Whether you celebrate an end-of-the-year gift giving holiday or not, you can’t escape.
Buy, buy, buy.
But there’s one message that has you and me in its laser sights to tempt us to spend:
Help animals today. Ten percent of your purchase goes to (pick one—save homeless kittens, end elephant poaching, spay and neuter feral dogs).
But buying stuff is not the best way to help animals.
How Buying Stuff Affects Animals
When I think about how our massive consumer world economy affects animals (human and otherwise), it makes my head spin.
Many consumer goods are made from plastics and other materials derived from petroleum. Yep, massive oil fields that disrupt acres of habitat are not just providing energy. They’re also providing raw materials for cameras, pillow stuffing, compact disks, weed killer, windbreakers, and a raft of other consumer goods.
Once the oil comes out of the ground, it’s shipped around the world. In the worst situation, a tanker goes aground and leaking oil kills birds and sea creatures. In the best scenario, noise and other disturbances caused by boats affect the normal behavior of whales.
And let’s not forget all those container ships that bring finished goods from China to North America.
Are you starting to understand why I don’t get too excited about that cute stuffed polar bear (made in China) whose tag says that 10% of the sales price will go toward to a conservation charity if you buy it?
Consumer Reports published an excellent story on cause marketing. You know, those products that entice you to buy them because part of your purchase will be donated to a nonprofit organization?
I found one point very interesting.
A researcher found in a 2011 study that people who bought products using cause-related marketing actually gave less in direct donations to worthy causes. And the “gift” made them feel worse than if they had made a direct donation because it’s less altruistic.
Which means that you’ll feel happier if you donate $30 to a nonprofit that protects polar bears than if you buy a $30 stuffed polar bear whose maker donates $2 to the same nonprofit.
And if spending money is often about trying to increase our happiness, we should get the “biggest bang for the buck.”
Buying With Animals In Mind
I’m a tortured capitalist.
Our massive consumer economy makes me ill. But I also recognize how much I benefit from it.
The bus I ride to the grocery story wouldn’t be built if our only businesses were local. A grocery store filled with goods means I don’t spend my days growing my own food.
And I love watching creative entrepreneurs and artists making useful and beautiful things.
Most of all, I love buying gifts for people I love.
Can I walk a middle ground? Get the best enjoyment of giving gifts while lessening the damage I do to humans and other animals?
I think so. Here are a few ideas.
Buy Meaningful Gifts
Seeing generic or joke gifts on a store display make me crazy. If you don’t know or like someone well enough to find a gift suited just to them, maybe you shouldn’t be buying them a gift at all.
Buy Things That Last
Nothing bugs me more than buying something just to have it fall apart. Thank goodness for online reviews. If someone else has bought the same product and had it fall apart on them, they’ll let you know online.
Every time you replace a broken item, you’re contributing to the demand that keeps massive manufacturing and shipping going.
Of course, if you really want things that last you’ll consider older products.
I’m not at all offended if someone buys me a gift from a thrift shop. In fact, I’m thrilled.
Especially since older items often last longer than new products. And lightly used items from a high-end company may be a better buy than something new but cheaply made.
Best of all, when you buy used, you’re keeping old products out of the waste stream and creating a lower demand for new products.
Buy Products From Companies That Don’t Hurt Animals
Lara Elizabeth of My Rubicon Days and Jessica of My Imperfect Dog have collaborated on a Pinterest board of companies that sell force-free dog products—no shock collars, pinch collars, etc. I learned a lot just by checking out the boards.
Buy warm socks from the llama farmer just outside of town and you’re giving a good life to a herd of particular animals while getting a great gift that didn’t travel half way around the world.
How many artists, farmers, and small entrepreneurs are selling wonderful items right in your backyard?
Buy Experiences Instead Of Stuff
If you buy someone concert tickets, they experience joy from anticipating the event, the enjoyment of the concert itself, and happy memories afterward.
Or even better, choose an experience that directly helps animals.
My sister recently returned from a vacation in Mexico. What she talked about the most was taking part in a volunteer project to help hatchling sea turtles. Maybe your gift could be going with someone you love to build nesting platforms for ospreys. Or signing up with your partner to socialize cats or walk dogs at your local shelter.
Buy An Alternative Gift
My town has an annual Alternative Gift Fair.
Local nonprofits gather to ask for donations for worthy causes. You can make the donation in the name of someone you love and present them with a gift card.
Would someone on your gift list prefer having a donation made to support the medical needs of senior dogs in shelters over getting a fruitcake or singing bass on a plaque?
Don’t Buy, DYI
And finally, can you repurpose something around the house into a special gift?
My sister got all the artistic and crafty genes in our family. But I did manage to make a tug toy for Mike and Honey by braiding leftover scraps of fleece I had hanging around the house.
The tug toys are still around two years later and they cost me nothing but a little bit of time. Honey seems to prefer them to some of the harder tug toys we have hanging around the house.
Happy Buy Nothing Day
Every year I celebrate the day after Thanksgiving as Buy Nothing Day. It’s a great excuse to avoid the craziness of bargain hunters.
Perhaps the best way to handle gift buying season that benefits animals is to spend a day off from work to play with your dog, cat, rat, or guinea pig.
After all, the gift our own animals love best is the gift of time. And there are worse ways to spend a day than playing with your dog.
And buying stuff never helped a single animal.
photo credits: (stuffed bear) JD Hancock via photopin cc, (oily bird) marinephotobank via photopin cc, (cause marketing) TheeErin via photopin cc, (thrift store) quinn.anya via photopin cc, (baby sea turtle) missy & the universe via photopin cc, (Buy Nothing carolers)monkeypuzzle via photopin cc. To learn more about the photographers, click on the images.