Most of us have experienced receiving a Christmas gift that we didn’t really want. A tacky trinket from Aunt Edna, a useless piece of technology, or a pair of festive socks are easy enough to return, re-gift, or throw in the cupboard and forget about. But when someone makes the mistake of giving a living, feeling animal as a gift, the consequences can be devastating.
Caring for an animal requires time, patience, and money, all of which are in short supply during the hectic holiday season. And between hosting house guests, cooking up a storm, and travelling to see the in-laws, Christmas and New Year’s Eve can get pretty chaotic – making it tough for even a well-adjusted animal to settle into his or her new home.
Adding an animal companion to the family is an important decision that requires making a lifetime commitment to caring for and spending time with an animal. That cute kitten or puppy won’t seem like much of a “gift” after he or she scratches up the couch, decides to use the Christmas tree as a lamppost, and racks up hundreds of pounds in vet bills. Bear in mind, a dog will cost between 150 000 and 200 000 swedish crowns over his or her lifetime.
Once their novelty wears off, many animals acquired on a whim or given as presents wind up forgotten, banished to a crate, or chained outdoors alone in the cold. Or they will join the countless others taken to shelters or abandoned on the side of the road, where they are likely to starve, be hit by a car, or freeze to death.
In 2021, the numbers of animals coming into Swedish shelters rose by 40 procent. The aftermath of the festive season is likely to exacerbate the situation, as in the days, weeks, and months that follow, shelters across the country will undoubtedly be flooded with even more animals.
That’s why, if you’re thinking about giving a furry friend as a gift this Christmas, it’s vital to stick to the kind found in toy shops, not pet shops. Breeders – including those selling on online marketplaces – encourage people to regard sentient dogs, cats, and other animals as mere commodities to be purchased. Many businesses are fronts for puppy mills, where female dogs are repeatedly impregnated and forced to spend their lives in cramped cages.
Irresponsible breeding practices can also cause animals to suffer from painful, debilitating conditions, and many puppies die shortly after they’ve been sold off to an unsuspecting buyer. A recent report told the story of a puppy in the UK who died only a few days after his new guardians brought him home. Veterinary tests revealed he had parvovirus, a disease that can be spread to puppies when their mothers aren’t properly vaccinated. As unscrupulous breeders treat female dogs as nothing more than breeding machines, their most basic needs, like medical care, are often an afterthought.
So, please, never give animals as gifts. If someone you love is committed to caring for an animal for life and you want to include your future family member in the festivities, wrap toys and treats with a big red bow and add a note explaining that you will visit a local animal shelter after the festive period to adopt. That way, the recipient can decide which animal is best for them – and when. You’ll be giving more than unconditional love and companionship – you’ll also be giving the gift of life to a homeless animal.
Mimi Bekhechi, PETA vice president Europe
Mimi Bekhechi is vice president for UK, Europe and Australia at PETA.