Adopting responsible habits for household pets

The classic image of gleeful children receiving a puppy for Christmas is one glamorized by the media every holiday season. But, what entertainers of this gift idea can tend to forget is that this temporary moment of joy is actually a 10 to 20 year financial and emotional investment.

Gifting pets hold many ethical issues that are not often analyzed prior to adopting a living animal. For one, searching for popular and more ‘giftable’ pets, such as younger animals and specific breeds, puts a strain on the already problematic breeding industry. 

Considering how notorious the pet industry is for neglecting the interest of animals, receiving a higher demand from consumers will only allow abuse to flourish. This practice also ignores the 6.3 million animals left in shelters across the U.S.—a number which grows thanks to the gifting of pets.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, more consumers than ever sought new pets as companions to combat lonely times. However, it is unfair to expect animals to act as ‘cure-alls’ for their owners if they ignore the fact that it’s their job to care for their pets. Since animals are capable of feeling anxious and stressed—like humans—they deserve the same attentiveness to their emotional needs. 

As these pets’ owners transitioned into working away from home, these young animals were suddenly introduced to a new schedule, with their owners absent for most of the day. This drastic change can lead to the development of separation anxiety or, in some cases, result in the pet being given up to a shelter due to the owner’s lack of time to care for them. Since the animals have aged under the care of their original owner, they are also less likely to be adopted from the shelter than if they were younger.

Many people are quick to forget that pets are sentient beings, capable of experiencing both positive emotions, such as attachment and love, as well as negative emotions, like stress and fear. Presenting pets as ‘gifts’ to young, impressionable children can equate living animals to inanimate objects gifted in the same way. This can perpetuate the false narrative that animals cannot feel emotions the same way humans do.

However, in many circumstances, pets are gifted to children from adults who may not live in the same household as them. These well-meaning friends and family members cannot properly determine the financial responsibility they are placing onto guardians, as dogs can cost an upward of $93,520 over 15 years. 

It is also impossible to gauge the amount of time and care required for that individual pet. Even if the children are responsible enough to assume the position of primary caretaker, pets can live for up to 20 years. As many children move out at age 18, depending on the year the child received the pet, their parents may be required to undertake responsibility for more than 10 years.

The only circumstance in which people can fully determine whether they should give a pet is when the individual receiving them has both the time and the money to take on this responsibility. This decision can only be made by the individual who will become the primary caretaker of this animal.

Unlike a stuffed animal or Lego set, a pet is not a gift that can be easily set aside or forgotten. As the domesticators of these animals, we have a responsibility to provide them with loving homes, emotional understanding and fulfilled lives.