Giving the gift of unconditional love may seem like a wonderful idea but often the novelty of a puppy or kitten can wear off when the responsibility of pet ownership becomes a reality, says the SPCA Cape of Good Hope.During the festive season, children are often gifted with new pets – birds, puppies, fish, rabbits and kittens – by their parents. While the child’s happiness is paramount at the time, all the responsibility that comes with the gift of a pet should be seriously considered first.Belinda Abrahams, communications manager at the SPCA, explains that January is the month in which the highest number of unwanted pets are surrendered to the SPCA. “In January 2018 and 2019 we saw respectively 1 344 and 1 075 unwanted animals come through our doors; and while the reduction in numbers is encouraging from one year to the next, the numbers are still gravely concerning.”The situation is the same – if not worse – for exotic animals. Steve Meighan, a Glencairn-based snake conservationist, says it is not uncommon for him to be called to rescue snakes that have been cared for by someone who has not researched the correct diet and habitats of their new pets. “Each animal has needs and those needs are life-long – not only for Christmas. Some reptiles live 15 years or more, so it’s a long-term commitment.”He recommends that proper research be carried out before taking the big step. He also says speaking to experienced pet-owners is a good measure to gauge what you’re in for when taking on ownership of a pet.“If you rush off to buy a reptile without knowledge of what it needs, it will not eat and it will die,” he adds.Abrahams says the following is a list of things that must be considered before acquiring or gifting an animal:Can you or the potential owner afford to own a particular animal? This consideration must extend to not only food but also annual vaccination costs, parasite control and unexpected veterinary expenses.Does the recipient want a pet and the responsibility associated with pet ownership? Gifting a pet into these circumstances would result in some serious welfare concerns, and a well-intended “gift” may well face a life of misery and neglect. Does the potential owner have sufficient space for the animal to live a life where they can express their normal behaviour?Will adequate shelter be provided? Will the pet be allowed to be part of the family?Does the potential owner have the time and energy that must be invested in pet ownership to ensure that pets remain stimulated? This is so that they do not develop behavioural problems that will likely end in an animal being given to a shelter.Most importantly, Abrahams says, pet ownership is a big responsibility. “Animals have little choice as to where they find themselves and it is the owners’ responsibility and duty to ensure that they do not take on animals that they cannot care for effectively and responsibly.“We strongly oppose giving animals as gifts for all the reasons above.” For advice on pet-ownership, contact the SPCA on 021 700 4140.