Your friend tells you how much she adores your cats and frequently comes over to play with them, your young niece asks Santa for a kitty, an elderly neighbor living alone loses her cat of 20 years.
Saving a life by adopting a cat – or any animal for that matter – from a shelter and surprising a friend or relative with a kitten seems perfectly in line with concepts we associate with the holidays:
- Helping the less fortunate (in this case the animals)
- Thinking of others (the lonely neighbor)
- Giving (often in grand unexpected ways)
Not to mention the images we’ve seen in movies and advertisements of an impossibly cute fluffy kitten with a big red bow under the Christmas tree being discovered by an overjoyed child Christmas morning.
Still, if you’d asked my what I thought about giving a cat – or any pet – as a gift, my answer without skipping a beat would have be an unequivocal “NO! Of course not!” It seemed like common sense to me that this was a terrible idea. Most kids tire of their toys after a few days – or even hours. What would they do with a live animal that doesn’t always do what it’s told?
I’d heard stories of people obtaining unwanted cats from friends who’d received them as gifts by well-meaning friends. Or what about everything we’ve been told about the right cat finding you, and making sure you feel a connection with an animal before taking it home?
So you can only imagine my surprise when I began doing research on the subject and found that studies on this subject contradicted my beliefs. I was only able to find opinion pieces, anecdotal stories or one-off shelter statistics that supported the concept that giving a pet as a gift was a bad idea. That shelter surrenders/returns went up after the holidays because of unwanted pets having been received as gifts.
In fact a 2013 study commissioned by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal (ASPCA), the most recent study I was able to find, discovered that pets given as gifts – even as a surprise gift – were not at greater risk of being returned and were not loved any less than those selected by the pet parent. Several rescue groups have taken this study as an opportunity to encourage gifting pets around the holidays and some will even make Christmas Day deliveries.
While a widely held cultural belief may have been disproved, an important myth to bust in the effort to increase the “live release rate” in this country (meaning fewer animals will be euthanized), I do not believe it should be interpreted as permission to indiscriminately gift kittens this holiday season.
The ASPCA website even 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.”
Great attention must be paid to this statement, and thought given to what it really means. Do not give a cat or dog to someone you don’t know well. Be confident the recipient wants to open their home and heart to a kitten or cat and is able and willing to make the financial commitment – in sickness and health. You should know this person well enough to understand the temperament of the cat that would make the best match, and be sure their lifestyle is well suited for this new family addition.
Your friend who loves cats may often say she wishes she had a cat, but there may be a bevy of reasons she doesn’t have one yet. Do you know what they are? Perhaps her roommate is allergic, she hates the idea of scooping a litter box or her apartment building doesn’t allow pets.
The gift of an animal is one that keeps on giving. The average lifespan of an indoor cat the US is 15 years. Over the course of a 15 year lifespan, the expenses to care for a cat are on average $7,500. And that doesn’t account for costs associated with illness (vet visits, hospital stay, prescriptions, special food), ER visits, or pet insurance.
A cute high energy kitten with a 15 year lifespan may not be the best idea for a Senior family member or friend. Perhaps you should consider an adult cat with a more mellow temperament. Are your nieces parents on board with welcoming an animal into their home? Are they ready to take on the financial responsibility for the next 15+ years?
If in doubt, there are other ways to gift a cat this Christmas:
- Create an IOU that promises you will pay for the adoption fee of a cat and place it under the tree with a stuffed animal representation. For an adult, purchase a cat carrier and make a date to go to the shelter together to select an appropriate feline companion.
- If your niece’s parents aren’t up for the commitment of a cat, consider an electronic cat toy that purrs and moves (yes they exist).
So while the commonly held belief that pets are off-limits as gifts is being challenged – wonderful news when it comes to getting more cats adopted, particularly since their live release rate is lower than that of dogs – it’s my belief that it’s not a decision that should be made lightly. My only hope is to raise food for thought before you fall in love with a fluffy cute kitten and decide she or he would make the perfect surprise gift this holiday season.
What’s your take on this subject after looking at the research? Have you ever gifted or been gifted a cat? Leave your comments below!