1) Family members should be adopted, not “bought”: There are enough animals looking for homes in shelters that the idea of encouraging the demand for backyard-bred puppies is difficult to justify. Here’s a cute animal shelter commercial encouraging viewers to adopt:
I’ll also add that some people purchase their animals, particularly dogs, because they are looking for a particular breed. In reality, just abut any mix or breed will come through your local shelter at one time or another. They likely will not come with pedigree papers, but the people for whom that is a priority are probably not my audience here.
One of the things I like about my local shelter is that they treat their animals as individuals, carefully informing prospective owners about energy levels, interests and attitudes. Finding the perfect match is not just about finding a specific breed, but the quirks and particularities of each individual. Mixed breeds are an excellent choice no matter what you’re looking for: you just have to find the one that’s just right for you.
2) Buying animals makes it okay to throw animals away: I believe the commoditization of animals is a huge root cause of animal cruelty. Putting animals on shelves and selling them like cheap, plastic toys makes them a part of our disposable culture. What does disposable mean for an animal? It means that rather than raising and teaching them, as we would our human family members, we play with them until they break or get boring, and then throw them away.
It’s not that I think a lot of people are purchasing pets whom actively abuse their animals (though such sickos exist). Rather, I think this is the type of attitude that makes it okay to buy puppies because they’re cute, not bother training them, and then get rid of them. It’s the animal shelters who now need to find homes for adult, poorly-socialized dogs. Purchasing a pet means tacitly endorsing the idea that companion animals are disposable (and sub-consciously affirming it).
3) Buying animals keeps puppy mills in business: We vote most effectively with our wallets, and if we don’t like the mistreatment and neglect puppies experience in those horrible facilities, we have to stop buying from them. Puppy millers don’t get into it because they actively hate animals. They do it because they’re lazy and greedy. If there’s no money in it, puppy mills will cease to exist.
4) You can’t play matchmaker for someone else: Dogs are as individual as people. Some are couch potatoes; some need to run. Some need a lot of attention; some need their space. And maybe you think you know someone well enough to pick the right dog for them, but even if that’s true, there’s that indefinable, je ne sais quoi, that you just can’t force.
5) You can’t make that kind of commitment for someone else: Adopting an animal is a huge commitment, and nobody can make that choice but the person who will be taking care of it. Even a lifelong animal-lover has to be in the right frame of mind and at the right moment in their lives to take someone new into their home.
Giving someone the wrong animal, or even the right animal at the wrong time, is much less likely to result in a forever home than a person making that decision themselves. As cute as it may seem to wrap up a little puppy or kitten in a bow and surprise someone on Christmas morning, it’s a guilt-ridden and heart-rending experience to be returning that same animal to a shelter in January.
I wonder how much of the income that supports puppy millers comes from well-intentioned but thoughtless individuals buying eight-hundred dollar pet store puppies that end up in a shelter a few weeks or months later. It’s no skin off the breeder’s nose, nor the pet shop owners.’
Having said all that… is there a right way to give someone a pet as a gift? Perhaps. If somebody has already expressed a very clear intention to adopt a pet in the near future, you might take them to a shelter and pay for part or all of the adoption fee. Some shelters also sell adoption certificates for use as gifts. This would probably work best with one’s spouse or (maybe) an older, responsible child.
But if you’re not absolutely sure, you should probably let someone choose their own time and place to adopt, and knit them a scarf instead.