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Gifting Dogs, Cats, or Other Pets: Are There Legal Risks?

By George Khoury, Esq. | Last updated on

Whether it's for Christmas, a birthday, or just because, gifting a dog, cat or other animal doesn't always end up like you see on TV. In fact, animal rights groups routinely explain that pets are not good gifts because they are living beings, not toys. Young children may not understand this, and can easily injure young animals like puppies and kittens, by being too rough with them.

Apart from the practical considerations for the gift's recipient, such as the expense and time required to take care of a pet, there are a few legal considerations. Purchasing pets can be risky and confusing, and might just involve more paperwork and legal risks than you expect.

Purchasing an Animal to Gift

Shelters and rescues often require a prospective pet adopter to show that they have the ability and space to care for the animal. If you are planning on gifting the pet to someone in a different household, a shelter may decide to not let you adopt unless you can verify that the household is suitable for the pet, and that they actually want the pet. While animals are popular holiday gifts, after the holidays, shelters get inundated with unwanted pets and therefore might be cautious about adopting out an animals to be gifted.

If you choose to buy from a private party or breeder, rather than to rescue a pet from a shelter, you should make sure to get a written agreement. Especially when purchasing a puppy or kitten from a breeder, there may be health problems or other issues not immediately evident.

If the breeder offers a guarantee, or allows returns, or is willing to pay initial vet bills, or makes any promises, get these terms in writing. If you are gifting the puppy to another person, ask to put that person's name in the contract as a beneficiary. Also, check your local or state laws regarding animal breeders, and run a web-search to make sure the breeder you're buying from hasn't been in the news for prior legal trouble.

Animal Cruelty Consideration: Don't Box Up a Pup

Despite how cute it is to see a person's face wonder at a gift that moves and/or barks inside the box, boxing up an animal can be fatal. On top of killing an animal and causing the gift recipient to be scarred for life by opening a lifeless animal, you could potentially face criminal charges for animal cruelty. States are increasingly adopting animal cruelty laws that can actually land someone time in jail.

If you are intent on having that magical unboxing moment, then be smart. Make sure there are plenty of air-holes in the box. Also, wait until the very last minute to put the animal in the box. Maybe consider just tying a ribbon around their head or body and putting them in a brightly colored animal carrier. And while one might think this doesn't need to be said: Don't ever air-mail an animal (no matter how cute you think it may be)!

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