One of my favourite YouTube clips shows a mum, dad and daughter descending the festively decorated stairs on Christmas morning. "What's the one present you want more than anything else?" asks the father. "A pony," replies his delighted little girl.
Sure enough, a small pony with a red bow behind its ears stands in the middle of their perfect living room. That's the good news. The bad news is that this pony is a piece of work. It snorts, whinnies and circles before kicking out a window with its hind legs. It trashes the presents, kicks over the Christmas tree then flees the scene. "Okay, who wants waffles?" asks the father, valiantly pretending their day isn't ruined as the pony gallops down the street with its red bow still in place.
It's an advertisement for the Toys R Us store on eBay but it's also a cautionary tale about why animals make very bad presents at Christmas - or any other time of the year for that matter. Aside from the practical concerns like whether the recipient actually wants a pet, has time to care for one and is willing to accept a long-term commitment, the subtext is also concerning.
In offering a pet as a gift, the animal involved is being trivialised and objectified. Instead of being viewed as a lifelong companion with its own needs and idiosyncrasies, it's given the same status as an inanimate object - the only difference being you can't stash this unwanted present in the attic and re-gift it to an unsuspecting loved one next year.
"A dog is for life, not just for Christmas" has been the slogan of the DogsTrust for over 30 years.
Pet Rescue has a similar view: "A puppy who makes its first appearance as a gift item under the Christmas tree is more likely to be thought of by children as an object, as a thing-like toy rather than as a family member."
The NZ Veterinary Association made a pre-Christmas statement one year in response to news that puppies were the most popular search on TradeMe. As well as drawing attention to the costs of owning a cat or dog, a spokesperson also warned against viewing animals as mere possessions: "Some people really do upgrade their dogs in the way they do their wardrobe or cell phone. Once they're past the cute and cuddly stage, pets are abandoned or surrendered to shelters."
Nor is the festive season necessarily the best time to buy a pet. According to the NZVA spokesman: "Dogs in particular benefit from a calm environment and a set routine. Many of our members recommend that people wait until the excitement of Christmas is over before introducing a new puppy or kitten."
Such messages haven't had much impact on Trade Me sellers throughout the country who are advertising "Puppies ready for Xmas!", "Puppies ready for Christmas!" and "PUPPIES 4 SALE 4 XMAS". There are also "Adorable Christmas Kittens", "Cute Cuddly Christmas Kittens", "Gorgeous Kittens Ready Christmas Week" and "CUTE KITTENS FOR CHRISTMAS." Despite expert advice and the wisdom of animal welfare agencies, some people nonetheless must think that pets make very fine gifts.
If you're not deterred by the questionable ethics of inflicting a significant responsibility on a friend or family member and you're still presumptuously intent on giving someone a pet this Christmas, then good luck with that - I mean, seriously, have you ever thought how difficult it must be to gift-wrap those squirming puppies and kittens?
What are your thoughts on pets as gifts? Have you ever been given one - or have you given one yourself? What was the outcome?