In general, pets as Christmas presents are a very bad idea. Both for the pet and for the person receiving the pet. Adopting an animal into the family is very much like having a child. You would not just hand someone a baby for Christmas!
Christmas is a time when families get together. There is a lot of joyful chaos and people rushing here and there with many things to do. In all this, it is very easy to forget the puppy needs a walk, or there is a tiny kitten underfoot who is constantly getting stepped on. In all the confusion new responsibilities can easily be forgotten, such as walking or feeding the puppy.
Animals, and especially young animals, thrive on routine. They like to be fed at a certain time and in a certain place, and often a certain food. Holidays can be hard even on seasoned pets as strangers invade their space and special occasions disturb their daily routine.
For a young animal, this bedlam, however cheerful, can make it seem like they’ve just arrived in a very bad place. Their mother and the brothers and sisters they know, the caretaker humans who are so familiar to them, all of them have somehow disappeared and been replaced by a gang of strangers. All their familiar routines are disrupted. They have to become accustomed to a new place to sleep, a new food, a new place to eat, a new time to eat, and, of course, when and where they are allowed to go to the bathroom. How overwhelming this must be for a young animal!
For the person who receives the pet, and their family it can be equally difficult. They may or may not have wanted the pet at all. It is not uncommon for a child to beg for a pet that is inappropriate or that their family is unwilling or unable to care for. If they get a puppy from Auntie for Christmas, by New Years the puppy may find itself at the Animal Shelter waiting to die, or abandoned somewhere to suffer a slower and more painful death. Never give a pet for Christmas unless you are absolutely sure that the entire family, everyone living in the home the pet is going to, welcomes the new addition.
With the best intentions in the world, a child will beg for a pet and promise to care for it. But children are not in complete control of their worlds or their time. They are still exploring their likes and dislikes, and the puppy that was so important to them last week may be forgotten this week. Playing and walking the puppy might become too time-consuming once the soccer season begins. Children are also not generally aware of the financial facts of life and pets need vet care, food, toys, shelter, and all of these things cost money. Money their parents may or may not have to spare.
Another problem often occurs when someone other than the family chooses a pet. Perhaps you like very hyper, happy dogs, but the family in question prefers a nice, quiet animal. The puppy you would choose is a wonderful puppy — but not the right puppy for them! Both the animal and the family will be unhappy. The family is faced with dealing with a dog they do not like very much, or disposing of him either by finding a more compatible home — or again, off to the Shelter to die.
A special note about ponies. Every horse person, every animal shelter, has seen their share of the horrible misery that ponies endure at the hands of ignorant or neglectful owners. Ponies, and horses, take a great deal more care than smaller pets. Just because someone has moved into a new home “with room for a pony” does not mean that they have the knowledge and funds to care for such a high maintenance animal.
For the child who is begging for a pony, I suggest that you find a local stable that gives riding lessons. The most responsible ones will also include horsemanship in their training. That is information about caring for a horse or pony. The child will learn about shoeing, regular vet care, the importance of regular feeding, and many other things necessary for the well-being of a horse or pony. They will also learn just how much work is really involved! A gift certificate for several months worth of riding lessons will allow the family involved to find out just what they are getting into, and if their interest and finances are up to it.
Perhaps you have considered all of these things, and know the family truly wants a pet. Still, the holidays are a very chaotic time, a terrible time to make a new family addition. Here is my suggestion. Instead of buying the puppy, kitten, pony, or ferret — purchase one of those wonderful small plush toy versions of the animal. Pack it into a pretty package with a certificate you can draw up or print on your computer that says “this little puppy is to hold the place in your heart for the real puppy who will arrive (and a good date you have chosen after consulting with the family)” After the holidays the entire family and the gift-giver can go together to chose the pet they desire. Then the family will gain a new member who is completely compatible with them and their needs at a time when they are best able to greet this new family addition and see to the animal’s needs as well.