Christmas puppies: planning for responsibility

In recent years, animal shelters have seen a decrease in controversies surrounding pets given as Christmas presents. Some local shelters encourage it and have plans in place to ensure that the adopters and animals are a good fit.


Natasha, a American Pit Bull Terrier mix, sits forlornly in her kennel at Kansas City Pet Project on Dec. 9. Natasha is marked as a “shy/scared” dog, but it is unknown what she’s afraid of. photo by Claire Smith

by Carmon Baker, Web Editor

Popeye is a white and brown Pitbull Terrier mix, waiting patiently behind the bars of his kennel Dec. 9. He is available at KC Pet Project, a nonprofit animal shelter for dogs and cats. photo by Claire Smith

Freshman Ellie Braun’s parents have been planning on adopting a dog for around a month. This November, as an early Christmas gift, her family adopted a 13 weeks old puppy.  

“My brother really wanted one for Christmas,” Braun said. “We had one and then he died a long time ago, so we were like, maybe we should just get one because we loved having a dog.”

Since adopting a puppy, Braun has noticed changes in her everyday lifestyle. 

“I’ve had to take her out a lot,” Braun said. “I’ve had to clean up pee inside because she’s still not potty trained. I’ve had to watch her constantly, and she’s become a big responsibility in my life because she just takes up so much time and energy because she’s so little.” 

Braun thinks that animals, especially dogs, are good holiday presents. 

“I think it’s really cool because it’s something that a lot of kids like, and a lot of kids like getting Christmas presents, so it’s kind of perfect,” Braun said. 

However, according to chief communications officer for KC Pet Project, Tori Fugate, giving pets as holiday presents has been controversial in the past.

“I’ve been working for the shelter for almost eight years, and I’ve seen public opinion sway on this over the years,” Fugate said. “When I first started, it was, ‘Absolutely not, no. Pets should not be given as gifts.’ And then, over the years, we have started to see that really evolve.” 

The presence of pets who are given as gifts in a family can take a negative turn, based on an article from Pet Rescue. The atmosphere on Christmas morning can frighten the puppies and prevent them from connecting with the family. Fugate agrees that this issue made the idea of animals as Christmas presents controversial in the past.

“They’re hoping that everybody has that emotion connection immediately with the animal,” Fugate said. “If you’re receiving a pet as a gift, you haven’t had that first connection that you would in the shelter. I think that that’s kind of a fear.”

Despite this, KC Pet Project still thinks that giving animals as holiday presents is acceptable. In fact, they often encourage it in order to help animals find a better living environment for the holiday season and beyond. 

“What we always say is, ‘it’s okay to give pets as gifts, you just need to make sure that the person you’re gifting the pet to is onboard with receiving one,’” Fugate said. “We get a lot of parents that come in this time of year wanting to get pets as gifts for their kids and things like that, which is totally fine.”

Wayside Waifs communications and annual giving manager Casey Waugh agrees that giving animals as holiday presents can be a good idea. 

“We know that, while there is a stigma about giving animals as pets, we also recognize that that negative stigma is really just a myth,” Waugh said.

Wayside Waifs focuses on making sure that the families who adopt new animals around Christmas time are prepared for the responsibility that comes with owning animals to avoid any future complications. 

“Here at Wayside, a lot of the reason we don’t see [a lot of returned animals] is because of our approach in the beginning,” Waugh said. “As long as these families or individuals who come in, they are properly educated, not only do they want a pet in their life, in their family, but they’re prepared for what that responsibility brings, then it’s something that’s going to last forever.”

A brown puppy stares at the camera down behind kennel bars Dec. 9. This dog is one of many dogs at Kansas City Pet Project, a shelter that works with Animal Control to increase the number of homeless pets adopted and focus on lifesaving programs promoting pet retention. photo by Claire Smith

According to Fugate, while KC Pet Project does see some animals that are surrendered after the holiday season, it is usually not an issue for the shelter.

“Usually we get a heads up from adopter that the pet is coming back, and we just make sure that we are ready for it on our end,” Fugate said. “We see it often where people get a kitten and then, all of a sudden, they find out that one of the kids is allergic and they can’t have a kitten anymore. It’s totally fine.”

Because of the long-lasting responsibilities that come with owning a pet, Waugh believes that surprising people with puppies is not a good idea. For example, she suggests that, when giving pets as gifts to children, it is better for them to be actively involved in the adoption process.

“Instead of having the fun, wonderful surprise gift Christmas morning of a cute puppy, the better thing to do is to give a gift certificate to your [children], saying, ‘we are going to go adopt a puppy as a family,” Waugh said. “Then come in in January, and they’re part of the whole process. 

Fugate and KC Pet Project encourage individuals to adopt animals around the holidays. In fact, they hold events each year to help get animals adopted at this time, such as “Kittens for Christmas,” an event held on Christmas Eve where adopters can come to adopt kittens. This year, they are also hosting another adoption event. 

“We are going to be doing an adoption special for the holidays,” Fugate said. “It’s going to be Dec. 13 through [Dec. 24]. It’s going to be ‘A New Home for the Holidays,’ and it’s sponsored by the Petco Foundation. It’s a clear-the-shelter adoption event, as we work to move as many animals out of our current shelter because we’re getting ready to move to our new one.”