How to ethically (and legally) give back a puppy

Money, Relationships

Christmas is over, but some gifts just keep on giving. Or barking.

Every year, people give pets as presents. Especially puppies. And getting a brand new, playful, bouncing, unpredictably destructive new puppy for Christmas is just the best thing ever, right? Well, maybe not.

If you received a pet this year, you may have been overjoyed. But you may not have been; in fact, you might not be able to keep it at all. That can lead to an awkward future exchange with the well-meaning gift-giver, as well as a host of legal considerations for the recipient, particularly if the animal is a rescue adoption or purebred genetic masterpiece.

Here are some suggestions for anyone facing this (seemingly) no-win situation.

You feel bad, it’s understandable

Step one in the puppy-return process is overcoming the sense of guilt that often accompanies such a decision. There are plenty of valid reasons for it; first, renters living in non-pet-friendly areas could face a host of problems by bringing a new puppy into the picture—including eviction or major fines. Secondly, many people are simply unable to provide a new puppy with the round-the-clock care necessary to ensure it is properly trained and cared for.

Lastly, issues like allergies—or even the fear of dogs—can make ownership nearly impossible for some people. In sum, the reasons are varied, but when it comes to relinquishing a new puppy, the recipient should never hold on to the animal simply out of guilt, particularly if it creates a health or safety issue for the owner (or the pet).

Relinquishing a rescue

Rescue shelters work tirelessly to ensure that their animals are sent to “loving forever” homes, and often require adopters to provide the shelter a “right of first refusal” in the event that the new owner can no longer care for the dog. Since the animal was a gift, the original adopter (i.e., the gift giver) would be duty-bound to return the dog to the rescue organization.

Hence, in this scenario, the gift recipient may politely request that the giver take the dog back either to the rescue shelter or to his or her own home. Gift givers who opt to return the animal to the shelter would be advised not to say it was a failed gift, as they may have breached the adoption agreement by offering the dog as a present.

Surrendering a purebred

Despite the 7.6 million shelter animals awaiting adoption, the purebred dog industry is alive and well—with some breeds yielding six- and seven-figures for their breeder. While you are unlikely to have received a million-dollar international champion under the tree, the unauthorized transfer of a purebred animal may trigger serious legal implications—particularly if the breeder has not authorized the dog to reproduce (an arrangement known as providing “breeding papers”).

Unlike a rescue shelter, a reputable dog breeder may take serious legal offense to a breach of breeder contract, which undoubtedly confers the right of first refusal on the breeder in the event the new owner no longer wants the dog. If the gift giver does not want to keep the dog, it may be necessary to return the dog directly to the breeder to avoid violating the sales contract.

Also, be sure to check the contract for language relating to the actual transfer of ownership rights, as breeders may include a clause essentially withholding the transfer of property ownership from the purchaser—essentially creating a lessor/lessee situation between the breeder and the purchaser.

Of course the best advice is to avoid the unwanted gift problem in the first place. Cute as that puppy may be, it’s not a great gift idea if it’s a surprise. And for those who obliviously give a pooch to someone who can’t or won’t care for it, staying within the bounds of the applicable purchase or adoption agreement can be tricky. So think long and hard before saddling yourself with a mess bigger than any doggie doody.