The Gift Not to Give This Year: A Puppy from the Pet Store Window

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Sure, he looks cute, but giving a pet as a gift doesn't always work out as planned

There is some appeal to the Lady and the Tramp fantasy — waking up on Christmas morning to find an adorable, lovable animal waiting under the tree. But while the fairy tale may look picture-perfect, in reality, gifting an animal during the holidays can be challenging, and could turn devastating if the new puppy was purchased at a pet store.

According to the ASPCA, most of the puppies that are sold at pet stores across the country come from puppy mills. In many cases, these animals have been bred and raised in inhumane conditions, have not received proper veterinary care and may be harboring potentially fatal conditions that are invisible to the naked eye.

“We recommend that if you are going to bring a pet into your home, go to a shelter to see if there’s a dog or cat that will fit your family,” says Cori Menkin, senior director of ASPCA’s Puppy Mills Campaign. “While I can’t say with 100% certainty that every single puppy comes from a puppy mill, truly responsible breeders won’t sell their dogs to pet stores because they want to screen the owners to make sure that the puppies are going to a good home. They can’t do that if they sell to pet stores.”

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While in recent months, many pet stores have banned the sale of puppies and some commercial breeding operations have been shut down, the reality is that many puppy mills still exist across the country. According to new research from the ASPCA, nearly 80% of adults surveyed said they would not buy a puppy that came from a puppy mill, yet 78% said they did not know where puppies sold in pet stores came from.

Because of this disconnect, the ASPCA is urging consumers not to purchase any goods from stores that sell puppies this holiday season through the No Pet Store Puppies campaign. The organization’s website even offers a handy, user-generated map of stores to avoid and can steer you to those that offer pet adoptions instead.

Of course, giving a home to an animal in need is a wonderful gift, even if it does carry a lot of responsibility. “If your vision is to surprise the kids with a cute little puppy under the tree on Christmas morning, that’s probably not the best way to go, because your kids and your spouse — or whoever you are surprising — hasn’t had an opportunity to meet that pet to determine if they are compatible.”

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For that reason, Menkin recommends that if you want to give the gift of an animal’s unconditional love during the holidays, it’s a good idea to wait until after the commotion has died down and involve the person in the process. “We recommend putting a gift certificate to your local animal shelter under the tree, and then bringing the whole family down together to meet and pick out the new addition.”

After all, there’s no better companion than a slobbering, clumsy pup or an adorable, cuddly kitten. Plus, what a great way to extend the holiday excitement by giving the gift receiver something to look forward to — a lasting friendship from an animal he or she will truly love.

MORE: The Risks of Taking a Puppy Home Too Young