When Looking for a Christmas Pet

Posted: December 5th, 2009

Courtesy of Greenville Animal Shelter:

It’s that time of year again, and most of us are struggling to find the perfect gift for someone we love. I wanted to take a minute to remind everyone to use caution when considering giving a pet as a gift. While you may have good intentions, these “gifts” often find themselves sitting in an animal shelter a few months down the road. Here are some things to consider and remember before making that purchase.

When considering a pet for a child, remember it is the adult caregiver in the household who will ultimately be responsible for caring for the animal. Kids make many promises when begging for that cute puppy or kitten. Little do they know that the work that comes along with owning a pet is constant and will last much longer than the novelty of having one does. You simply can’t expect a child, age 5, 10 or even 15 to understand and appreciate the lifelong care that they need every single day of their lives. Mom or dad, the pet may be for your kids, but the responsibility is ultimately yours. Aunts, uncles, and grandparents, be sure to speak with mom and dad to be sure they are up to this task. It’s not fair to the animal to ultimately give it away later, or tie it outside to be used as a lawn ornament because your child didn’t keep the promises they made.

When considering a pet for someone outside of your own household, remember that your idea of the perfect companion may be very different than the person for whom you’re buying. Even if they specifically requested a certain breed, every individual animal has it’s own personality, temperament, and exercise needs. The person who is receiving the gift should have an opportunity to meet the pet in question to be sure it has the qualities he or she is looking for. It’s also important that pets already in the household get along with the new animal, and vice versa. The only way to know this for sure is for the existing pets to meet the prospective new one prior to bringing them home.

Also remember that the holidays are a very hectic time for most families. Consider the time required to properly housebreak and train a new puppy – it is a never ending job that requires constant attention! Do you really want to deal with adding a new pet when you are already busy with 1000 other tasks?

A great alternative to surprising someone with a new pet this Christmas, is to purchase bowls and a leash and place a note inside that states you will pay the adoption or purchase price of the animal of their choice. This allows the caregiver of the pet to take an active role and bring home the animal of their dreams. As many rescues and shelters do not condone giving pets as gifts, this also opens up the option of adopting an animal instead of purchasing from a breeder.

Adding a new pet to your family should not be an impulse buy. It takes time to research and really consider what traits you are looking for in a new companion. For example, labs and golden retrievers are known for being great with children. While this is true, both breeds are in the sporting group which consists of dogs who have a very high energy level and need for exercise. If you aren’t up to providing adequate exercise (this entails much more than allowing your dog to run in a fenced yard, or just taken for a leisurely walk once a day), this would not be a good choice. Underexercised dogs will often become hyperactive and destructive in their homes, which are two of the main reasons these breeds are later given away or taken to a shelter.

Also consider the ongoing costs of owning a pet. You will need to buy food, toys, and provide yearly veterinary examinations. Puppies and kittens need 3 rounds of initial boosters and a rabies vaccination. They need their boosters to be repeated every year, and will need to be spayed or neutered. None of this is inexpensive.

As always, when thinking of adding a new pet, consider adoption. As of today (12/3/09) there are 319,962 pets in need of loving homes at Petfinder. Most are young, and many are purebred. Sadly, many are also former Christmas gifts who have lived longer than their novelty did.