'The gift of guilt': Pets make terrible Christmas gifts, animal care worker says

Just because puppies and kittens look adorable under the Christmas tree doesn't mean they make good gifts, an Edmonton animal rescue worker says.

'Giving an animal is giving a life. You're putting those requirements on someone else,' Terra Maclean says

Second Chance Animal Rescue Society's Melissa Bouchard talks with CBC's Mark Connolly about things to consider before adopting a pet. 0:50

Just because puppies and kittens look adorable under the Christmas tree doesn't mean they make good gifts, an Edmonton animal rescue worker says.

And they're much more high maintenance than a new jacket or purse, Terra Maclean said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. 

"An animal is a living, breathing creature. It has its own needs and wants. So you've not only added expense, but you've added work to the gift you're giving," said Maclean, a training coordinator with Second Chance Animal Rescue Society in Edmonton.

"Giving an animal is giving a life. You're putting those requirements on someone else." 

'You've given the gift of guilt'

Maclean said giving pets as a gift is rarely a good idea, especially if they come as a surprise.

She said people are seeing pet ownership through "rose-coloured glasses" and not thinking about the responsibilities that come with caring for an animal in the long term.

Pets can be a 20-year commitment — and that means major demands on a person's time and finances, she said.  

A lot can change over the years that could affect a person's ability to provide proper care for an animal.

People should think twice about putting a pet under the Christmas tree, says animal care worker Terra Maclean. (Youtube)

And if an animal isn't cared for properly, it can lead to problems for both the pet and its person. 

"Sometimes it seems like a great idea, because the idea of a puppy or kitty at Christmas is romanticized … but puppies and kitties are a huge requirement to house train," Maclean said. 

"If the person wasn't ready for that big of a commitment, then you run into behavioural issues and then the person feels bad about their choices.

"They feel horrible for the pet as well, so you've given the gift of guilt." 

Avoid backyard breeders, Internet sellers

The trend of giving gifts as a pets is increasingly common, Maclean said. Pets are readily available through online buy and sell sites, and unregulated breeders are often more concerned about profits than animal welfare, she said. 

Maclean encourages people to take their time and adopt from reputable agencies, not pet stores or Internet sellers. 

"It's honestly really, really common," Maclean said. "If you got onto the bargain finder pages of your community, there are a ton of backyard breeders breeding specifically for time of year and the prices are jacked up.

"They breed them specifically this time of year and sell them as gifts because it's profit for them and ultimately I don't think they care where the animal goes."

If a family is ready to adopt over the holidays, do your research when it comes to breed, age and type of animal that is going to be the right fit, Maclean said. 

For instance, don't assume a small breed dog is going to be laid back, she said. Knowing the energy level of your prospective pet is very important. 

Too often people are making impulse decisions without thinking about how an animal will fit with their lifestyle. 

"We hear it consistently in the months after Christmas: 'Oh, we got a Jack Russell because we wanted a small dog,' not realizing that Jack Russells are a high-energy, working breed," Maclean said.

"Or, 'We got a Great Dane because we thought it was going to be lower energy.' Sure, they're lower energy when they're older, but that's a horse-sized puppy." 

Puppyhood and kittenhood is short-lived.- Terra Maclean

Maclean also encourages animal lovers to think twice about adopting a puppy or kitten, and give older, harder to adopt animals a chance.

Mature pets come house-trained and with a backstory on how they might react to small children or other animals in your home, she said.  

"Puppyhood and kittenhood is short-lived, a few months at most," she said.

"You know a lot more of what you're getting if you get an older cat or dog. You know their personality."