Christmas is a magical season. Even if you don’t celebrate Christmas itself, the holiday season is always fun, and there’s the winter solstice, the lights, and a perfectly good excuse to eat all sorts of scrumptious treats that aren’t normally around the rest of the year. The holidays are also a season of giving, a time when people plot the perfect surprises for their loved ones.
But the thousands of animals given as Christmas presents each year, which bring joyful ecstasy to humans on Christmas morning, all too often end up suffering the heartbreak of abandonment, themselves, within just a few months time. Already, the farm postings and Facebook groups are swelling with adverts.
Christmas Pony: Nice little mare, broke to ride. Been sitting in the field for the grandkids to play on for the last few years. Perfect Christmas surprise for that special child!*
The accompanying photo shows a sweet-eyed mare with a cheerful expression, but who also displays symptoms of obesity, protruding eyes, and irregular “fat packs” which are indicative of cushings disease, or other metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance. Both health conditions are chronic, and can cause worse complications like founder and even death. They require an owner with an experienced grasp of equine care and management, and sometimes even the best care isn’t enough to get a handle on particularly difficult cases.
The Perfect Christmas Project! Quiet gelding, great for Christmas, just needs some love and attention.*
The gelding is attractive, and of decent conformation, but the hard edge of his top line, and washboard of his sides, indicate that he’s not necessarily in top form, and likely is in need of groceries, something which can drastically change the temperament of an animal in the long run. Many times “love and attention” can be equated to training, manners, and handling, meaning that the horse might not even be accustomed to grooming, much less riding.
Beneath the adverts for ponies, horses, donkeys, mules, pigmy goats and other domestics come more unexpected offerings. A bearded dragon in need of rehoming, a ball python whose hot room has been transformed into a nursery for the new baby, a sugar glider whose owners have adopted a cat, and can no longer assure the safety of the former. Oscars who’ve outgrown their fish tanks, a scarlet macaw whose elderly owner has passed away, servals, a skunk with its scent glands removed–already litter trained! If ferrets are too average, there are spotted genets. For those with a healthy budget, and a little more room, there are capybaras (starting at around $600) or you can always go for a wallaby ($3,000) and for folks who like to be trendy with their furry companions, fennec foxes are the new hotness these days (less than half the wallaby) at about $1,500, but get on the list of a breeder now, because there’s usually a waiting list of a year or more)
The massively ignored problem with every animal I’ve mentioned (never mind the excruciatingly horrible issues of animal trafficking and captive breeding of the exotic species listed) is that all of them come with baggage. Needs, expenses–sometimes exorbitant ones–and unforeseen complications. Many times those complications are ones which require a considerable amount of knowledge about the animal in question, thus leaving first time owners at a loss as to what to do, and how to care for the now ill or injured animal.
Something as simple as not providing a suitable place for a tortoise to burrow can result in the tortoise becoming egg-bound, a condition which will result in death if it is not promptly treated. That treatment can require risky surgery. Lizards can also become egg-bound. Most types of exotic cats, foxes, primates, and other popular, more unusual, animals, can become aggressive if not appropriately housed, handled, or mentally and emotionally cared for. Some become aggressive even when everything is done to standard protocols.
With normal domestic animals, certain risks remains. Rabbits are prone to coccidiosis, especially when stressed, goats can also suffer from it, and it’s highly contagious. Both kittens and puppies tend to chew things, and can ingest foreign objects. Christmas decorations offer a plethora of options for getting into trouble, and with a house full of holiday guests, new pets can easily do so unnoticed. Many times once symptoms of a problem develop, a bad situation has already evolved into a worse one.
Christmas lilies, or Easter lilies, for example, are extremely toxic to both cats and dogs, and just a fragment of a leaf, once ingested, can cause catastrophic kidney failure. Treatment does not guarantee recovery, and involves (usually) 48-72 hours of continuous intravenous fluids, to flush their system. But forcing so much fluid into an animal has its own complications, and it can cause dangerous imbalances in electrolytes and other minerals, and functions, so constant monitoring is required. Conservatively, the treatment for lily poisoning will run you $2,000 and it can easily cost more. I know this firsthand, because I’ve had to pay it.
Cost of veterinary care is probably the number one reason animals–some of them absolutely beloved pets whose owners are completely devastated to lose them–are surrendered to shelters or rescues. The fact is, it doesn’t matter how much experience you have with a particular breed or species, if they suffer injury or illness that’s going to cost you thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars to treat, and you don’t have thousands, or tens of thousands, of dollars laying around in the couch cushions, you’re going to have huge decisions to make. Likely, the choice of giving the animal up to a rescue or foundation which can pay for treatment, or having the animal euthanized to stop it from suffering.
