Pet Expert Shares the Best Way to Give a Rescue Pet as a Gift: 'It's a Very Personal Decision'

Deb Fair, the executive director of the PEDIGREE Foundation, offers advice on the most responsible way to gift a rescue pet this holiday season

Bichon frise dog is popping out of a gift box near the Christmas tree.
Photo: Getty

It can be tempting to surprise an animal-loving friend or family member with a pet as a gift, but that choice rarely sets the pet and new owner up for success.

"Choosing to add a pet to your family is a very personal decision. Ideally, the person who will receive the pet should be involved and prepared to add a four-legged companion to their family since each person and pet is their own individual, and finding the right match is really important when welcoming a new pet," Deb Fair, the executive director of the PEDIGREE Foundation told PEOPLE.

The PEDIGREE Foundation is a nonprofit dedicated to helping rescue dogs find loving homes for life, and it knows there are consequences for animals given to unprepared owners.

"Unfortunately, we know that many dogs that end up in shelters are there because their families could no longer care for them, and returning a dog to a shelter can be a devastating experience for the dog. That's why it's important to understand the commitment and make sure you've identified a pet that's the best fit for you and your lifestyle before adopting," Fair added.

With the holidays fast approaching and countless animals waiting in shelters nationwide for forever homes, PEOPLE asked Fair for tips on responsibly giving rescue pets as gifts.

Fair advised that the most crucial step should be to skip the surprise element of the gift and make the recipient an essential part of the pet adoption process. This way, the future pet parent can pick the pet that matches their lifestyle and energy level.

"It's best if the prospective pet parent is fully aware of the plan, as well as the commitments and responsibilities surrounding pet ownership before getting a pet," Fair shared, adding that with awareness of the plan, a future pet owner can pet-proof their house, purchase supplies, and set up vet appointments before the animal arrives.

For gift givers who know their family member or friend is prepared for a pet and still want to include the element of surprise in their gift, Fair suggested contacting a local animal shelter for ideas.

"Consider reaching out to local animal shelters or rescue organizations for their guidance if you're interested in gifting a pet. Some may recommend gifting a pet-themed gift basket and then coming back after the holidays to choose the individual pet instead of adopting a pet for the recipient. You could also consider surprising the recipient with an outing to the shelter or rescue to help find an adoptable pet that matches that's right for them," she said.

"While gifting a pet may sound like a great idea, remember that it also comes with huge responsibility, and your idea of someone else's perfect match may not actually be their best fit, so it's important to include them in the process," Fair added.

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The PEDIGREE Foundation's executive director also asked that animal lovers raise awareness about the dangers of surprising people with rescue pets as gifts.

"As an animal lover, you can be an advocate for pets! If you hear friends or family talking about gifting pets, you can help them understand the level of commitment required for owning pets and the importance of involving the recipients ahead of time," Fair shared.

To learn more about pet adoption, how to prepare your life for a rescue pet, and ways to help homeless animals, visit the PEDIGREE Foundation's website.

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