December 23, 1981

My mom was out shopping and returned with Peaches, a miniature Collie mix. The puppy was a surprise for my brother, aged 7, and me, aged 4.

We instantly fell in love with this adorable puppy. I woke up in the middle of the night and moved to the floor to sleep alongside her. I played ball with her, snuck her pizza crust on pizza night and hugged her during thunderstorms.

Though she came to us two days before Christmas, my parents never positioned her as a “Christmas present.” She wasn’t tucked into a box, no bow was tied to her collar. She wasn’t a Christmas present because she wasn’t a toy. She was a living, feeling being, scared in a new environment, to whom we all had a responsibility. Sometimes having Peaches as part of our family was fun and magical. Other times, it was hard and inconvenient. But that is what loving others is about – enjoying them in the good times and supporting them in the bad.

Ten years later, I sobbed as I said my final goodbyes to her. She had developed an enlarged heart and was in too much pain to even lie down. The greatest gift we could give her was to help her pass peacefully. The greatest gift she gave me was the kind of unconditional love that can only come from an animal.

December 24, 2022

I now had a family of my own, an 8 year-old daughter and a 4 year-old son, and we added two cats to our household. I had met Maddie and Abra, a bonded momma/daughter pair several years earlier when I first started volunteering at FUR. It was love at first sight. I always swore that if they were still at the sanctuary when we bought a house, I would adopt them. (Our apartment was already full with us and three other cats.) But as luck would have it, a wonderful gentleman fell in love with them, too, and he adopted them before I was ready to.

When they were returned (through no fault of their own), I kept my promise. On Christmas Eve, we brought them home. As my mom had done with Peaches, Maddie and Abra were a surprise for my children, but there was little fanfare. No boxes or bows. Instead, there were conversations about how  Maddie and Abra were not toys. They were living, feeling beings, scared in a new environment, to whom we all had a responsibility.

Final Thoughts

If you are asking yourself whether it really matters if animals are given as Christmas presents, let me share some observations from my 9 years as a parent:

  • My children’s excitement for any present – even the ones they really, really wanted – wanes after approximately 3 weeks. And those are ones that aren’t sometimes hard and inconvenient.
  • The average shelf life of any present for my children is approximately 3 weeks before it’s lost, broken, or covered in something sticky.

If you want to bring a furry friend into your home during the holidays – and, don’t get me wrong, that is a lovely time to bring home a furry friend – don’t make the animal the gift. The gift is the lesson of responsibility, it’s the unconditional love only an animal can provide, it’s the years of family bonding around the animal. Tangible gifts are discarded over time, but experiences live forever in our memories and hearts.

Share your experiences or thoughts about giving animals as gifts below in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

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