(Contributed by Lori Whitwam)
I end up having this discussion every year. I'm never sure how much good it does, because it's such an emotional decision, and the happy holiday commercials showing a puppy with a big red bow around its neck are everywhere. Still, I have to say it. "Please don't give pets as a holiday gift!"
There are so many reasons not to do this.
Some parents decide the kids are old enough now to have a pet, and it will be a good lesson in responsibility for them to take care of it. The reality is that almost never turns out to be the case. Kids are kids, and unless YOU as the parent are willing to ultimately to care for the pet, don't get one. This applies all year long, not just at the holidays. I once did the intake of a golden retriever into our area rescue group in which the mother sat there with her 9 year old son and told me repeatedly that they were "getting rid" of the dog because the boy didn't take care of it. How do you think that poor little boy felt?
Other people think things like, "Aunt Mary lost her cat this year, and a new kitty would sure put a smile on her face." Selecting a pet for another person is a recipe for disaster. Which pet is the right one for any person is a very personal decision. There is that "this one just feels right to me" factor which cannot be perceived by anyone other than the person looking for a pet. And did you even ask Aunt Mary if she's ready for a new cat? Maybe she's still mourning Mittens, or has decided that maybe she'd rather have a dog or a bird or a fish tank. And can Aunt Mary afford the food, vaccinations, spay/neuter, supplies... and time your gift will need?
Some people get so caught up in the idea of getting a pet for the holidays that they forget about the realities. Puppies cry, bark, chew, pee on the floor, require constant supervision and training. And do you really want to take an 8 week old puppy out in the frigid Minnesota weather to housetrain him? Kittens get on the counters nibbling your Christmas cookies, climb the tree, and try to eat the tinsel.
Impulsive pet-buying decisions have sad consequences. Cute puppies and kittens grow up in just a few months, at which point some people lose interest. No commitment has been made to training, so puppies grow into unruly and badly-behaved dogs. Kittens grow into cats that nobody ever really bonded to. By summer, many of these "special holiday gifts" end up in shelters or rescue groups.
Even if your family has sat down together and made a careful, considered decision that you would like to add a pet to the family, the holiday season is a bad time to do this. Most families are very busy with holiday shopping, decorating, entertaining, visiting, cooking and other related activities. This all takes time away from the care and attention that any new pet (puppy, kitten or adult) requires. Guests coming and going can be extremely stressful to a pet that is trying to adjust to its new home. And don't forget the holiday hazards! Trees full of shiny objects, gifts beneath, food and baked goods, new toys with small bits, and other things that will prove to be tempting dangers for the new addition.
If you sincerely believe a pet is a gift you want to give this year, consider some creative ways to do this. Make a card good for one trip to the local humane society, or get a certificate from a breeder you've found, willing to work with you to select a puppy or kitten sometime in the next month or two. (A good breeder will appreciate your careful planning and willingness to make sure the right pet comes to your family at the right time.) Give a box with a bowl, collar, leash and toy along with the card or certificate. No, it doesn't have the same impact as the puppy or kitten with the pretty bow around its neck. It kind of feels like giving a gift card, doesn't it? But is that one moment of "OH, it's a PUPPY!" worth the sick feeling you will have about the middle of February when you realize what you've really gotten yourself into?
Pets are not video games, toys, jewelry or nice sweaters. They are living, loving creatures who will depend on you for the rest of their lives. Please be sure you are willing to make that commitment before taking the steps to add a pet to your family!