PHOTO: Cyndy Yates
Many people with children in their lives carry the image of a puppy under the Christmas tree wearing a floppy, red bow. When a child gets his heart set on a having an animal, it’s not easy to say no, and as the holidays approach, it becomes even harder to resist the urge to present a new animal and earn “gift-giver of the decade” status.
You want your holiday gifts to be ones that will be remembered, but you probably want them be remembered for the right reasons. Animal gifts are, after all, the gifts that keep giving—and costing money and taking up time and requiring problem solving and resources. Unless the young recipient has shown he is responsible enough to care for the animal and there is a financial and logistical plan for keeping the animal well past the holiday season, look just past the animal gift to other worthwhile animal-related gifts for the holidays.
Instead Of A Horse
A horse or pony is at the top of many farm-kids’ wish lists. If you’ve had a horse, you know the appeal of such a gift; likewise, if you’ve had a horse, you know the expenses, care and responsibility that go into keeping that horse.
“If your experience has been limited to a few rides on a neighbor’s horse, a riding vacation at a dude ranch or 10 lessons at a local stable, you probably are not ready to take that big step,” says Karyn Malinowski, PhD, Rutgers University Equine Science Extension specialist, about horse ownership.
Alternatives to giving a horse for the holidays are many.
- If the child has little horse experience: Purchase a package of riding lessons at a local barn. Be sure the barn you choose engages its students in all areas of horse care—not just riding—so your gift recipient can get to know what’s really involved in having horses.
- If the child is already taking lessons: Consider getting a lease or a partial-lease of a horse. “Leasing is an arrangement in which you pay either a fixed fee or a portion of the horse’s expenses in exchange for riding time on that horse,” explains Rachel Kosmal McCart, founder and attorney for Equine Legal Solutions. “In the typical full lease, you take over all of the horse’s expenses and care responsibilities, and in a typical partial lease, the [horse] owner remains primarily responsible for these items. Ask your child’s instructor or trainer to recommend a leasing situation for you.”
- If the child is already leasing but not quite ready for a horse: Visit any tack store to find an array of useful tack, clothing and equipment for any horse-crazy kid.
Instead Of A Dog
Dogs can live 12 to 15 years (or more), according to the American Humane Association. The gift of a dog is one that sticks around long after the thrill of a new pet wears off. Giving a child a dog is gifting them—and their parents—with a large responsibility. While responsibility is a great lesson for all young people, consider whether an animal that he’s potentially unprepared for is the best way to offer that lesson.
- Volunteer With Pooches: Take a pass on the cute puppy with the bow around its neck, and instead make a commitment to volunteer with the child at a shelter to care for and play with the dogs that are waiting for new homes. This regular interaction with dogs will expose the child to dogs’ personalities and needs. It’s possible that the child will, in time, find his perfect pet during this experience.
- Feed Your Child’s Passion: Another dog alternative is the purchase of canine books, magazines and videos about training and care so that when the time is right, the child will be capable of caring for a dog of his own.
- A Gift Certificate: If you’re sure a dog is the right gift for a child in your life, allow the child the opportunity to pick out his own pet in his own time rather than choosing one for him. You want to be sure the child ends up with the dog that’s right for him, not the dog that you think is right for him. Many shelters offer gift certificates for the future adoption of an animal.
Instead Of Chickens
Chickens are often called the “gateway farm animal.” These birds are a great way to introduce kids to farming and stoke their interest in where their food comes from. But chickens require care just like any other animal. Perhaps the trickiest part of giving chickens as gifts is the particulars about their care, among them: you need to keep multiple birds, they require carefully planned housing that protects them from predators, their feed isn’t as easy to come by as pet food. Consider, also, that winter—with its unpredictable and often inhospitable weather in most of the U.S.—might not be the best time to introduce new poultry to your yard or farm.
- Pique Their Interest: As suggested with dogs, purchasing books and magazines about chicken care are a good precursor to the gift of a chicken.
- Build The Coop: Additionally, involving a child in the building or purchase of the coop, enclosure and equipment gets the child engaged with the idea of chickens and gives a glimpse into the details of chicken keeping and is an active and unique gift opportunity.
On the surface, animals appear to be great holiday gifts, but factor in the weight that comes with animal ownership before choosing that gift. Animals can make great purchases for children during less emotional, more intentional times of the year, as their purchase prices are just the start of the financial and time commitment that will follow.