Editorials, Opinion

Did that box just bark?

Giving pets as presents

It’s a classic Christmas scene: The oddly large box under the tree (maybe with a few holes poked in it) that shivers and thumps, from which quiet barks or muffled mews emerge. The kids open it with a chorus of delighted squeals to reveal a puppy or kitten inside, a red bow tied around its neck.

And no wonder it’s a classic holiday movie trope: A 2021 survey by OnePoll found about 74% of kids have asked their parents for a pet (on average, over 1,500 times), about 62% of whom double-down during the holiday season, begging even more often. About two-thirds of parents give in after, on average, three years of listening to their children pleading and promising to do all the work (which they’ll never do).

Pets can be a welcome and valuable addition to any family or household. Research has shown that having a pet can reduce stress and loneliness, lower blood pressure, increase feelings of social support and boost your mood, according to the National Institutes of Health. Owning a pet can help people develop better discipline and habits and help children, in particular, learn responsibility. (Emphasis on “can.”)

People want pets, pets want people, people are good for pets and pets are good for people. So obviously you should get a pet for Christmas, right?


Owning an animal of any kind is a huge responsibility, and different animals need different things. Before you get a pet, make sure: you are prepared for a multi-year commitment (anywhere from 2-30 years, depending on the animal); you have the time and money to care for that pet; and you pick an animal that fits with your lifestyle. (Are you prepared to walk a dog four times a day, no matter the weather? Or clean an entire fish tank every month?)

Getting a pet can’t be a spur of the moment decision, and it can’t be made without the input of everyone in the household. Shelters often end up flooded with animals right after the holidays because of poor planning and flawed expectations.

Let’s say you’ve done all your homework, assessed your lifestyle and budget, checked and double-checked that everyone’s on board and now you’re ready to get a pet.

Adopt, don’t shop.

We could get into all the horrors of puppy mills (especially for the breeding dogs), the dangers of in-breeding and the sometimes life-threatening complications many purebreds experience. Instead, we’ll just say this: When you shop for a pet, no matter how “reputable” the breeder, you are ultimately supporting someone whose priority is money. When you adopt from a shelter, you support an organization whose first priority is animals’ well-being and change an abandoned animal’s life.

So if you want to adopt an animal as a Christmas present, go to a shelter or adoption event as a family to pick out an animal together (often, the perfect pet will adopt you). If you really want it to be a Christmas surprise, consider wrapping up some supplies and/or a stuffed animal and put those under the tree, with a promise that you’ll go pick out a pet as a family after Christmas.

Pets can be the purrfect Christmas present and a pawsome addition to your family — if you approach adopting one the right way.