Back in the barn there’s the matter of horses which have been docile while underfed (not necessarily through neglect, but maybe because they just haven’t been getting grain, which offers much higher protein) but who become wild and unpredictable once they’ve got sugars and energy flowing through them. Colic is a constant danger, and no matter how much you know about equines, torsion can strike no matter what. It’s excruciatingly painful, far more so than impaction colic, and this inescapable pain often turns the horse suffering it into a living battering ram. Some become uncontrollable without sedation, and if not sedated will literally beat themselves against the ground until they fracture their own skulls, or break legs. And then, eventually, their intestines rupture entirely, and they’ll die of massive septicemia. But they’ll suffer unimaginable agony first.
These things are terrible, and grotesque to picture, and no one wants to ever consider that they might be facing them when they’re thinking about the adorable animals standing or sitting in front of them that “need a home for Christmas”. The reality, however, is that animals, like children, don’t come with manuals, and no matter how prepared you are to have one, you’ll immediately realize that you weren’t as ready as you thought you were. Even if nothing “bad” happens, you’ll still find yourself in situations you never expected to be in, making decisions you never considered facing, and probably spending money you never accounted for losing from your budget.
And I’m just talking about if you give your own family a live animal.
Imagine having someone else giving one of these animals to your kid, or your significant other without even asking you if you want one.
It happens. Way more than you might think.
Now you’ve got an animal you never wanted (or maybe one that you did, but didn’t expect to get at the moment) and a family member who has, of course, instantaneously fallen utterly in love with that animal (because, really, needy animals, Christmas, you know) and you’ve got whomever gave that animal to you/the kids/your partner who’s all “I did a great thing!”
Don’t do it.
Yes, if your old-enough-to-understand-and-care-for-their-own-pet kid wants a kitten, and you’re prepared, you’ve had cats before, but don’t have any currently (which can be very complicated when introducing a new cat or kitten) then okay, consider getting a Christmas kitten (better yet, a Christmas Old Cat, one which will otherwise likely die alone in a shelter, because, well, nobody seems to like old people these days) This can be applied to dogs and puppies, or other rescue animals, too. If you’re already prepared and were planning to do it anyway.
But do not spontaneously decide without forethought to just “take a pet home”. Don’t allow yourself to be pressured by sales people, or adopters, or your own freaking kids, to “give the gift of love” right there in the middle of the grocery store parking lot when all you went to the store for was a jar of cranberry sauce. No matter how noble, how well intentioned, these acts might be, they will, in the very best scenarios, still cause you a huge amount of stress, and after-the-fact panic when you realize that you’ve just taken on years of responsibility you didn’t intend to. You might never regret it, but you will go through that stress of Will it work out? In worst case scenarios, you’ll go through that, possibly more stress, terror, loss of money, and maybe the loss of the animal you were trying to help by adopting or buying in the first place.
So, this holiday season, please reconsider before choosing to give a living thing as a present.
Thousands of domestic animals are, indeed, in need of homes. The truth, though, is that these animals are in need of homes 365 days a year. If you would not consider adopting or buying a chinchilla on November 13th, don’t allow yourself to suddenly think doing so is a great idea on December 23rd, because Christmas is just two days away, and this adorable chinchilla “really needs a home for Christmas.” The animals who needs a home for Christmas, probably needed a home long before Christmas, and thousands like them will still need a home after Christmas. You can help these animals best (unless, as I’ve already stated, you’ve had family discussions and are going to get this animal anyway, and are just planning to do it at Christmas to be festive) by donating to the causes which are already caring for them. Go volunteer at a shelter, donate to a rescue center.
Be cautious about adverts for the “perfect” Christmas animal. The animals advertised are completely innocent, but the humans peddling them might well be doing so because they know damn well they stand a much better chance of getting shed of an unwanted animal, while also making a tidy profit off of it for no reason other than, Christmas cheer and spirit.
Animals need us, but they need us all year, not just under the Christmas tree.
- I made these adverts up. However, they are painfully stereotypical of what you’ll see in any farm trade classifieds every Christmas.
- The first photo of the grey horse was pulled from an excellent article pertaining to insulin resistance in horses posted on the blog The Equinist. It’s a great, enlightening read, even if you aren’t a horse fan.
- The second photo was pulled from Google. The horse is a recently adopted blue roan mustang, who is actually in excellent muscle and body condition for a young feral horse. It does provide, however, a good example of the sort of “sharp” top line and look that a domestic-bred horse who is a “hard keeper” might affect without grain in their diet.
Author: Artemis Grey