Every year after the glow of Christmas subsides, after the trees come down, Bing Crosby stops crooning and the ugly sweaters are tucked away for another year, Americans engage in another time-honored tradition -- returning gifts. Americans return more than $70 billion in gifts each year according to Optoro, a "reverse logistics" company that helps retailers manage returns. Those returns run the gamut, from clothes (62 percent get returned) to video games, jewelry and toys. But clothes and games don't mind when they're returned. Cats do. Maybe you've got your eye on a handsome shelter tabby, head dancing with images of your significant other overcome with delight as kitty pokes her head out of a gift-wrapped box. Maybe your kids have been bugging you about adopting a cat for the last three years, and this time around you've decided they're finally ready for the responsibility.
Think it through
Your intentions are good, but that doesn't mean the outcome will be. If you're tempted to gift a cat -- or any other pet -- this holiday season, take the time to think it through. Make a list of pros and cons, ask if the person you're gifting to really, truly would want a pet, and think about what it means for the animal. In the meantime, here are some things to consider:
- Cats and kittens aren't toys, and we don't want kids to think of them that way. If you're thinking of getting a cat for your kids, stick to the usual fare for Christmas morning presents. The excitement of toys always wears off, but cats are a 15-year+ commitment. Playstations and Frozen dolls don't require love and attention, but felines do. If your kids have their heart set on a kitty, consider wrapping a small box with a note inside saying you'll take them to the shelter to pick out their own furry friend. Your kids will jump for joy knowing that you've said yes, and going to the shelter to pick out a kitten -- or two -- can be a family experience.
Which leads us to our second point...
- Finding an adorable kitten under the Christmas tree would make for a great memory and great photos, sure. But going forward, the only thing that matters is that the cat is right for you, and you're right for the cat. Pet owners often talk about how they knew which animal was right for them after meeting Socks or Mr. Whiskers at the shelter. Cats pick their owners as often as owners pick their cats. Don't deprive your kids or your loved ones of the opportunity to make that connection. In the long run, it's much more important than the short-lived joy of receiving a bow-wrapped kitten.
- Every major animal welfare group in the U .S. cautions against giving cats as gifts unless you're absolutely certain the animal will be welcome. These are the same people who run shelters and see the sad outcomes of well-intentioned cat-giving. Trust them on this. A cat's best chance to find a home is as a kitten. Don't rob them of that.
- Think about things from the cat's perspective. Going to a new home is an experience fraught with anxiety and uncertainty. Going to a new home, getting placed in a box and waking up to screaming children is probably ten times as frightening for kitty. It's difficult to ease your new family member into your home -- and to follow the time-honored best practices for introducing a new pet to an unfamiliar environment -- if the animal is treated like an inanimate gift.
- Does your friend really want a cat? Can she keep a cat where she lives? Your bestie may adore your own furry friend and shower affection on him each time she comes over, but that doesn't mean she wants -- or can have -- her own feline. Maybe your friend travels too much to be a full-time pet parent. Maybe she loves your cat but doesn't like the idea of a permanent layer of hair on her couch. Maybe she hasn't adopted a cat because her roommate is allergic. Or maybe she wants to adopt on her own time, after meeting and connecting with a shelter kitty herself.
- A free cat isn't really a free cat, and most people stretch their disposable income enough as it is during the holidays. When you give the gift of a cat, the person receiving that gift will have to spend money on a carrier, bedding, food, food and water bowls, toys and smaller purchases, like claw-clippers and grooming brushes.
Cats shouldn't be impulse "buys"
"Gifting a family member or friend with a 10- to 20-year commitment to a live animal is not something one should do on impulse," writes Dr. Karen Becker, a veterinarian who warns against animal gift-giving on the HealthyPets site. The holidays are already a stressful and busy time of year, Becker notes, without the added responsibility of bringing a new pet home and dedicating the time needed to make sure a new cat or dog's transition is a happy and stress-free one. If you've gotten this far, don't get down on yourself. Take a breath, think it over and do what's best for your loved one and your newest family-member-to-be. With a little advance planning and a little willpower to resist the impulse, things will turn out better for all of you.
Written by Nik Bonopartis