I’ve worked at a pet store/rescue/education center since 1988 – more than half my life. Frequently we’re asked the question, “Is it okay to give pets as gifts to children?”
Our answer is always the same.
Yes! And no. It depends.
If the recipients are able and willing to cherish and care for the pet for the duration of its life, can understand it’s a living thing, and the parents can afford the costs, time, and effort to support them, then anytime is a good time to give them a pet! If not, then don’t. No occasion will change the responsibility of pet ownership or the correct person-to-pet match.
It’s not about the OCCASION; it’s about the recipient.
Responsible parents make the decision to give their children pets as gifts long before the actual occasion. In fact, the occasion is merely the opportunity to give the pet! Impulsive pet purchases are always discouraged but if parents have been planning on giving children a pet and just waiting for the occasion to do it, then there is nothing wrong with that!
Fostering a child’s natural affinity for animals and teaching life lessons through responsible pet ownership is critically important in the development of children – when the time is right.
For example, we applaud parents who resist the fuzzy temptations of chicks and bunnies around Easter time. For children who are not ready or willing to care for a pet, the responsible answer is always no. We suggest bringing kids in to PW sometime wearing their Easter clothes and take pictures with the bunnies instead! Often you’ll hear people say not to give a pet for Christmas because the child will equate it to a toy. The truth is, if a child can’t differentiate a live animal from a toy then that child is not yet ready for a pet, regardless of occasion.
Also – let’s be honest. We all know that often the parents are the ones doing most of the pet care giving because secretly we wanted that pet. Sometimes we say the pet is “for the child” but it’s really for mom or dad. Kind of like that table saw my husband and kids gave me for Mother’s Day.
It’s also not about AGE or GENDER; it’s about the recipient.
Sometimes the answer is no but sometimes it’s yes. If the answer always needed to be no, then kids would never have pets! How sad. A pet is either right for a child or not. It has less to do with age or gender than it does the children themselves. My son is a teenager and probably still not ready for the responsibilities of a pet. Even though he is smart, kind, compassionate, and helps with our pets, being solely responsible for a pet doesn’t suit his busy lifestyle or impulsive personality. His twin sister, however, (who is even busier and less compassionate), has responsibly cared for her pets since she was two years old with little to no help. After age 3, I could have given my daughter a box of kittens with zero concern. She has an innate sense of discipline which is well suited for owning pets. Plus she’s responsible enough to resist a pet she can’t take care of.
For the select few children who are ready, whose parents have been planning to gift a pet anyway, guilt-free permission is granted! You know your child best and that decision is only yours to make. We share in your passion and salute you for your impeccable timing!