the months following the festive season?
Adopting an animal should be a big step for any family. It means making a commitment to care for the animal for the rest of its life. It means being prepared to spend a significant amount of money on food, housing, de-sexing and veterinary care.
The total cost over an animal’s lifetime can be quite high: many hundreds of dollars for small critters and many thousands of dollars for larger animals like cats and dogs. Being gifted a ‘cheap’ animal can easily turn into a financial nightmare for people with limited disposable income.
Risks in giving pets to children
The gifting of animals to children is especially fraught with risks. Many children quickly lose interest and usually their parents will end up caring for the animal. Children also need to be educated about the needs of their animal and must be supervised when handling them. Animals are not playthings; they have fragile bones and are easily injured.
If you do consider adopting an animal for Christmas, make it a family affair. Take the whole family to your local shelter, find out about the different animals they have and together choose an animal that fits in with your family.
Avoid buying animals from pet shops or breeders. Every animal purchased from people who sell animals for financial gain potentially takes away a home from a shelter animal.
So please, do not give animals as gifts this Christmas or at any other times.
If you do, you may inadvertently cause harm to the animal or put the recipient in an awkward position. Christmas is all about goodwill and spreading happiness – let us ensure that we extend this to animals as well!