Moment of Paws: Buying a pet as a gift this season? Read this first

It’s a nearly perfect vision – waking up Christmas morning with the children, and nestled under the tree is a big brown-eyed puppy with a bow attached to its collar.

While this scenario can make a joyful holiday for some, it’s not ideal for every family.

That being said, pets CAN make a perfect holiday gift, but it cannot be an impulse decision and the process should start with a conversation.
If giving your loved one a new pet as a present is on your mind, here are five things to consider:

1. Manage the surprise – Even at the risk of spoiling the surprise, make sure that the intended recipient wants a new pet. If they currently have pets or have recently lost a pet, make sure they are ready and that introducing a new animal will not turn the household upside down.

2. Don’t make them sneeze – Those aren’t tears of joy; it’s allergies! Confirm any allergies among all household members. Christmas Day in the emergency room for an allergy shot? No thanks.

3. Know where they live – Even if your intended recipient wants a pet, confirm that their landlord allows them. If their building is pet-friendly, you’ll also want to confirm any weight or breed restrictions.

4. Find out what they can handle – You want to know that the animal you are getting matches the lifestyle, physical limitations, ages, and personalities in the household.

5. Adopt from a shelter – When you adopt, you give an animal a second chance. Adopting an animal from a reputable shelter like the Animal Rescue League of Boston also has many benefits. All adoptable animals, for example, receive spay/neuter services, vaccines, and a health and behavioral screening.

While a 2013 ASPCA study suggests that there is no increased risk of surrender for dogs and cats received as gifts, if given the option, most pet owners would rather choose the animal themselves.

It’s all about forming a personal connection. Animals like people have distinct personalities. Some like to be in your lap watching television while others are more independent spirits. My Ruby, true to terrier form, will give an excited welcome when you come through the door but does not like to cuddle. As pets are a long term commitment, making the right match is critical.

That being said, you can still surprise your loved ones. Many shelters (including ARL) offer gift certificates for adoption. If you’re looking for a family pet, a stuffed animal under the tree gets everyone excited and promises that the entire household will take part in choosing an animal. Also, engaging everyone in the process allows time for the important conversations about responsibilities, training and what to expect.

Pets can make for wonderful gifts, and like any meaningful gift it just requires a little more thought and strategy. From the entire ARL family to yours, we wish you the happiest of holidays and a prosperous New Year!

Mary Nee is the President of the Animal Rescue League of Boston and resides in Dorchester. Pet questions? Email ARL at