It is so appealing to picture a child’s face beaming with surprise and excitement after waking up Christmas morning and finding a warm snuggly puppy under the Christmas tree or a cuddly kitten in a stocking. But what happens after the excitement wears off and the reality of responsibility sets in? What happens to the puppy or kitten, aptly named Angel or Snowball, after the holidays are over and a dirty carpet or chewed-up shoe remains? Unfortunately, statistics show that about half of all pets given as holiday gifts are returned. And, unlike toys and clothes that are returned to the store with no real repercussions, unwanted holiday pets are relinquished to animal shelters where they live in stress and fear until they can be adopted, or until they are killed due to overcrowding. It is not the warm and fuzzy holiday story most readers are looking for, but the reality is unsettling. Education is key to stopping this annual post-holiday tragedy. Broadway Barks talked to veterinarians, rescue and shelter workers, and animal behavior specialists, and they all agree that animals should not be given as holiday gifts. But what if you really want to give a pet for Christmas? If you are determined to get a holiday pet, how can you do it right?
Animals Are Living Beings, Not Toys
Giving an animal as a gift may send the wrong message to a child. Animals are not toys. They are living beings that require care, attention, and a lifelong commitment. Puppies and kittens deserve every opportunity to enjoy long and happy lives in “forever homes” and not be acquired and then thrown out like broken toys. Unlike many playthings and clothes that children get as gifts and discard after a few weeks or months, animals suffer greatly when their lives are not valued. A child may be excited by the cuteness and playfulness of a kitten or puppy, but once they get bored with them or tire of the chores associated with a new pet, they must realize that the animal cannot just be forgotten or abandoned. Every member of the family must have a role in taking care of a family pet. And children must learn the importance of treating animals humanely. So, before getting a puppy or kitten for a Christmas gift, remember that you and your entire family must be willing to sacrifice the time and provide the care that a pet deserves.
Puppies and Kittens Require Quiet, Calm, and Order
Puppies and kittens learn a majority of their behavior and begin to develop individual personalities during a period of behavioral development called imprinting. This “imprint” period is the best time for a baby animal to leave its mother and littermates and forge a close bond with a human family. However, it is also important to keep a baby animal’s environment peaceful during this period of development. Now, close your eyes and think about your house during the holidays. Is it quiet and peaceful, or is it filled with houseguest commotion, constantly ringing phones, bright flashing lights, and running and noisy children? A bustling and boisterous holiday home can cause tension and test the patience of family members. Likewise, this excitement can make it hard for a puppy or kitten to find a quiet spot to settle in, which can stress and frighten an animal during an important phase in their development. This is why the holidays can be the worst time to introduce a new pet to a human family.
The first few days and weeks in a new home need to be as calm and orderly as possible so that no behavioral harm is done to a new pet. Animals can sense the emotions of humans and can feel scared or stressed. For this reason, Christmas is not a good time to introduce a new pet to a household. It is better to wait a few weeks and then bring a pet into a calmer home. It is also better to bring a new animal into the home when family members have more time to dedicate to helping the new puppy or kitten adjust to their surroundings.
Puppies and Kittens Require Lots of Time and Attention
Baby animals require constant supervision when you first bring them home, for their own safety and to limit the damage caused by inquisitive, energetic animals. Puppies love to chew, and they must be fed three to four times a day. They also require housetraining, which can be a time-consuming process requiring strict scheduling. They need to be taken outside several times a day and throughout the night—rain or shine, hot or cold. The holiday season can be extremely busy with people hosting parties and accommodating relatives—they just do not have the time it takes to address the needs of a new puppy or kitten. And it is unfair to the animal to bring them into a home and then ignore them or relegate them to the backyard or basement because no one has time to care for them properly.
Pets as Gifts—How to Do it Right
OK, so you have considered the responsibilities of taking care of a new dog or cat, you are ready for the lifelong responsibility, and you have your heart set on getting a new pet in time for the holidays. For some families, the holidays can be a good time to welcome a new pet. As San Francisco SPCA president Jan McHugh Smith states, “The kids are on vacation for a couple of weeks, and mom and dad are off from work. You have time to help the pet acclimate to her new home.” Here is what you can do to make sure you do it right so your pet does not end up abandoned by January.
First, do the research, know what you are getting into, and make a plan. Take time to find the pet that is perfect for your family. Do not feel rushed to get a pet for Christmas and then make an impulse decision that you will regret later and the animal will suffer for. If you need something quick for under the tree, buy a stuffed animal and include a handmade card or note on the toy’s collar or tail that announces, “We’re adopting a pet!” You can also buy pet supplies like a collar, leash, food dishes, and books on raising a pet and then make those the gifts to open on Christmas day. These types of gifts will get across the message that having a puppy or kitten also includes some chores and responsibilities. The extra time will also allow parents to discuss with children what their responsibilities will be. Then, when the holiday rush has died down, go together as a family and find a pet that everyone loves.
Make your first stop your local animal shelter. If you are looking for a particular breed or even a purebred, chances are you will find what you are looking for at your local shelter. And oftentimes, personality is far more important than a particular breed. Another place to look is online at www.petfinder.com, type in what you are looking for and hit search—you will be surprised at how many wonderful dogs and cats you will find. And do not reject the idea of adopting an adult or senior animal. These animals can be easily found in shelters & rescues and often are already trained. Adult animals still need care and attention, but they can be easier to handle than baby animals and they adjust to new home surroundings quickly.
Next, create a place in your home for the new pet. You may need to purchase a crate and set it up in a quiet spot in the house. A new pet will need a collar and ID tags, along with food, treats, toys, and bedding. You should go through your house and make sure that important items are not within puppy’s reach. You may also want to take time to find a veterinarian to care for your new pet.
The holidays are a busy, exciting time filled with the joy of friends and family. So it is understandable that some people may choose the holiday season to add to their family by getting a pet. However, a great deal of consideration should be given before making this decision. In the three months after the holiday season, shelters and rescues are inundated with animals that were given as gifts and ultimately abandoned. These animals are young and healthy and innocent. They are relegated to shelters and forced to live in stress and fear because of the rash decisions made by people during the holiday rush. As Bill Smith, founder of Main Line Animal Rescue suggests, “Instead of celebrating Christmas by purchasing a puppy from a pet store, celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by adopting a puppy purchased at Christmas then surrendered to your local shelter three months later by families who bought a puppy on an impulse and failed to understand the lifetime commitment. Shelters and rescues are often inundated with Christmas puppies in March and April.” This is excellent advice because the commitment to a pet must last through the lifetime of the animal. So, before getting a cat or dog for the holidays, remember: Pets are forever.
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